Wednesday, September 10, 2008


There is a service within the computer hardware business called break-fix. This service is for business customers who want computer hardware support - when their computer "breaks", a technician is dispatched to the customer site to fix the problem.

I have a new definition of break-fix.
break-fix, noun. [breyk-fiks] The lengthy event when a 43 year old bald English-Canadian man attempts to repair something broken in his house. The repair results in greater damage and inconvenience than the original problem. Results typically comprise of one of more of the following: healthy doses of profanity, unplanned expenses, injured body parts, sweat, a foul mood, multiple visits to the hardware store and sometime a resolution to the problem - the fix.
My kitchen faucet hasn't been right for a long time, first it was the handle mechanism that was loosening and not holding it's position correctly. Then it was a leak that was getting annoying worse. All of the faucets in the house are Moen, I've always liked their styling and have taken advantage of the their fantastic service of the years. If you have a problem with one of their products you can call customer service, explain the problem and they will ship you the replacement parts (free of charge). My only complaint may be that the instructions for repair could be written better. That being said, I'm a loyal customer to the brand. So, I finally get around to calling them with these latest problems, they diagnose the problem well - a broken handle inner piece and the cartridge. The parts were a little slow arriving, but it is a free service ! Then the parts sit for quite a few weeks before I tackle the job a few weekends ago, what better day to do some home repairs - Labour Day.

First job, get access to the problem parts, easier said than done. Faucets are designed to look sleek and shiny, the last thing you want is a visible screw. So from past experience, I knew there had to be a clever way to remove the faucet. So I loosened the lower handle surrounding collar, to see what that would do, no go. Then I looked under the sink to see how the faucet was attached, checked a few screws and pipes and with some dismay, saw that the eventual removal of the faucet was going to be a bitch. I checked the instructions. So with my single handle faucet, Moen cleverly hide a small access screw behind a small logo plate (always wondered why that thing comes off so easy). I know what you're thinking, don't forget to turn the water off mate. Done that, although under the sink isn't the most accessible work area in the world and the valves were quite tricky to close. I already noticed that my early figgling may have loosened a few pipe joints as I saw a few small drips (argh - memories of the upstairs bathroom break-fix may years ago begin to creep into short term RAM).

So, the small screw. Yes I found it, and yes, Moen was kind enough to provide the correct sized allen key. Excellent. This faucet is about 10 years old. So you can image the screw was pretty tight. So tight I had to lever it with some pliers - BIG MISTAKE. I thought I was making progress but then it really loosened and I lost a grip on the head of the screw and it disappeared. I took me quite a long time to figure out that the screw head had fallen into the handle base and the screw had sheared off - F#$^. But I persisted, and naively thought maybe I could still remove the handle and salvage the situation. So, with an arsenal of tools and some idiotic ideas of remedy, I set to removing the handle. A drill is put to use and surprisingly seems to making some progress (the goal is to break down the screw to the point of it loosening its bind on the situation). More drilling, mixed with some heavy handed yanking and rotating and finally voila - I've got a shiny handle loose in my hand.

Now, back to the original mission, I'm trying to replace a metal component in the handle with a new one, although I can't really tell where the break is because I've destroyed its connection to the base. Anyhoo, I set to separating the components. This was the real tough part as the sheared off screw was holding it's place very firm. More drilling and the introduction of a hammer. And finally I separate the (really) damaged component and was left with this...

and then I could see that my skilled attack had done a fine job of enlarging the hole in the soft cast-metal handle molding (enough to create some concern that I'd damaged the handle beyond repair but funnily enough, not enough to get that pesky screw out). More vice grips, drilling and yanking and I finally get the old screw out. I do a quick test of the new part and the new screw and it seems to be ok. Amazing, I catch a glimpse at the light at the end of tunnel.

Part 2, I focus my attention on the base and the cartridge. This looks tricky. The leak seems to have rusted the large fastening rings (I knew I should have fixed this as soon as the leak started). So I try to loosen the rings for a while with various vice grips and wrenches but no go. Note that all the while the leak under the sink has been growing, so I make the executive decision - I'm going to throw in the towel and buy a new faucet. A quick check online and a very quick trip to Canadian Tire and I'm home with a new faucet.

Part 3 - removing the old faucet. As mentioned earlier, I knew the removal wasn't going to be easy. There was a centre bolt anchoring the faucet to the counter. Underneath the sink there was a 1 14" nut tightly in place and it was recessed and behind pipes and the underbelly of the sink. On the trip to Canadian Tire I tried to find an appropriate tool to extend by reach into the tight area and took a gamble on a deep socket. Of course it wasn't the right size so I struggled with traditional wrenches and finally got the nut removed. It was only when I unpacked the new faucet I found a handy-dandy long pipe tool to remove nuts of this size - thanks Moen #&$^.

The end - so the new faucet went in quite easily and the pipe connections were good and tight and we were back to normal. Only about 6 hours later.

The motto of the story: assess the situation very carefully before proceeding with a fix. How much work is it going to take to fix it - double that, multiply the risk factor and trade that off against a new replacement or calling a professional.

For me, anything to do with water is always a problem and a big worry, incl. plumbling, ice damming, gutter overflows, basement leaks and leaking bathtubs. I just hate that sound of water dripping or a surprise wet foot step.

Last weekend, I found no humour whatsoever in this story and in fact was going to post a blog called "there is nothing funny about this story". However, a week to reflect, has softened my attitude a little and allowed me to write this story with a small smile on a my face.


Anonymous said...

I love DIY stories and have been there with a similar tap story.

My kids shout "Oh No! Not Fix-it-Dad!" whenever they see the toolbox make it from shed to house!


Richard Sewell said...

And we wonder why the plumber drives a Porshe on the weekends.