I Would Be The Poorest Plumber Ever

I Would Be The Poorest Plumber Ever

My knowledge and expertise when it comes to plumbing projects is pretty limited.  I got pretty lucky in the past with unclogging a stubborn bathroom sink drain.  I also once did some successful troubleshooting on how to clear a piece of food out of the garbage disposal that wouldn’t budge, couldn’t be located and was very stinky as the house had been unoccupied for a few months (solution: run ice through the disposal).

But, one of the things that gets me every time is working on the toilet, specifically the various parts and pieces within the tank that somehow make it flush.  That’s what this post is about.

Toilets = Magic

mb-201311outhouseI’m going to put something right out there. I have replaced the insides of toilets many times over the years, and I still have no clue as to how it works.  I believe it’s some sort of magic or sorcery that controls everything.  I tend to be able to look at something over time and figure out why something works a particular way, but to try to get an understanding of how the various rubber parts, plastic tubes, and the like all work together to allow a toilet to flush is simply beyond my capabilities.

I suppose I could look it up, but I think that I probably still wouldn’t understand.  Besides, believing in magic is just more fun.

What Happened This Time

A couple of weeks back, I used the toilet in our bathroom, and upon flushing I could feel something give in the handle.  It flushed, but I knew it wasn’t right.  Sure enough, pulling the handle accomplished nothing.

I took the lid off the toilet and found that the plastic arm between the handle and the chain that controls the flapper (see, I know what the parts are, I just have no clue why they effectively work) had broken.  Plastic is flimsy and I recall that this happened on our downstairs toilet a couple of years ago.  My solution for that toilet was to buy a new handle and arm assembly, and like with the one downstairs, I planned on buying one that wasn’t made of cheap plastic.

I showed my wife how she’d have to flush until I could get it fixed, at which point she started using the toilet down the hall.

The next day I set off to find a replacement part.  At our Meijer supercenter, I found a replacement part for $3.49.  There was not a piece of plastic on it.  The handle was made of chrome, the bolt and such was metal, and the arm was metal or something.

This was going to be a cinch.

I went downstairs to get the wrench that I knew would likely work best to get the old part off as well as get the new one on.

Couldn’t find it.

I found the huge wrench and the little wrench, but the medium wrench was (and still is) MIA.

I grabbed a few other tools that I figured would work and set off upstairs.  I found one that got the old parts off, then set off to get the new one on.

As soon as I started, I realized something was a bit different.  I remembered that the same part on the downstairs toilet still had a plastic nut and screw assembly.  This was all metal, so the bolt was different. I had a really hard time getting the metal bolt on because of the angle, so I figured what would be the harm in using the old bolt, since the threads and such were the same size.

I tried this and it seemed to fit on OK.  After a couple of adjustments, I even got the chain put back on, and a couple of test flushes seemed to show that things were OK.

Just In Case

Still, I knew that toilet repairs are never that easy.  Not with me.  I always have to go back.  Every. Single. Time.

So as a precaution, I left the tools sitting right there.

Thankfully, my wife was out of town for a girls-only weekend trip, so I figured that any troubleshooting I had to do would be done.

Sure enough, the first issue presented itself later that night.  As I was, of course, sleeping.  I woke up to hear the toilet running every minute or two.  Just a brief swish of water but enough to be annoying.

I got out of bed, took a look, and found that the chain was extra long and that the slack was long enough to work it’s way down into the flapper hole.  So, it wasn’t creating a good seal.  This rung a bell as I recall having to hook a second length into the arm to take away that length.  I did that, but of course I was wide awake, so it took a while to fall back asleep.

The next day, I flushed and something felt a bit off, but I figured that I could ignore it and it’d be OK. Except the water kept running and running.  I opened it up and the bolt was not keeping the screw tight enough.  I tightened it.

Then the handle wouldn’t move.

So I loosened it a bit.  It worked.

For a day.

My wife came home and I told her that the toilet was sort of fixed. Sure enough, about every sixth or seventh flush the toilet would do it’s ‘I’m not going to stop running’ thing and I’d have to re-adjust the handle.

Finally, after the fourth or fifth day of it, I angrily stormed out of the bathroom, proclaiming that I was going to take the part back to the store and get a different one.

Yep, I was blaming the hardware, not the installer.

Still, in the back of my mind, I knew better.

As I tightened it yet again, I realized that it wasn’t keeping a good grip, and it occurred to me that using a plastic nut on a metal bolt maybe wasn’t the right design.

So, I unscrewed it all, and went back to square one.  This time, for some reason, the metal bolt slipped right on.  I tightened it until the toilet would no longer flush.

Then I loosened it a bit, and voila, things seemed to work (after I double looped the chain, which I’d once again forgotten about).

Two Weeks Later

Now, the tools are still sitting in the bathroom but (fingers crossed) I have not yet had to make an adjustment.

And, that’s the way it usually works.

  • It ends up working
  • It just takes a long time
  • I don’t create any floods or major leaks

Still, a repair that honestly should have taken ten minutes stretched into a couple hours of work over the period of five or six days.  Even if I charged $100 per hour, the return trips and travel time would be on my dime, and I figure I probably wouldn’t net minimum wage.

My Limit

I know my limits.  Anything beyond a toilet tank or clogged toilet is probably beyond my capabilities.

I also know that for the things I can reasonably accomplish, I need to look at the time estimates provided on the directions, and multiply it by ten.

Readers, what repairs can you do that you still do but take you a lot longer than they should?

14 thoughts on “I Would Be The Poorest Plumber Ever”

  1. When our bathroom drains get clogged (which used to happen semi-frequently) I would head to the store and get a bottle (or two ) of liquid plumber. When that didn’t work, I’d do the “get the plunger and force the blockage through” trick by pumping the plunger over the drain.

    One time it happened when a friend was over and he showed me the removable piece of pipe under the sink that was likely where things were getting backed up.

    We put a bucket underneath, unscrewed both ends, and dumped out the grossest looking ball of hair I’d ever seen. My wife has really long hair, and apparently after brushing it she was sending the remnants down the drain with some water.

    It’s awesome that I now know what to do (and not spend $10 on two bottles of liquid plumber), but the real solution was “Hey, please put your hair in the garbage, not down the drain!” 🙂

  2. Yeah, this post describes my level of handy-ness for pretty much all types of house or car repairs. I’m able to sometimes escape with figuring things out, but more often than not it’s beyond my capabilities. When I walk into Home Depot, I usually feel like I’m visiting a foreign country! Sad, I know.

    • My biggest frustration with Home Depot or Lowes is that things are rarely located where I think they should be, and when you’re looking is of course when there isn’t a soul to be found, so you hunt someone down and they point you to the (always) opposite end of the store from where you are. Every time. At least I get exercise, I guess 🙂

  3. I avoid toilet repairs like the plague. Funny thing is my wife has picked it up over the years. Whenever we have an issue she usually takes a crack at it. Funnier thing is she’s done pretty well with it. Go figure.

  4. Haha, most people don’t just automatically know how to do stuff – they have to learn! That’s why most plumbers are trained. We are useless with electrical work so we call in an electrician.

  5. Every Thanksgiving my mom and I have a story we share about our plumbing experience. We wanted to replace a facet in our house that we were about to sell. How hard could it be? We had instructions and everything. We have the first knob halfway off and suddenly a gusher explodes from the knob. It shoots all the way to the ceiling and starts knocking off the ceiling peanuts and we both start freaking out. We forgot to turn off the water (apparently plumbing 101) and made one heck of a mess in the bathroom.

    Moral of the story: I know hire a plumber for everything.

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