Stay-At-Home Dad: Home repair project a pipe dream after all
By Howard A. Ludwig August 15, 2013 9:04AM
Despite the smile, stay-at-home dad Howard A. Ludwig doesn't necessarily recommend trying do-it-yourself plumbing projects. | Supplied photo
Updated: September 19, 2013 9:26AM
As a stay-at-home dad, I look for ways to contribute to my family’s bottom line.
My most obvious contribution is providing child care, which keeps us from paying a baby sitter. By grocery shopping and cooking, I’m able to keep restaurant spending to a minimum. And keeping a tidy house saves money we’d otherwise spend on a cleaning service.
Then there’s the issue of home repair and maintenance. I cut the grass and change light bulbs. Beyond that, I tend to struggle.
I usually enter into these projects with confidence. Then my ineptitude slaps me in the face.
The latest example came last week with a slow drain in the kitchen. The solution seemed simple. I borrowed the neighbor’s drain-cleaning tool and planned to use this long, rotating cable to break up any blockage.
I began by removing the P-trap. This is the J-shaped pipe underneath the sink where debris tends to cluster. The trap broke into pieces as I removed it.
“Good thing I decided to do this. This was a disaster waiting to happen,” I thought, fooling myself into feeling self-assured.
I took the broken pipe to the hardware store and bought a new one. Then I returned home and began snaking the metal cable into the slow drain. Inside, I could see black goop — the color of midnight and the consistency of bacon grease.
I try to keep from washing grease down the sink, but this pipe seemed to have gone years without attention.
To further break up clogs, I attached a corkscrew-type tip to the edge of the rotating rod. The size and shape of a small chicken leg, this device is intended to carve through any blockage.
Hand over hand, I fed the cable into the pipe. After a while, I felt satisfied and reversed the direction of the spinning metal cable. Black slime quickly coated my gloves, as the rod continued to emerge. The spinning shaft flung black speckles inside the cabinet. The cleaning supplies I’d left beneath the sink now had polka dots.
I felt like I was near the end when suddenly the metal rod stopped. I pulled and pulled, but the rod wouldn’t come any further. Panic set in. This thing had to come out. It went in. What could be the problem? I tugged from every direction but the rod wouldn’t budge.
I rested my head against the upper part of the cabinet and used it as a lever. Then I jerked on the slimy cable as if I were trying to win a tug of war all by myself. The cable loosened. The rotating rod dropped out of the pipe. Only the corkscrew tip wasn’t there.
I’d broken the cable, leaving a twisted metal auger and however many feet of sewer rod lodged within the pipe. This wasn’t just bad. This was terrible.
My mind flashed to the worst-case scenario. Plumbers tearing out walls, breaking pipes and maybe even jackhammering into the concrete floor of the basement. This could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair.
I tried to fix a clog and ended up creating one monumentally worse. I wanted to cry. Instead, I called a plumber. He asked a few questions and agreed to take a look at my predicament the next day.
Meanwhile, we had White Sox tickets. The family and I went to the game in the late afternoon. It felt more like going to a funeral. The massive screwup hovered in my mind-set. I couldn’t eat or sleep that night.
My plumber buddy visited the next day as promised. He asked more questions and looked inside the pipe.
“I think you just broke off the tip. And I think it’s right there,” he said, pointing to a small piece of rust within the sea of black soup.
He assured me that if I could snare this bit of metal rod, the auger would emerge. My confidence was at an all-time low. I told him I’d likely push the metal tip further into the drain, making the problem worse. But he assured me that I could fix my mistake.
I went to the hardware store and bought some thin, plastic tubing and bare wire. I devised a noose, slipping the wire around the metal rod and cinching it tight. I gently pulled on my homemade snare and the metal bit slid out of the pipe.
I was overjoyed. Euphoria rushed over me as I called The Wife to show her my sludge-covered prize.
I quickly put the sink back together. It drains like never before. That night we had a bottle of wine with dinner and celebrated more than we did the night of our most recent wedding anniversary.
It always feels good to contribute around the house. But this time didn’t just feel good, it felt great.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He can be reached at email@example.com.