When it comes to plumbing, I’m a complete dolt, a non-functioning illiterate. The water turns on. The water turns off. The water goes away. I take no pride in this ineptitude, and yet the ugly fact remains: if there’s a leak, I’m calling the plumber. (Note: His name is Jerry Vaughan. He lives in Broken Bow, Nebraska. Great references. Perfect Yelp rating. Great Angie’s List reviews. Can’t go wrong.).
Or at least that’s how it used to be, before the prospect of living in a trailer full time triggered some primitive survival mechanism and forced me out of my general uselessness. I can do without certain comforts, but a hot shower is something I need at least every now and then to feel awake and civilized.
Elsie was born in 1968, which means that all of the original water lines were made of copper, same as the propane lines. In and of itself, that’s not a problem. Copper is an expensive metal, and for decades most professionals considered it the best choice for plumbing systems. Had the lines been intact and running where they were supposed to, we might have considered keeping them.
After a few hours spent tracing both the water and propane lines to inspect for leaks and other issues, we hit a conundrum. Some of the lines run in between the interior and exterior of the trailer, through pockets that can’t be easily accessed. Tracing these lines often meant shaking one end and feeling for the pulse on the other. For too long we scratched our heads at one particular juncture: we shook the propane line but felt the waterlines move instead. It didn’t make any sense. It made so little sense, in fact, that the most common sense answer didn’t even cross our minds.
Then we found it: a convergence of the two lines, the water line slightly bigger than the propane line, clamped together. For reasons I cannot figure out but which make me think Craigslist Ray might have been even less qualified to wear a tool belt than me, the propane line was running directly into the water line. Clearly, despite what Ray had told us, he hadn’t been using either system in a very long time. That, or he enjoys a good propane shower every now and then.
Ultimately, we started over. We stripped out the old copper lines (though we kept them for other DIY projects) and replaced them with PEX, or crosslinked polyethelene, a flexible and corrosion-resistant material more in vogue with plumbers today.
We were doing everything right, until we did it all wrong. We purchased the PEX piping and all of the appropriate fittings, replaced all the lines and fittings and connected them using hose clamps and a bit of pipe dope. Once we hooked up the hose and turned it on, however, nearly every single one of the joints was leaking beneath the hose clamp. So we shut off the water. Tightened every clamp. Turned the water back on and……more leaks. The tightening had slowed them down, but the lines still dribbled at every juncture. Two days down, all of the clamps tightened and replaced, and still we didn’t have a dry system.
Eventually, we returned to Menards, where the service representative introduced us to crimp rings and the crimping tool. Instead of hose clamps, the crimping tool uses a solid metal ring and crimps it tightly over the PEX line. We purchased a package of crimp rings and the crimping tool (for a hefty $75) and reattached all the lines. And this time….it worked! The water filled up the tank and ran silently through the lines. Completely dry. The tool wasn’t cheap, but it worked perfectly, and we could now enjoy showers and fresh water whenever we pleased.