22 January, 2013

And Yet Again

If you remember from my last post, I was just finishing up with the shower project - replacing a couple of floor tiles, and reworking piping and fittings for the shower head itself.

Just yesterday, Dianna put the last coat of grout sealer on. It needed twenty-four hours to dry before we used it, so this morning, I got to take the first shower in the newly rehabbed space.

Even so, there was still one thing that needed attention before we could call the job done. That was to replace the cartridges in both shower faucets. Piece-of-cake, I thought.

How wrong I was. This turned out to be another of those quickie projects that took all day. There seems to be more of those types than any other. What's going on?

I spent some time this morning surfing the intertubes looking for the definitive video or written instructions on how to change a faucet cartridge. I did manage to find a couple reasonable sites that gave me a good primer, filling me with confidence that this was a doable project and something that could be completed in a couple of hours.

First, I found the brochure that came with the faucets. Unfortunately, the drawings in the brochure left out several important (to me, at least) details of the various parts and how they related to each other and especially, how they all fit together.

After gathering some tools, I started to disassemble the faucets. I removed the 'H' and 'C' bezels on each handle, which gave me access to a long screw that appeared to go all the way to the cartridge. The drawing was labeled such that several of the parts almost looked like they were optional or alternate pieces that may not be part of the assembly I was faced with. Best proceed with caution.

Next, I saw a hex head on the end of a metal piece that had a nylon piece sticking out of the end. I wasn't real sure exactly how that was supposed to come out so I gingerly applied my adjustable wrench to it. Finally I was able to get that bit loose, but I couldn't get it to slide out from the wall.

The drawing showed a fitting that looked considerably different than what I was seeing. The drawing had a flange on the inside end, but no indication of a hex head on the other, whereas mine definitely had the hex head, but I was unsure if there was a flange on the other.

It did seem like there might be a flange, since I could pull on it and hit something that gave resistance, but without being able to see what I had hit, I was reluctant to proceed very aggressively. In fact, after Dianna and I both had piddled around with it for a bit, she suggested maybe calling David over since he had recent experience with his faucets. I called, and a few minutes later he arrived and took a look at our situation. He felt as well that there was a flange and recommended chipping carefully around the faucet shaft to make the hole in the tile large enough to slip the metal bit out. If I could do it without cracking the tiles that would be a good thing.

Unfortunately, his encouragement ended there. As far as replacement cartridges, he had made the grand tour in Corozal and found that no one sold them. That was not what I was hoping to hear at all.

David also recommended that I find some way to grind off some of the glazing in the vicinity of the hole in the tile. That way, when I began chipping with the chisel, I would be less likely to crack the tile. I thought that was a good idea and the notion of using my old Dremel tool came to me. I have an assortment of grinding wheels and cones for it, so there might be something that will work exactly as needed.

After David left, I brought up the Dremel, my chisel and my rubber mallet. Then I proceeded to grind a small radius around the faucet with the Dremel. This worked better than I hoped for. I used the cone as it allowed me to get right close to the metal bit of the faucet.
Dremel Tool Comes In Handy
Then, I started going around with the chisel. This really took some time, as I not only had to chip the tile away, but the Thinset adhesive under that, and the Ply-Cem cement board under that before I had a decent sized hole to allow me to remove the metal bit.
Ready to Chip All Around
Altogether, there was about a half-inch or so of material to get through, and I needed to keep the hole I was making within about an eighth-inch from the metal bit of the faucet. Some finely tuned chiseling if there ever was any.

Once I got the hole to a decent size, I was able to easily prize the metal bit out along with the two nylon bushings or spaces. And yes, Virginia, there is a flange after all. All that was left to remove was the cartridge itself.
Yes, Virginia. There is A Flange
Things would have been so much easier if the construction guy doing the original work here had left the hole larger instead of the close tolerances he seemed to think were necessary for the faucets. Oh well. Like I always say, 'If it was easy, it wouldn't be any fun'.
Original Holes Fit Too Tight
Thankfully, I only had two holes to work on. Eventually, both got done as you can see below.
Both Holes Have Been Chipped and Re-sized

The holes do allow the flanged bit to fit in much easier, still without too much slop which would tend to allow water from the shower to penetrate into the wall interior. Something I've already had enough of with the shower head.
Cartridge Assembly Fits Much Better Now
Now we come to the meat of the project - the cartridge. The reason for this whole thing was that the cold water faucet was much harder to turn than the hot water one. We both assumed that the cartridge itself was to blame. I'm not sure now that it was, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
This is a Faucet Cartridge
Based on my online research, each of the instructions about repairing shower faucets said to 1) replace both cartridges at the same time, and 2) take a cartridge with you when you go to shop for a replacement cartridge.

