Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bad Toilet Karma

In this Wednesday's edition of "what she bought", we give you a trip to the hardware store -- plus, while we're out, a brief visit to a print shop.  And as a bonus, we bring you a toilet repair tutorial!
The SPDM at the print shop.  

I think the Grumpies put a curse on me in the comments of one of their recent posts when they told someone "I think Miser Mom has a tutorial on fixing toilets".  I didn't actually have one, although a year ago I had written that my husband and sons found it surprisingly easy to replace the flapper valves.  Then, this past summer, the hinges on my toilet seats gave way.  The Toilet Curse struck yet again last Thursday as I prepared for the annual winter math meetings: the toilet started running constantly.  These toilets!   Although they are low flow (which is the positive, eco-reason we bought them), I am less and less impressed with their movable hardware.
The thing on the left has an arm that goes up and down with the float.
In a toilet that works, when the arm is up, the water stops flowing.
The open pipe in the middle should stick out a bit above the water (but here, it doesn't).

This time, the problem wasn't a bad-fitting flapper valve; instead, the long stem piece with the arm that goes up-and-down (you can see it I really know my plumbing terminology) didn't shut the water off even when the floater had lifted the arm up.  Hence, trip to the hardware store and nearby print store, where I spent a grand total of $63.44:  $34.34 on printing family letters, $20-ish on a new smoke detector to replace one that wigged out a few weeks ago, and $7.48 on the stem-arm-thingie.

Shopping haul.
Note that this means fixing a toilet yourself can be really cheap: only $7.50.  And I was delighted to find that if I just looked around a little, I could get a new "Toilet Fill Valve" (oh, so THAT's what it's called!) in a cardboard box instead of in plastic fortress casing.

From here, it's just a simple matter of following the directions, which actually are straightforward and well illustrated.  I love plumbing instructions!
There are even more detailed directions inside the box.

Okay, except that nothing is ever PERFECTLY simple when it comes to plumbing repair.  In the case of a . . . what's it called?  Oh yeah, in the case of a toilet fill valve, the hard part for me was getting off the old one.  The difficulty is partly geometry:  there's a "locknut" down under the toilet that holds the valve on, and it's hard to see it, and it's hard to reach it.
The nut that holds that stem in place isn't easy to see or to reach.
 There's also friction (the threads had gotten gunky over time, making it hard to turn the locknut), and there was even more geometry (the other end of this all is the valve itself, which is inside the tank, and you have to hold that still while turning the nut -- and of course, the inside stuff is a bit wet and slippery).
Once I grabbed the stem with the vise grips, it cracked.
No going back now: onward to install the new valve!

Taking off that danged white locknut took about 45 minutes, about 40 of which I futzed about by myself. Then my husband came by to help.  With my husband using the vise grips to hold the valve still, and with me using pliers and a bit of elbow grease to turn the nut, we got the nut the rest of the way off in only 5 more minutes.  So the moral of that story is: big pliers, a vise grip, and two people.

From there, it really only took less than 10 minutes to finish the job -- and that included cleaning up the mess.  And I could tell you how I did it, but the directions are in the box and they're really easy to read, and better than anything I could write.  


  1. Now you know why plumbers have big forearms and are strong! It is often hard work. Good job, toilets are fairly simple to fix. I think the parts tend to wear out fast because of the minerals in the water. When we lived in VA out in the country and used well water we had the water tested and a conditioning system put on. The tests showed that the water was way too acidic, as well as having a high iron content. The acidity was eating away all the parts in the toilets and sink faucets. After we got the conditioning system we didn't have anymore plumbing issues.

    1. Yes! And big tools are even more helpful than big arms! (I hadn't thought about having our water checked. I may have to look into that, thanks).

  2. Good to know! Maybe I'll just fix my own since my landlord is shady and I don't want him in my apartment. LOL. For $7.50 I can just fix it myself then (with :)

    1. It could be, like, a Plumbing Party! Invite many friends! Add music! (Okay, maybe I'm giddy from lack of sleep).

  3. Yes, fixing toilets is usually pretty straightforward. I wouldn't say I love it, but I don't find it too hard. Tho, right now, we have a public-bathroom style toilet in our bathroom (not quite sure why other than that we live in a dorm), and that is befuddling to me. I think all the parts for that are in the wall somehow.

    1. Huh! I haven't seen that before! But I guess, I don't live in a public bathroom (or a dorm).