Jack of all, master of …

A German friend introduced me to the term “project fatigue,” and it describes perfectly the MEGO (my eyes glaze over) feeling I get with renovations and other work proceeding at glacial (lack of) speed.

Also, when I hire someone to do a job, it is not my job to tell them how to do it. Get on with it!

And so it was that I wasn’t paying particular attention when Martín put the sheetrock ceilings in our little country house a few years ago. He used wood instead of steel framing, which I thought poor judgment. In fact, the first batch of lumber delivered was so warped and twisted he had to send it all back. When I asked, he said that if steel framing gets bent, you can’t straighten it out again. OK, cast logic to the wind:

  1. Why should it get bent in the first place?
  2. What about the natural tendency of lumber to warp and twist – especially the low-grade stuff sold here?
  3. Oh, and what about bugs eating wood, which they really like to do here?

Anyway, I wasn’t there, and wasn’t paying attention, because I would have spotted this immediately. Anyone who has done anything with drywall would. In fact, you would find it incredible that someone would pretend to know what they were doing and do something so wrong.

Here’s one example of what’s happening everywhere:

drywall error

The long edges of a sheet of drywall are tapered. To cover that joint, you use a 6″ knife and put a thin layer of “mud” (I’ll have to find out what that’s called here), then lay on top of it paper (or plastic mesh) “tape,” then the finish layer of mud on top of that.

What you don’t do is simply put the tape in the joint, and cover it with mud. Which is exactly what Martín – the jack of all trades – did here. What hasn’t fallen down, will.

Unfortunately, this is quite common here. Everybody’s a builder. Everybody’s an electrician. Everybody’s a plumber. If drywall is a solution, everyone knows how to do drywall.

Except that they don’t.

There are exceptions, but after nine years I am still amazed at the general Uruguayan acceptance of mediocrity. Chinese power tools with two-month guarantees come to mind. Vendors who advertise online, and take money for, products they don’t have in stock. Yet another occurrence last couple days: twice charged then revoked charge on my credit card without explanation. But I have an explanation: they discovered they simply didn’t have the product they advertised.

Es lo que hay. “That’s what it is.” Mediocrity. How unfortunate.



Well, duh.

Not long ago, we noticed our water bill beginning to skyrocket. We had plumbers here to install whole-house water filters outside. Checking their work, they pointed out a little spinning disk that I had never noticed in the middle of the water meter. It was going spin-spin stop-stop. We had a leak. After a bit of checking, it was clearly not their doing.

After digging a dozen holes along the length of the pipe going to the casita (little house behind), and finding no moisture, I called Enrique, a nice, mellow plumber from Peru. We determined there was a leak underneath the casita (i.e., impossible to fix), so he installed a cutoff valve. At length we discussed how to re-plumb outside, tap into the cold line on the exterior bathroom wall, all without breaking tile inside – we had a plan!

Alas, perhaps Enrique has been in Uruguay too long. I said I’d get back to him when the weather got a little more pleasant for outside work. This has been a mild winter, but it’s still winter. So, sun appears! And no response from Enrique to text messages; phone calls terminated before a chance to leave a message.

Well, we have other issues with the main house, so I sought the advice of Daniel, the guy who will be solving many of them. I had bought bricks, and was preparing to create a subterranean box around the valve.

water cutoff valve, Uruguay

This is how you do it, with mortar, and when you’ve built up to ground level there’s a nifty little concrete frame and cover that fir perfectly. But, I thought, if they need to re-route the tubes, maybe I shouldn’t do this first. I explained to Daniel the plan Enrique and I had come up with. He agreed with the overall plumbing plan, but hadn’t answered my question.

So I asked again. Well, he said, if we’re putting a new cutoff valve on the outside bathroom wall, we will simply remove this one.

(See title.)

Anyone need a few crappy Uruguayan bricks and a kilo of Portland cement?




Plumbing in Uruguay

Resolving a little plumbing issue in the country yesterday set off a cascading series of Uruguayan plumbing memories.

Some involve sheer incompetence, some … well, let’s start with the incompetence. If you’ve been with me a while, you might remember this gem from jack-of-all-trades Nestor (because anyone in Uruguay who sort of knows one trade thinks he knows every trade). The lower patch fills the first hole he made for the horizontal vent pipe above.

Uruguayan plumbing

A few years ago, a newcomer trenchantly reflected on Uruguayan plumbing, “Didn’t we see this in Pompeii?”

Yes, sweetie, just minus the PVC. Let’s trace the wastewater route from our kitchen. 1) First it goes into the 20 liter grasera that we had to buy to replace an 18 liter, perfectly functional, grasera. 2) It goes into another box. 3) It goes to another box. 4) It goes to another box. All of which are prone to clogging, of course, from grease that escapes the grasera..

Uruguayan plumbing

Before we get to box #5, I should point out that boxes 3 and 4 should not exist, but this being an owner-built house, the line went from box #2 to the big unmarked concrete top, to a septic tank not in the original plans. We only discovered this when we had to “regularize” our plans three years ago (a process which maybe will be finalized this year?).

So from there the water goes to box 5, which should have been a right angle turn, to box 6, where the downspout from the upstairs bathroom and pipe from the downstairs one join the party, to box 7 …

Uruguayan plumbing

… where it makes another turn to box 8, and finally to (9) the septic tank.

Uruguayan plumbing

Wherein lie a couple more stories. You’ll notice a dark square in the top of box 8. That is where I filled the hole in it with concrete. When our erstwhile know-everything handyman Martín cleverly used leftover tiles to cover the septic tank, he somewhat less cleverly decided that all it needed was an opening big enough for the “barométrica” (tank pumping) truck’s hose.

Uruguayan plumbing

When we launched into the above-mentioned “regularization,” we had to pay someone else to undo his handiwork, because an inspector had to stick his head in there to confirm that the septic tank was actually connected to the vent pipe in the corner.

Uruguayan plumbing

That may seem ridiculous, but the same Martín cleverly solved friends’ hideously-out-of-code plumbing inspection problem by installing a couple of plumbing boxes in the yard that made sense to the inspector, but weren’t actually connected to each other. Or anything else.

But that’s not my story to tell.