N. Shannon Walker

Slow Down. Relax. Solve the problem.

By N. Shannon Walker

N. Shannon Walker I own a small condominium which I rent to a tenant, and yesterday he called to tell me that he had no hot water in his shower. This threw a bit of shade upon my day, which already didn't seem to be going quite the way I had hoped that it would. Now I had a problem which had to be solved fairly quickly, and all I could think about was how much it was going to cost me to have it fixed. Foolish thoughts began to take over my consciousness: "I should sell that place! It's one damn thing after another!" (Temporarily ignoring the fact that the monthly rent covers both my mortgage payment and my HOA dues with money left over...)

After half an hour or so of wasted time and needless and unhealthy mental anguish, I decided to slow down, analyze my problem, put it into perspective and see what might be done to solve it.

I don't know a lot about plumbing, and frankly it makes me a little nervous, since a leak can cause a lot of expensive damage. I drove over to the apartment with what few tools I own and let myself in with my key. The bathroom sink had hot water, but the shower didn't, so I ruled out the possibility of a water heater problem. The shower has a single handle "mixer valve" which you turn from side to side to adjust the temperature, so I determined that the problem must lie within the valve.

I looked at the valve and familiarized myself with how it worked. You pull it straight out to turn on the water, then twist it left or right to adjust the water temperature. Then I removed the handle with a screwdriver to have a look at what was behind it. The handle was mounted to a housing with three screws holding it in place. I began loosening the three screws which caused water to begin running from somewhere within, so I hastily tightened them back up again. Obviously, I was missing a step in the procedure.

Next I removed the round stainless steel trim behind the handle. I should have done this first, because now I could see the metal valve in the wall, which has a water shutoff on either side; hot on the right and cold on the left. I twisted the two screws to shut off the water, and now I could freely disassemble the valve.

Once I had it apart I tried to determine what could be keeping the hot water out of it. By looking at it, I couldn't exactly figure out how it actually worked, and my first impulse was to just replace the whole valve cartridge with a new one. I took it to a few hardware stores, which didn't have anything that even remotely resembled it, so I returned to the apartment ready to give up and call a plumber.

I reassembled the valve and tested the function. I decided to turn on only the hot water side of the valve first to see if I could get hot water delivered through it. Voila! Water hot enough to burn my hand flowed freely into the bathtub! So it appeared that nothing was wrong with the valve itself; the problem was with the ratio of hot vs. cold water.

I examined the control handle and it seemed that it made a difference how it was mounted to the stem. If I turned it a bit to the right before I tightened it down, the valve stem itself was situated a bit more to the right (hot water) side, allowing more hot water and less cold water into the mix.

I turned on the faucet and twisted the handle from right to left and back again. Hot water! Cold water! Warm water! I had fixed it without spending a penny!

All I really did was take the thing apart and put it back together, making a small adjustment with the handle and the problem was immediately solved. This caused me to think back upon the whole situation. Initially I was angry and upset about having a problem which I was certain was going to cost me a lot of money and a day or two of wasted time. But by slowing down, analyzing the situation, examining the valve and how it worked, taking it step by step, and (with a bit of good fortune and divine guidance,) I fixed it by myself.

Many times we become so overwhelmed with a problem that we can't begin to seek a solution. We fret and worry and think about all the perceived expense and the wasted time. Often, the solution to a problem is right in front of us. If we slow down, put it into perspective and begin taking calculated steps, solving the problem becomes a rewarding and educational project rather than a daunting and stressful experience.

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday about dealing with trouble by slowing down and taking it easy, and I've enjoyed sharing it with you today.

N. Shannon Walker
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