Table of contents
I’m building to a point here, but first here’s three anecdotes about plumbing.
One night about 6 years ago I loaded up our dishwasher, turned it on, and headed up to bed. Just like every night.
However, this particular night, a few minutes later I had a brief moment of doubt about whether or not I had locked the back door.
When I went down to check on the door and stepped into the kitchen, I stepped in a puddle of water.
The dishwasher had sprung a leak!
Even worse, when I turned the dishwasher off, water still kept flowing into it, pooling at the bottom, then spilling all over the floor. It was like the dishwasher wanted to change careers and become a fountain but hadn’t bothered to give me any notice or, ya know, move out of my kitchen. Rude!
(Remembering this is making me re-evaluate how harshly I judged my “bad” toaster. This was a naughty dishwasher.)
I had to cut off the water supply from the sink to get it to stop spitting water all over the kitchen.
So that was a fun couple of minutes of panic, but I caught it early enough that we could soak up the water with a bunch of beach towels.
If I hadn’t randomly had to go back downstairs to check on the door, the dishwasher’s all-night meltdown probably would have caused catastrophic damage, with repair costs far outweighing the cost of a new appliance.
The water main
A few months later, I got a call from our municipal water company. They noticed that our water usage had quadrupled that month, an indication that there’s some sort of new water leak.
We called in a plumber, who couldn’t find anything leaking in the house or in the crawlspace. Huzzah!
Well, un-huzzah, because that meant there might be a leak in the main line to our house. The one buried under our front yard.
I asked the plumber, “how do we find that without digging up the entire yard?”
“Is the ground wet anywhere?”
“It has been raining every day for a week, so, yes, the ground is wet everywhere.”
So the plumbers didn’t want to tear up the entire yard, and I did not want the plumbers to tear up the entire yard, so now we had to call in a “leak detection specialist.”
One of my favorite things about life is learning about new things that are jobs. When I pictured in my mind’s eye what such a specialist would look like, I pictured some grizzled old dude named Walter with a ZZ Top beard and multiple tattoos of a burly sailor strangling a pipe.
The specialist who showed up was a baby-faced dude named DJ with spiked-up bleached hair who couldn’t have been much older than 20 and didn’t have even a single tattoo of a burly sailor strangling a pipe.
I was skeptical, put it that way.
After an hour of DJ sending little snake cameras down pipes and (I imagine) trotting up and down the yard with a divining rod, he pointed to a spot and said, “I think it’s here.”
If you drew a straight line from the municipal water connection at the street to the point where the mater main came into our house, DJ was pointing at a spot 15 feet away from there. For the water main to even be where he was pointing, someone would have had to laid the pipe like they were playing the closing seconds of a game of Snake, maliciously. The days of me being skeptical of DJ were coming to a middle.
“You think it’s there?”
“I can’t get a good look with my cameras, but I have a feeling it’s right here.”
“Look, my man, I’ve found a lot of leaks in my time…”
(I’m certain at this point my eyebrows went up with such violence that they flew off of my face and slipped the surly bonds of earth.)
“…so I’ve got a good sense that it’s here.”
With no one else to turn to, I had to accept DJ’s hunch and bring the plumbers back in the next day.
The crew started digging, and in under 5 minutes reported that they had found where the main line had broken and was dumping out water. It was exactly where DJ thought it would be.
So shame on me for not trusting DJ.
All told it cost a couple of hundred bucks for the plumbers’ and DJ’s time. It could have been so much worse! The plumbers might have had to tear up the whole yard, and there’s always the chance that the leak wouldn’t have even been there! I was very fortunate that (a) DJ was right and (b) the water company let me know about even the possibility of a leak so quickly. There was zero visible indication that anything was wrong; that pipe would have happily barfed out thousands of gallons of water for a loooooong time.
The water heater
Earlier this year, we hired some contractors to build us a new deck in our backyard. Because they were demolishing the old deck, I had to clear all of my crap off it a few days in advance.
The most convenient place to shove all my deck crap was our crawlspace, so that’s where everything went.
In the course of hastily shoving my patio heater into a corner of the crawlspace, I glanced over at our water heater and noticed that it was looking a lot more… orange than expected.
The reason it was orange was because it had sprung a small leak on top of the tank and rust-filled water was oozing all over it.
Cue another unexpected expense, but once again I just happened to notice the problem fairly early. I don’t go in the crawlspace often, so the leaking water could have eaten away at the foundation or the heater could have gone fully kaput at a very innoportune moment and required (much more expensive) emergency plumbing and electrical work. It could have been a lot worse.
You said you were building to a point?
I bring up this all up because a few months ago I read this delightful visual essay from The Pudding that illustrates how it’s somewhat inevitable that a capitalistic society will end up with a handful of super-rich folks.
Think of an economy like a game where everyone in a room starts with $1,000. Every round of the game you pair up with someone and you wager up to 20% of your pot. If one of you has less money than the other, the smaller pot determines the size of the wager. Then you flip a coin and call it. If you call it correctly, you get the wagered amount. That’s it. Repeat until you’re out of money or you have all the money.
Let’s say in the first round, you wager $200 and lose. Now you have $800. The next round, you win! Yay! You’ve won one, lost one, you should be even, right?
Because in the second round, you could only wager up to 20% of your pot, your wager that round was $160. So after losing $200 in the first round and gaining $160 back in the next, you’re at $960 now.
On the other hand, your opponent—despite having won and lost an equal number of rounds—is ahead of where they started and doing better than you now.
Do that a couple of thousand times and eventually one or two or three people have all the money, and everyone else is broke.
Do go read the article; it explains all this with fun little cartoons and charts.
As the article points out, this so-called “Yard Sale” model is an extremely simplified version of an economy and wealth distribution, but it’s a helpful model for explaining how:
- There’s gonna be a few extremely rich people and way more not-rich people
- They won’t admit it, but the rich people got rich almost purely out of luck—this wasn’t a game of skill!
Now maybe that doesn’t square with your worldview or whatever.
But look at me: if any or all of my plumbing fiascos had gone another way, I’d be out probably many more thousands of dollars.
I’m not like uber wealthy and it’s entirely likely I’ll blow these “windfalls” on avocado toast (it’s tasty!) or digital cameras instead of whatever filthy rich people do like building skyscrapers or buying sapphire mines or ruining social media platforms.
But “wins” like this do add up! And I didn’t do anything special to earn them! I just happened to catch my plumbing issues early out of pure dumb luck! Or in the case of the main line break, systems were in place to let me know about a problem early, and I luckily hired DJ The Human Water Leak Detector.
Just something to think about.
Also, because I have now documented my “hot streak” of plumbing disasters I am fully expecting the gods of plumbing mischief to strike me down now.
I didn’t want to take a shower tonight anyway.