I took some time off recently and, as I’m too foolish to allow myself to spend my time on worthwhile rest activities like reading, watching TV, or playing video games, I worked my way through a self-assembled list of “Things I Never Have Enough Time To Deal With”.
One was replacing the Moen cartridge in the upstairs bath since it appears to be the cause of a (excruciatingly-)slow drip. A visit to Lowe’s later, I had a no-charge replacement cartridge in-hand. Lifetime warranties plus customer service: nice.
As with most baths about which I’ve had the misfortune to learn their plumbing, there are no fixture-side shutoff valves so I waited until I had the house to myself and turned off the water to the whole house. (Thank goodness the most recent visit by a plumber included replacing the ancient screw valve with a 90deg valve. So much nicer to work with).
Alas, the Moen cart was the wrong size (I think I need the 1225, the helpful person at Lowe’s presumed it was a 1222b), so no joy there. Thus I turned the water back on. This was about a quarter past four in the afternoon.
Next morning around 9am my wife and I detect an intermittent beeping. Never a good sign.
We check the freezer, fridge, garage, laundry room, dehumidifier… nothing. But it’s coming from the basement.
Good news! The emergency “there’s water on my basement floor” alarm works.
Bad news! There’s water on my basement floor.
A slow (but quickening) leak had developed on my water softener to do with the below-illustrated parts. We have the large assembly which I call the bypass assembly (it connects to the softener via the two horizontal tubes), and two identical adaptors which adapt from the house’s copper (at least in my case) piping to the top two sockets of the assembly. Inlet’s on the right, outlet’s on the left.
The leak was coming from the outlet socket between it and the adaptor. Oh no, I thought, there’s a crack in this large custom-made piece of plastic. And since the large piece of plastic is the bypass for the softener, the usual path for bypassing the fault for diagnosis and repair is no good. The leak doesn’t care whether the bypass assembly is set to Service or set to Bypass, so the bypass cannot bypass the leak.
Luckily, the previous softener didn’t have a single-valve bypass and so had a three-valve bypass in the inlet, outlet, and bridging copper. Open the bridge, close the outlet, close the inlet, good to go. (I’m not sure if that’s the correct order, but it seemed to work).
Unfortunately all these valves are screw valves and are decades old, likely not having been used in as long, so they leak when not fully closed or fully open and were stiff as heck to get moving. I’ll need to have those replaced at some point, but then we should also be looking into probably rearranging the whole utility room because the plumbing (gas and water and coolant) is a mess. (Ah, the joys of home ownership. The only thing worse is anything else.)
(( I’d usually include a digression here about water softening and why it’s so dang important in my part of the world. I’ll just leave you with this Wikipedia link on water softening for the former, and this map of water hardness in the Region of Waterloo (plus this link to the USGS saying that anything over 180 mg/L (of CaCO3) is “Very Hard”, which translates to anything over 10.57gpg. Note the map starts at 17gpg and goes up from there.) for the latter. Conclusions are left to the reader. ))
Clearly I was going to have to take it apart to see what was going on.
Unfortunately, a fluid-filled closed system like that is subject to certain pressures that made absolutely everything to do with this job an absolute trial. Just getting the pieces apart involved 1) removing the retaining clips (easy), then 2) Separating the O-ring-having adaptor tubes from the bypass assembly (difficult). I _think_ I had to overcome the resistance to vacuum in the pipes to force the first one apart, which of course dislodged the second one and they both dumped their contents exactly adjacent to the bucket I had placed. Water alarm went off again. I put it on a shelf.
My luck seemed to turn, though, as a visual inspection of the assembly and adaptors showed no sign of splits, tears, wear (it’s only been in place for 3 years (installed March 2018)), or other damage. The inlet socket was lousy with rust, but not only was the outlet socket intact, it was clean.
So I put it all back together and reopened the valves: close the bridge, open the outlet, open the inlet. There was some backwash into the softener I didn’t like by doing it this way, and it introduced a lot of air that would make itself explosively known at every fixture throughout the house (almost blew the lid off the upstairs toilet. How?), but it all came together.
And then the inlet socket on the bypass valve began to leak.
Turn it all back off again: outlet closed, bridge open, inlet closed.
This time I was prepared for the pressure differential and the location of the bucket when I pulled the inlet pipe out of the bypass. What I didn’t account for was the outlet pipe’s water backwashing through the bypass and bubbling out of the inlet socket. Note to self: If you leave the bypass on “Service” the softener will resist the flow for you.
Again, no damage or wear on the inlet, but there was still a smear of rust. I cleaned that out and reseated the adaptor.
Checking a hunch, I noticed that the retaining clips were not bilaterally symmetric. They had an up and a down. So I replaced the clip with the up side up, and opened the inlet valve of the three-valve bypass.
Turns out you can create a pressure bomb if you allow mains pressure to push an air bubble against a closed valve all of a sudden. The outlet adaptor popped out of the outlet socket with a bang. Everything got wet (including the erstwhile plumber penning these words). It was only luck that I hadn’t seated the retaining clips sufficiently and so the pieces only came apart and didn’t actually break.
It was exciting in exactly the wrong sorts of way.
But it gave me an inkling that maybe by being indelicate about closing and opening the mains shutoff for the Moen cartridge replacement resulted in some water hammer that spread the softener’s outlet adaptor apart from the socket allowing a slow leak to begin. It doesn’t really make sense, since there’s the softener in the way which would dampen such effects, but I’m at a loss for understanding the leak at all, let alone why it happened then.
Anyway, there’s full supply pressure pouring on your floor, you can think later. Switch the three-valve bypass back to bypass, reseat the pieces, ensure the retaining clips are the right way up, dry everything off so you can see leaks if they happen. Good? Good. Let’s try again. Close the bridge slowly, open the outlet slowly, open the inlet slowly, and run a downstream faucet to try and release the captured air.
And the leak mysteriously disappeared without anything having been repaired or replaced, just disassembled (one time forceably) and reassembled.
Still had pops and booms from every fixture and faucet in the house as they were used the first time after the “fix”, but otherwise everything is (so far) okay. I put the emergency “there’s water on my basement floor” alarm back on the floor.
This serves as record of what happened and what I did. May it help you and future me should anything like this happen again.