Plumbing Amber Lane

The last few days have been a windfall of activity (when have they not?).

In no particular order… we closed on our loan! … the espresso bar went vertical – we are officially 3-D! … our electrician disappeared – completely … we booked a trip to San Francisco! … we received a HUGE order from Home Depot (2 trucks worth of tile, drywall, and mortar… now kickin’ around the building) … Fitz taught himself how to bend pipe, like a pro! … and that’s just what I can remember. Seriously. Thank goodness I’m keeping a blog and that we’re taking pictures.

But, to truly put it all in healthy perspective, we have friends to thank. They have the distance it takes to recognize the progress for what it is. Yesterday, our dear – and first! – friends in Northampton stopped by to say hi as Fitz perfected his 7th pipe bend of the evening. They hadn’t seen the place in about 6 weeks… so we were able to celebrate the progress of that stretch of the project. This morning brand new friends (met through Craig’s List) stopped by to pick up a couple of items we were selling. They had been here a week before buying some building materials from us. So we were able to celebrate the progress of the week with them, sizable considering it included the entire construction of the espresso bar! And just this afternoon the previous owners of 1 Amber Lane stopped by to say hello. This was their first time at the property since we closed on it a year and a half ago! Talk about celebrating progress. Oh man! It was a fantastic feeling to be in the space with people who loved it – in their own way – as much as us. To see them see it through our eyes… and to watch them discover new angles and aspects of this quirky and mysterious building. Upon seeing our newly laid floors in the upstairs office, Judy hugged me. Mike just shook his head at Fitz and keep asking how we could have envisioned all of this – designed all of this – found all this space in this little building. It was encouraging, simple, and earnest. All 3 encounters. Exactly what we needed to frame in the project, give it weight, and keep our energy up. Fitz and I get caught up in the day-to-day. We have to. There’s no other way to get that day-to-day done. But sometimes it’s nice to step back and have someone say, “Good job. Way to go. I recognize you have done a ton of work and it looks good.”

There is no better way to put this progress in perspective than to talk about the plumbing though. The plumbing has, in many ways, dictated the entirety of this project.

Because of the plumbing we had to…

– move our espresso bar into another room and redesign it

– install 2 bathrooms, redesign our cafe seating, and trench through 14 feet of concrete

– install 6 sinks in 50 sq feet in our kitchen

– move our 2nd floor bathroom to another room (and frame, wire, finish that new space)

– get a loan

It is, by far, the single most expensive aspect of this project. The code requirements are dense, confusing, counter-intuitive, and as unyielding as the cast iron pipes now snaking through our walls. Plumbing brought us the grease interceptor, the grinder, the roof boot, the flush-o-meter toilets, vent stacks, clear floor space, the “perpendicular transfer,” and 14 bags of concrete… it produced hangers, clean outs, copper lines, clamps, grab bars… it has left us without running water for 3 months. 3 solid months… and counting. And it brought us Joe.

Joe The Plumber.


Joe The Plumber

Joe The Plumber can be summarized in a question he threw out one of our first days working together… a question Fitz and I still repeat to each other with giggles… “You guys do scratch tickets?” Here we are knee-deep in antiques… I’m refinishing barn beams with homemade wood filler made of sawdust and wood glue and Fitz is epoxy-ing an old claw foot bathtub we pulled out of a mill in Connecticut… No, Joe. We don’t do scratch tickets. We play cribbage and argue about the burr sets on high end coffee grinders.

We come from different worlds.

For Joe, a union plumber on staff at U Mass in Amherst – supported by a state that puts unions before God, we are his “fun money.” We are his scratch tickets. His side gig.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s a great plumber. And he has a lot of heart. He took on this job below every other bid (and we searched high and low for a plumber in Mass!). He means well. On his own terms.

Phase 1:

Back in the day, when Fitz and I were still learning building code and health requirements for cafes (oh the relative naivete!)… we got slammed with the 7 million sink requirement. As such, we had to switch some things around. What I’ve learned is that contractors do not like to “switch some things around.” It makes them grumpy. And angry. People would rather barrel through the brick wall than take a minute to survey the area and find the unlocked door off to the right. This concept is fascinating in action – and requires a delicate hand to orchestrate a successful round of “switch some things around.” The best strategy I can recommend is to always include a drawn plan:


“Master Plan for Joe”

It gives them something to crumple when they storm out of the room…


Phase 2:

Simple enough in photo form. Just a bit of cast iron, a smattering of copper and you’re there. Right?


We called for our rough plumbing inspection and promptly failed. No cast iron vent stack out through the roof – no pass on the inspection. So the troops were called back in to finish the job, for real this time! But, to finish the job, first we had to locate the pipe in question. Easier said than done. We knew where the stack came up to the second floor… and where it exited the root. A bit of finesse was needed to fill in the gaps.

Phase 3:

So where are we now? Well, we’re now officially through the rough inspection. Floor sinks have been set and caulked. The bathtub is inching closer to its final resting place. For now the plumbing saga is on hold until we button up some walls and place some fixtures. Then it’s time for some good old fashioned water to finally flow through these expensive pipes! That’s what they’re there for… I believe.

As it stands now:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: