It all started trivially enough. One of the girls had a toilet with a leaky flapper, so that it would periodically top off the tank, several times per night. Annoying, but a problem I’ve tackled several times before. No sweat. I showed her pictures of what to buy, and told her I would install it next time I came over. Big boyfriend points, eh?
So, last week I came over and looked at what she had bought. Yep, exactly right. There was a new fill valve to replace the ancient ball float valve and a new flapper. I opened up the tank over the toilet and got to work. Removing the fill valve was trivial, done in minutes. The flapper… was more of a challenge. The overflow tube was ancient copper, and had a large collar that extended an inch or more up the tube, tall enough that it was a challenge to get the flapper collar seated low enough. In fact, I couldn’t. Over multiple tests, the new flapper leaked enough that the fill valve kicked in every five minutes or so. And we were both appalled by how loud the fill valve was. Even more disturbing, the gasket at the bottom of the overflow tube was rotted; every time I brushed it, a stream of solid black squid ink floated away from the decaying gasket. Gahh! Okay, it was getting late and the hardware stores were already long closed. I re-installed the old flapper and called it “good enough” for the night. That would make things usable until the next time I could get to the hardware store and do the job right. Right?
Today, I headed to the hardware store (1) and got a new fill valve (quieter!), a new flapper (leak proof!), and a new gasket to fit between the tank and pedestal. I was even smart enough to get new bolts to attach the tank and pedestal, anticipating the existing ones would be too corroded to reuse. Gosh, I’m clever.
Over at the girlfriend’s, I ripped out the current fill valve and flapper and disconnected the tank from the pedestal. The bolts were just as corroded as I feared and took considerable work to get free, but we managed to get that done with no more damage than a bleeding knuckle. I started to investigate the decaying gasket. Aww, poop, it’s really the gasket at the base of the overflow tube, not the gasket between the tank and pedestal. No worries, we can replace that too, if I can just get the overflow tube removed. Twist, turn, snap. The copper overflow tube snapped off at the collar, an inch above the gasket. Shoot. Oh well, we were gonna have to go to the hardware store anyway to get the right gasket; I’ll just replace the overflow tube altogether. Easy. So, off to the local big box hardware store (2) where a little hunting found a replacement overflow tube. Back home.
Damn, the retaining bolt for the passage between the tank and pedestal must be 3 inches in diameter, and corroded solidly. The tiny little channel pliers in the girlfriend’s supply of tools isn’t anywhere near big enough to get it free. Le sigh. Back to the hardware store (3).
I came back with an adjustable wrench specifically intended for plumbers, that opened 3 inches and had very narrow channels to fit in the narrow space of the retaining collar. I wrestled with the damn thing over and over; once in a while I got it adjusted to just the right width, but still couldn’t get the nut/collar to budge. Another bleeding knuckle later, I went back to the hardware store again (4). I returned the previous wrench and bought three new ones, a massive pipe wrench, a massive channel pliers and a wide wrench intended for plumbing and removing oil filters. Back home.
I tried all three wrenches, with not even a smudge of success. At one point I was pulling with all my might with both arms while the girl held the tank down, and still didn’t make even a smidge of progress. Dammit! Back to the hardware store (5). Again!
I returned the previous three #$%!* wrenches. Bloody hell, I was gonna buy a new tank and be done with it; I was sick of this game. Back in the toilet section, I found an employee to query. He quickly informed me that tanks were pretty nonstandard, and trying to find one that fit some random toilet, especially an older one, was essentially a fool’s errand. I briefly considered an entirely new toilet; a decent one could be $200 easily. I cursed (not for the first time), wondered how I had gotten myself into this situation (not for the last time), and proceeded to the tool section to buy a hacksaw.
Back at the house, I started sawing through the collar/nut and tube that connects the tank and pedestal. And sawed. And sawed. More bloody knuckles. More cursing. An aching back. Forearms that whined at the abuse. Nearly an hour later, I finally snapped through the damn pipe and pulled the last troublesome piece out. As I paused to catch my breath, I also boggled at the absolute disaster zone the bathroom had become. Removed plumbing parts scattered in the sink, black smears of decaying gasket dripped and smeared all over the floor and bathtub. My hands were solid black, spotted with the occasional dribble of blood. I took a brief break to wash myself while the girl rinsed down the tank, and then we started the reassembly.
Overflow valve installed, bolts installed. I didn’t like the sponge gasket that came with the overflow tube (too big), but thankfully I had bought a different one (trip #1) and that seemed to fit okay. Tank reattached to the pedestal and bolts tightened until everything seemed stable. Flapper chain attached to lever. New fill valve inserted, retaining nut tightened, silicon tape applied, water reconnected. Still sprawled out on the bathroom floor, with no small degree of trepidation, I slowly opened the water valve. Water started filling the tank, no leaks at the water line or from the tank/pedestal gasket. With gradually swelling confidence, I opened the valve all the way and let the tank finished filling. When it stopped I laid very still and listened for the possible sound of a leaking flapper. Silence! I reached an arm up, flushed and listened to the tank fill again, once again listening for signs of a leaking flapper at the end. Satisfied, I finally levered myself up from the floor, feeling every single year of my considerable age.
Tools put away, packaging trashed, unused components set aside to return, the worst of the grime swiped away, a blindingly hot shower, a massive cocktail. Four hours, five trips to the big box hardware store, Saturday night lost. But the toilet is silent. Hopefully this blog post will help purge the remaining scars. Whew.
Dammit! Spoke too soon. Woke up to notice dampness on the floor behind the tank, most likely a leak in the connection between tank and pedestal. Sigh. Take it apart and reassemble. Still leaking. Ask girlfriend to head to the hardware store for plumbers putty while I take it apart again. Apply plumbers putty around the base of the overflow tube and reassemble. Still leaks. Weep openly. Pull out my hair. Kick in a stained glass window. Punch a nun. Call a contractor pal for advice. Take apart tank again, remove previous plumbers putty, and put down a fresh bead inside the tank, where the connecting bolts feed through the tank. Reassemble. Hold breath and… so far, no leaks.
If I see more droplets, I’m going to lie.
“That’s just condensation.”
“I think it’s raining in here.”