Jennifer’s “Guide to Forgetting Everything You Knew about Home Improvement.” In 4 zillion steps.

Step 1: Try to make sure your plumber’s apprentice is not a moron. But no—you will probably have no more control over that than I did, which is how you find yourself in this position in the first place: a leak in your ceiling, and three small holes punched up there to let the water drip out so you don’t have the dreaded mold later on. Also, every time it really drips, the paint bows and stretches. Just…you’re picturing the mess, right? OK. Here we go.

  • First you have to find the leak. You’re pretty sure you know it’s plumbing, because if you turn off the water to the house, the dripping stops. But your hubby is certain it’s somehow the roof—you’ll have to have fairly pleasant disagreements about this for at least two weeks. This will stall the process for a while, of course, but this is how home improvement works for you two. Until one of you is willing to get up there and open up the ceiling, you’re not going to actually start anything. However:
  • DO NOT open up the ceiling! Yet. First, attempt to take the toilet off the floor upstairs! Because…maybe the water is leaking from underneath it? I know, I know, the hubs said the toilet’s too far to the left, but taking it off the floor is way less scary than punching big holes in the ceiling! So off with the toilet.
  • Start to remove toilet, only to realize that the toilet is, in fact, caulked to the floor. As it should be, of course, but sometimes they’re not, and …dangit. You don’t want to remove all the caulking from it and the floor in order to re-seat it.
  • Stare at toilet. Listen to babies whine from other room, where boys now desperately try to entertain them.
  • End of Day 1! Go home. Yay!
  • Day 2: Remember to bring Mag Lite from home, so you’ll be able to see up into the ceiling. Otherwise, return to get it. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
  • Bash hole in ceiling. I do not suggest using the butt end of the Mag Lite. But I did.
  • Stare into hole at water pipes (not toilet!) which are just…RIGHT THERE, directly above leak, dripping on your face. Because the clamp holding them onto the joint was NEVER CRIMPED DOWN TIGHT. Unbelievable.

  • Go to Home Depot, armed with Google information about repairing pipe, and rent a crimping tool so you can crimp down one little copper clamp. ($7.00! Woo Home Depot!) Also pick up a little patch for the drywall. 4”, but also a 6”, just in case you need to make the hole a little bigger.
  • Get tool to house, only to discover that you can’t get the tool to open correctly inside your tiny hole. Make hole a little bigger. Then a lot bigger. Eventually give up and bash hole open (yes, you’re still using the flashlight. You do have a hammer in your toolbox–hello…?!) from one joist to the other.
  • Stare at 14” x 10” hole, drywall chunks all over kitchen, paste made from dripping water and drywall dust. Stare at tool. Stare at pipes. Contemplate dismantling tool. Admit defeat.
  • DO NOT leave drywall mess on the counter, phone in your pocket, or anything else you don’t want to get wet around when you decide to try vise grips as an alternative for a real plumbing tool. Vise grips + copper clamp = shower. Now you know.
  • Do not expect master plumber at Home Depot not to laugh at you when you tell him about the vise grips.
  • Day 3: Do not forget your hacksaw. You know you did. Go back and get it.
  • Do not use a hacksaw on copper without wearing glasses. Unless you like metal filings in your eyeballs. (On a related note, I do suggest you find some protective eyegear that actually allows you to see things. For some reason, my glasses–actually purchased at a home improvement outlet–can only be described as darkly tinted sunglasses. WHY? Are my home improvement projects going to be carried out under some kind of nuclear, eye-searing conditions?! I can’t ever see a dang thing with them unless I’m in bright, direct light. Not so much, today.)
  • Do not—I repeat—DO NOT decide that you’ve had enough of the arm-tiring, near-blind, aimless, vertical sawing and just hack off the ends of every single visible piece of pipe in the ceiling, and take the whole joint, dripping, like a chunk of bleeding wounded animal, into Home Depot, without any kind of real clue whether there are parts that’ll repair it correctly, or whether you’ve got enough pipe left in the ceiling to even reach any potential part. TERRIBLE IDEA.

  • Try not to gloat when that mess actually works.
  • Oh, hey, when you start repairing the mess with some drywall? Do not saw your thumb.
  • Do not assume, just because you cut your hole perfectly squarely, and your new drywall piece was measured three times and fits beautifully, and your mounting boards are just the right size to slide under the electrical cords, and they sit gloriously flush, and your screws are exactly the right length to make everything stable enough for QuakePocalypse 2023, that your drill will fit into the hole.
  • And, finally, do not forget that every time you have to go back to Home Depot, at least you get to pass by Sonic, and you get a good drink out of the deal. So stop whining. Your pipe should be repaired in at least 6-8 weeks!
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