Friday, September 17, 2010

Troubles by the Bowlful

When you're a homeowner, you quickly (or eventually) realize how naive it is to expect your stuff just to work. I currently have a fence that's starting to lean on one side and starting to rot on the other, I have a front door that has suddenly started to stick severely, and, up until recently, I had three toilets - not one of which reliably worked as designed.

I still have three toilets, of course. But I've had to put quite a bit of time, money, and effort into them recently. One of them would consistently clear the bowl like it was supposed to. That was important, as we needed it pretty badly. The problem with it was three-fold. First, the surface of the seat wore away within six months after I'd installed it. That made me fairly annoyed because it looked like hell, it was beyond any reasonable timeframe in which I could return it, but I wasn't about to replace it a second time that quickly. So I ignored it. Next, the flush mechanism stopped working right - you had to hold the handle down until the bowl cleared or it would stop mid-flush and you'd THEN have to hold the handle down. That was also annoying, but I figured I could squeeze a few more months out of it since it technically functioned. The final straw on this unit was when the handle actually broke (from all the holding-down, I suppose). It snapped clean off inside the tank.

The second toilet was actually the least problematic of the three. It would occasionally clog when flushed, certainly more than the first one ever did, but otherwise it worked pretty well. I tried and tried to clear whatever caused the clogs, but nothing worked. I called a plumber and they used a long augur on it, with no long-term improvement. So I bought my own augur and tried that. Up and down, up and down, again and again. It never seemed to make a difference - the toilet never overflowed or anything, but it was far more prone to clogging than I liked.

The third fixture was ultimately the real problem-child. It was always the most prone to clogging. It got to the point where you couldn't put much of anything in it, or it was guaranteed to clog. I tried the same stuff with this one - called a plumber, used my own augur, and it really didn't fix anything. I don't know what was blocking things up, but it wasn't something that could be cleared. So we got into a routine - it would clog, I'd go after it with the plunger, it would unclog enough to work for a while (if you were really careful what you tried to flush) and then it would eventually clog again and the cycle would repeat. Worse, it took FOREVER for the tank to refill after you flushed it. I was never clear why, it just did. The final straw for this one was the ugliest of them all.

One morning I flushed the toilet and went downstairs for breakfast. My wife was at the kitchen sink, and a short time later she remarked that there was water leaking from the window frame in front of her. It was raining outside, so I figured there must be a leak there somewhere. I needed a ladder to get up over the window-frame outside and check. The ladder was upstairs in my bedroom closet (beside a half-finished closet organizer I've been "working" on all Summer). From my bedroom, I could hear that the toilet in the master bath - toilet number three - was still running. It also did that sometimes, so I went in to jiggle the handle. SPLASH! There was an inch of water in my bathroom. Oh crap! At least now I knew where the leak in the kitchen window was from.

I dashed down to the basement for the wet/dry vac and then hauled the enormous thing up to the bathroom. Within seconds, the water from the floor was safely removed. I could no longer afford to treat that toilet as a simple nuisance, however. This was war!

Back downstairs, I discovered some water stains on the kitchen ceiling and the glass globe of one of the light fixtures was doing its best impression of a fishbowl. Lovely! I killed the power at the electrical panel and took the light apart so it could dry. Then I got on the horn to the plumber.

This fellow tried the augur route (or root, ha-ha!) again, but to no avail. I'd already told him beforehand that unless he saw or felt something that gave him reason to believe he'd actually fixed something, we were going to need assume a more aggressive posture. As far as he could tell, the augur hadn't done anything new for me. The only sure remedy was a swift, lethal response. The fixture needed to be terminated with extreme prejudice.

And so it was. In fact, I decided to go ahead and do both of the units upstairs, because they were both prone to clog to various degrees. I figured whatever was wrong with fixture three was probably also wrong, to a lesser extent, with fixture two. I didn't want to take a chance that it might eventually overflow as well.

Now, note that I don't remember my parents ever having anything like this sort of problem in either of the houses I'd grown up in. The notion of having to replace a toilet was entirely foreign to me. I don't know if the ones I had were particularly crappy (ha-ha) or what, but I found this whole situation extremely annoying. Why my stuff has to break I don't know, but I'm not a fan.

Luckily, the new fixtures weren't hideously expensive (just very expensive when you do two at once, though I did negotiate a deal on them with the plumber. I probably still got screwed, that's just my way) and the installation was a breeze (by which I mean that the professional plumber had no difficulty installing them. I sure as hell didn't try to do it. Can you imagine?). Better yet, they work wonderfully! They flushed quickly and quietly, seeming to use much less water than the older ones. They seem to have a strong pressure, too, so I'm not worried about clogs at all. Also, it turns out that the problem with the third fixture refilling slowly was corrected as well, so I no longer have to listen to it run for 3-5 minutes every time we use it. Mission accomplished - the two target units were back on duty.

That just left fixture number one, with its broken handle, prematurely-worn seat, and incomplete flushes. I hired out the job on the upstairs targets - they needed a pro. But the main-floor problem was all mine. I suited up, grabbed my weapons, and we did battle. A few hours of contortions, swearing, and frustration later, it was like a completely new toilet. My bowlsful of troubles were behind me...

...for now.

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