I’ve been fooling around with pipes lately. Tobacco pipes? Bagpipes? Nope, plumbing pipes.
We built a log cabin at the farm some 20 years ago and the plumbing system has been a constant source of failure. Pipes leaked, faucets didn’t work, water lines froze. All these problems were the result of doing the plumbing ourselves. We’re really bad at it. No skill at all. Add that to the non-standard, we-made-it-up-as-we-went-along indoor plumbing system and you get two decades of failures.
In addition to off-spec plumbing, the cabin is also off-grid. That means no electricity and no city water. Not having city water isn’t so unusual out here – lots of folks use spring or well water. But springs and wells need electric pumps to bring water into the house and, here I’ll remind you, we don’t have electricity at the cabin.
What we do have is a big 1400 gallon concrete cistern buried in the backyard and old-fashioned pitcher pumps inside. So if you’re standing at the kitchen sink you’ve got to pump the handle to get water flowing. In other words, we have running water…but you have to pump for it.
Which makes filling the giant claw foot bathtub a bit of a chore. You have to really want that bath. Ten minutes of pumping puts only a couple inches of water in the tub. Oh, you wanted a hot bath? That will take another two hours to heat up a giant kettle on the wood stove.
We’ve got all the modern conveniences at the cabin, they’re just in a less convenient form. And for a weekend retreat house, that’s just fine. When it all works.
But the water system at the cabin hasn’t ever worked reliably. Oh, there’d be a long stretch when everything was flowing nicely, but then something would break. We went through 3 brands of pitcher pumps before we found ones from the Amish that were trusty and foolproof. And each time we replaced the pumps we’d have to re-plumb part of the water lines. Then we were forced to add a series of stop valves and check valves to keep the pitcher pumps from losing their prime. And each of these new additions would spring leaks, so more repairs were needed.
Eventually we ended up with a giant Rube Goldberg system of pipes and valves under the sink held together with silicone, duct tape, and fervent prayer.
This winter the whole crazy system collapsed. Frigid temperatures froze the pipes and all the joints burst apart like a giant Jenga set. All that was left standing were our good Amish pumps bolted to the counter.
So now it’s time to try PEX. Cross-Linked Polyethylene or PEX is flexible tubing that’s used for plumbing in RVs and boats. I’m saying goodbye to PVC pipes and their fussy inflexible ways. Adios to smelly prep chemicals that burn your eyes and nose. So long to wacky elbows and reducers. Welcome in clean, easy, and forgiving PEX.
It took a few days, some borrowed tools, and 4 trips to the hardware store, but I’m happy to report the PEX project was a success. Now we have reliable running water at the cabin and a way to drain the lines in winter.
Using PEX made this messy project easier. Even fools like us with shabby skills and shaky confidence could replace all the water lines in a weekend. But we’re plumb tuckered out!
Time to retreat back to the other house – the one with electricity and a big screen TV.