Portrait of a plumber as a young man with copper tubing

Posted Dec. 17, 2010, at 11:51 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.

Back in my contractor days, I had a kid who worked for me named Chris.

One of his favorite sayings was “Are you bummin’ or are you plumbin’?”

I guess there are different ways to interpret his comment.

To me, it reflects the joy that one gets from hooking pipes up and making water go through them without leaks.

This was not always such a simple task. It was only recently — well, in the past 40 years — that people stopped using galvanized pipe for plumbing domestic water.

Using threaded pipe for plumbing seems so primitive and slow.

It really isn’t that bad, but I am grateful to be alive in the time of plastic plumbing and crimp connectors. It is fast and easy and almost never leaks.

I fancied myself a plumber for some reason when I was in my early 20s.

Our first house was plumbed with CPVC tubing, and that actually went pretty well.

If you made a mistake, you could usually cut it out, and a coupling or two and some new fittings could solve most problems.

Our second house was another story. We moved into it while it was still under construction. I had the well plumbed into the expansion tank and had the well operational. We moved all our stuff into the house one autumn night in 1977.

We were going to live there while finishing the house, since we had lost our rental.

The toilet was in place, and the sink and bathtub also were in place. The drains were all plumbed because it was done with PVC plastic. PVC drain plumbing was a language that I was not fluent in, but was versed well enough to make water flow downhill and keep smells out. I was using the book “From the Ground Up” as a guide, and that all went well.

We finished moving in at 9 p.m. that pleasant autumn evening. Since I was a master of plumbing, or so I thought, I deemed it right and just that I should now plumb this new house with copper tubing. After all, I had a torch, a striker for igniting it and solder. As a young boy, I watched a family friend, Mr. Luna, re-plumb my parent’s gas water heater. He had left his torch at the house, and of course I used it to melt Coke bottles. I knew all about torches.

The pipes only had to run about 10 feet from a small utility space under stairs, up into the floor under the bathroom. Well-designed plumbing simplicity for the DIY’er — or so I thought.

The project began with the cold water line coming from the check valve on the well tank and ran up into the floor. Once I got to the lavatory sink, there was a tee and stub to a shutoff for the lavatory faucet. Then it was on to the toilet.

It seemed a simple task to get all this done by 11 p.m.

Around 1 o’clock in the morning, I was ready to turn on the cold water. I had plumbed the sink and the toilet but not the tub.

It leaked. It leaked in several places. Cut the pipes, install a coupling and try again. It leaked again. Mr. Plumber Man was at a complete loss.

I am blessed to have a wife who does not ridicule me.

Somehow, I got the system to hold water around 3 o’clock in the morning.

The next morning, the new day brought forth a wonderful revelation — I remembered that you always must use flux, a soldering paste, to clean the joints when soldering copper tubing.

Nothing had been fluxed.

Thirty-three years later, we can plumb a house in a couple hours with PEX tubing and have no leaks.

I still like to use copper, though. It is versatile and just looks good. It is, after all, known as a noble metal.

For many years after that experience, I always had a can of flux in the car. One never knows.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329.

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