Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stuff from old pipes

kw: home maintenance, do it yourself, diy, faucets, photographs

We are living in a house as old as we are, built before 1950. About a year after we moved in (when the house was a mere 50 years old) one of the faucets began failing. It took a lot of looking (there was no Amazon nor E-bay yet) to find a replacement. Nearly all modern faucets have a 4" (100 mm) spacing between the hot and cold inlets, but this was 8" (200 mm), and the sink is a style called Shelf Front. Now the Chicago Faucet Co. sells them on the Web, as this image from their online catalog shows.

The red arrow points to the metal, threaded ring that holds the aerator, upon which today's tale depends. An aerator is a bit more complex than most folks realize. It has a small orifice that limits the flow and a sinuous path for the water to follow to a screen. There is a tiny gap that lets air enter above the screen, and the air-water mix that exits the screen flows more gently than a purely water stream.

The orifice in the aerator's top is 1/16" (1.6 mm) in diameter and the innards have some holes even smaller, before you get to the 5-mesh screen, with 0.3 mm holes. As you may imagine, any sediment that gets into the water pipes will be screened out in the aerator, at least the larger particles. That is why it is made to be disassembled, but I wonder how many people ever take one apart to clean it. They are not costly, so I reckon most folks just replace an aerator that starts "acting funny".

"Acting funny" is indeed what we encountered this morning, when the sound changed and water began flowing out rather irregularly. So I grabbed a pair of pliers and began.

A pair of ordinary pliers is all you need for this. They have two settings, so use the wider setting. Grab the aerator ring and rotate clockwise. Once it is loosened, it ought to unscrew with fingertip pressure. This picture of the aerator in its ring, with the gasket still in place, was taken at a later stage in the process, which I'll get to soon. When I initially removed it, the large chunks were not there and the orifice was clear.

What I did after that was just turn on the water—not all the way, as it ran quite fast!—and hold the aerator, still in the ring, upside down and spray it. A lot of small bits of grit came out. This image shows them. I sprayed into the sink with the stopper closed, and wiped them out with a tissue after slowly draining the sink. Their brownish color shows they are composed mainly of iron minerals. These minerals form naturally inside the pipe, particularly on the hot side, if the water is somewhat hard.

A couple of bits, one dark and the other shiny, are magnetic, so they probably come from wear inside the faucet. The image has been scaled to match the magnification of the one just above. As you can see, the larger chunks could just barely fit through the 1.6 mm orifice.

After collecting the grit, I ran the water full blast from the hot side first. A lot of things came out, and in larger sizes. The faster flow without the restricting orifice mobilized junk that had been collecting for years, probably at a turn in the pipe. This image shows them.

I collected that grit, then ran the cold side, full on. A lot less grit came out, as this image shows. I thought I was finished, so I put the aerator back in. I tested by running the water, and after just a few seconds the aerator hiccuped and began spraying even more unevenly.

When I removed it again, the result was as you see in the large image above, with two large pieces of grit clogging the orifice, and I was sure, lots more inside. I guess I hadn't let the hot water run long enough.

This time I took the aerator out of the ring and took it apart. The next image shows it after cleaning. The little part on the right had grit in nearly all the little square holes along its edge. Its other side holds the blue plate with the 1.6 mm orifice. The body with the screen is the blue thing at top, and the black ring on the left is the seal gasket. A ring that holds in the inner piece is at bottom. The metal ring that holds all this and screws onto the faucet is not shown.

Getting these parts clean was the trickiest part, but just involved some fiddly work with a toothpick.

This is the final harvest of grit. The pieces that were stuck in the orifice are at the bottom.

The whole job took an hour, about as long as I've been writing this post! Is a little part like this worth an hour of my time? It would take at least an hour to go to a hardware or plumbing store and get one, and I'd be paying a couple dollars besides. I was brought up hearing a number of frugal New England proverbs, including
Use it Up
Wear it Out
Make it Do or
Do Without
By the way, here is my setup for taking photos of small items. For all but one photo I used a +10 Macro add-on lens (100 mm focal length). For the photo of the four parts together I used a +4 Closeup add-on lens (250 mm focal length). The camera that the lenses fit has a close focus distance of 1.2 m.

The background is a black paper divider from a notebook. The translucent plate is the lid of a small butter tub. The two blue light sources are "work lights" with 24 LED's each, that I got at Harbor Freight. They have a magnet on the back, so I store them on the side of the refrigerator. I used folded bits of paper to tilt them slightly for better light. For larger-scale work I'll make a sheet metal holder that can point them more robustly, but for now this works great.

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