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?

When Doing Sink Or Toilet Repairs, Remember This Tip

A lot of money can be saved by doing small repairs around your house yourself instead of calling in a professional.

One of the items I see listed a lot (and with good reason as it’s easy) is to fix your own toilet when it starts to leak.  It’s a pretty painless process but one of the steps that is critical involves turning off the water supply, then turning it back on.

It seems pretty easy and straightforward, but I’ve learned that there can sometimes be a little more to this step than meets the eye.

Often, when a water valve such as a toilet is left in the same position for months or even years at a time, turning it will often create a small leak where it will start dripping right above the handle that you just turned.

This can be very alarming.  I know it was for me the first couple of times it happened.  I thought that once I turned it back on the drip might stop, but it didn’t.

Turns out it’s a rather easy fix.  You just need to tighten the nut right above the handle.  For whatever reason, when it sits for that long, it just needs a little tightening once the valve is turned.  Usually no more than a quarter turn is necessary and the leak will go away.

This is especially important to note when you’re working under a sink.  Leaks there might not be as noticeable as a puddle that would develop under a toilet, so you want to make sure to check for any water before you close the cabinet, otherwise you could inadvertantly create quite a bit of damage under your cabinets.

Hopefully this little tidbit helps.  Just know that the ‘Turn Water Off’ and ‘Turn Water On’ seem like the easiest part of the repair, but they just might require a little more than that.