I took one of the cartridges and, right after lunch, went to Lano's Supply to get a couple replacements. I showed Kim (the cashier) the cartridge and he said, "What's that"? That was my first clue that all was not going to go well. David's words began to echo in my head. Not a good sign.

Kim called the same girl over that I had had the discussion with about pumps. I explained what I was looking for, even showing her the cartridge. She took me to see their selection of cartridges. I knew we were totally lost as she showed me the water filter cartridges. I explained that wasn't what I had in mind and as gracefully as I could, made my exit.

We (the doggies and I. I had brought them along for a ride) next tried Villa's Imports. I talked to the young man who does most if not all of their paint mixing. He seems very knowledgeable in most areas of hardware. He said they had some cartridges for sale but none of them were a match for what I had. He asked if this was a shower cartridge. That really impressed me.

He had a sudden inspiration and headed toward the back of the store. Under the stairs is a sort of storage area. They have a huge box where they keep all sorts of used and mismatched plumbing items. He proceeded to root through the box and lo and behold, came up with two identical cartridges - used, but identical to the one I had in my hand. As I took them from his hand, I figured then that, if nothing else, I'd have a couple of back-ups if the original ones I had ever totally died. I asked him what I owed. He replied, "Nothing. They're used".

With profuse expressions of thanks, I made my way back to the Isuzu and headed home. After parking under the palapa, I made a detour to the pool pump house and retrieved a spray bottle of silicone lubricant for 'O'-rings. I dosed each of the cartridge's 'O'-rings and then put the newly acquired used cartridges in my small parts storage bin, and then hot-footed it upstairs to begin reassembly of the two faucets.

Dianna made sure that all the parts for the faucets were clean as she handed them to me. I began to reassemble everything. Soon, I made my way down stairs to turn the water back on so we could see if the faucet rebuild was water-tight or not.

Immediately, Dianna hollered that she couldn't turn the water off. Right away, I knew what the problem was. We had talked about positioning of the cartridge in relation to the outfall port of the faucet. I knew it simply was a matter of turning the cartridges 180-degrees and all would be fine. After doing all that once again and getting the water back on, I heard her shout "That's perfect!"
Here's the Finished Faucets
So, as usual, a little one-hour project becomes a day-long career. Ah, well, It really was fun. Everything works and I have a couple of spare cartridges for the future.


Wilma said...

Very impressive! We are watching and learning. But no fears, we will plenty of our very own "learning experiences"! Really, it is very helpful to have you post these particular adventures in paradise. cheers!

Dave Rider said...

Hi Wilma,

Thanks again for the nice comment.

You know, I didn't come down here already knowing how to do a whole passel of trade-craft. Oh sure, we had done some remodeling over the years, and I had read and re-read and re-re-read the Time-Life Home Repair series of books, but that's about it. My working life involved being a desk-jockey for the most part.

But, it seems once you get down here, learning to do and actually doing more things than you even knew you could do just seems to be so much a part of life that you don't even cringe at the thought of taking on some new project that involves skills you've never tried before.

For sure, the Intertubes have taken the place of my home repair books - being able to watch some guy on YouTube do the project you're contemplating can be a huge confidence booster.


David said...

So Congrats on solving yet another "simple" problem! Chipping tile in a perfect circle is a skill I have yet to acquire. I can't believe that you were able to find exact cartridge replacements, be they used, at Villa's. And at the right price.

Since you rebuilt the existing valves, what was the cause/solution to the cold water one being so stiff? Just some silicon on the o-ring?

Well done.

Dave Rider said...

Hi David,
I'm not sure how much skill was involved. A steady hand and lots of luck were both involved.

As to the cause, we're still not totally sure. There was a ton of white stuff inside the metal tube. We're not sure if it was calcium or maybe Thinset or something similar that worked it's way in there.

We cleaned up all the fittings and lubed the 'O' rings with silicone. It operates a lot better now but is still not as smooth as the hot water one.

I'm not sure that we actually solved the mystery or what? I hate mysteries that end with no clear solution.