March 1, 2014

Drip Drop

This is a tale of a garden club president from Oregon with a vision for conservation, a company in Indiana with a troubling notion about product obsolescence, and a shower head in Massachusetts with a slow drip.  Ultimately, though, it is a story about putting your money where your mouth is.

Our home was built in 1995 and Betty and I have been its owners since 1999.  It has been, by and large, a problem-free home.  But even good homes occasionally develop minor problems.  For ours, it was a shower head in our master bathroom that developed a slow drip a year or so ago.  And, when I say ‘slow’ I am talking about a pint of water over a 24-hour period.  On some days it did not drip at all.

Linda Nelson, President of
National Garden Clubs
With that as background, let us turn our attention to the garden club world.  The largest federation of garden clubs in the country is National Garden Clubs, Inc.  Headquartered in St. Louis, it is the umbrella for 6,218 local garden clubs in the U.S. plus another hundred or so international affiliates.

Every two years, NGC elects a new president and, in 2013, that incoming president was Linda Nelson, who is from Oregon.  One of the great things about being NGC president is that you get to establish a theme for your term, and Ms. Nelson’s is ‘Making a World of Difference: Choices Matter’.  The essence of that theme is that individual actions count in better managing our planet’s resources.

It is the role of state garden club federations to help communicate that theme to its member clubs and, last fall, Betty was asked by the president of the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts to prepare a summary of Ms. Nelson’s theme for delivery at the state federation’s fall conference. 

One of Betty's slides talked about
water conservation.  That's Linsday.
The easy thing would have been to write down a few talking points and then ad-lib for ten minutes at the conference.  This, however, is not Betty’s style.  When given such an assignment, she takes it as a challenge to create a memorable presentation with equally unforgettable visuals.  She co-opted Lindsay, one our new next door neighbors, to pose for a series of photos showing how one person can make a difference in conservation.  Lindsay has model-good looks and a winning smile, plus she was seven months pregnant on the day the photos were taken, adding to the ‘we’re stewards of the planet for the next generation’ theme.

Betty’s talk lasted about fifteen minutes and it is fair to say that she captivated her audience.  I know, because I was in the back of the room.  The talk was sufficiently well received that the president of one of the garden clubs attending the meeting asked Betty if she might expand out her presentation to 45 minutes and give it to that club’s membership.  Betty agreed.

Over the course of several weeks, Linda Nelson’s ‘Choices Matter’ theme was amplified into ‘Simple Steps’, a listing of the dozens of relatively simple, painless things we all can do that add up to becoming better citizens of the planet.  And, just as one of Ms. Nelson’s targets is water conservation, so that was explored in depth as part of Betty’s expanded talk. 

Which brings us to slide #31: “Fix the water drips and leaks around your house.”

Our shower control unit
The subject of plumbing is a sensitive one around our home.  Two years ago, using a kit of washers and springs procured from our local hardware store, I was able to fix a drippy sink in our home.  A capable plumber could have done the job in twenty minutes; it took me three hours and the faucet now opens counter-clockwise.  But it established a benchmark that I am somehow capable of carrying out plumbing repairs when, in fact, I am not.  I neither possess a plumbing gene not I did not take Shop in eighth grade where such skills are acquired.

I did, however, watch a YouTube video on the repair of a Delta Classic Monitor single pole shower unit which, unfortunately, was not translated from the original Klingon.  After watching it several times, it was clear that I would be not only be out of my depth in trying to repair this unit, I would likely drown in the process.  Besides which, the drip –when there was a drip – amounted to a pint a day.

Then, two weeks ago, I went down to our basement and saw a puddle of water under the overflow tank of our heating system.  In New England, you do not mess around with your heating system, especially in the middle of winter.  We called a plumber.  Mike Eisenhauer came out the next morning, spent half an hour in our basement, and repaired the leak, which had something to do with a pressure valve.  Whereupon Betty asked if he would take a look at the drippy shower head in our Master Bath.

He did, and told us the bad news.  This was not a matter of tightening some screws or adding springs or any of the things that I did when I fixed the drip in one of our sinks.  This involved replacing a cartridge in the guts of the control device and our Delta shower unit was almost certainly obsolete, including repair parts.

From Delta's website.  Our shower
control unit was obsolete.
I asked Mike how he could be so certain.  Mike said that Delta pretty much obsoleted its entire product line every few years.  But we might be in luck and there might be a Model 1700 cartridge that could be retrofitted to fit into a Model 1500 slot.  The Model 1700 has also been discontinued, but at least parts are still available.  He said he would check and let us know.

It was Betty who asked what it would cost to repair the unit. 

“Two or three hundred dollars,” Mike replied.

“What if you just put in a new shower unit?” I asked.

“Then I have to break tile around the enclosure.  You don’t want to go there,” he said.

This brought us to the moment of truth.  According to the 2014 rate card, water in Medfield costs $38.81 for the first 10,000 gallons.  At a pint a day (assuming it dripped every day), the shower would drip 91.25 gallons of water per year.  The shower would have to drip 109 years to equal that $38.81 worth of water, and we were being told that the repair could be six to line times that amount: close to a thousand years worth of drips.

$278 later, it was fixed; it
was the right thing to do.
Betty and I looked at one another. 

“Fix it,” we said.

Two days later, Mike had located a Model 1700 cartridge and indeed, with some tinkering, it fit our obsolete Model 1500 enclosure.  After 45 minutes, the shower was repaired.  We wrote him a check for $278, which included a $20 discount for having used Angie’s List.

We did the right thing.  If Betty is get up in front of an audience and tell people that one of ‘small steps’ that we can take to make our resources last is to fix the drips and leaks around our house, then we had certainly better practice what we preach. 

It’s called putting our money where our mouth is.  I don’t regret it for a moment.

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