Man’s Work

I have mentioned before that I really hate plumbing.

In particular, I detest toilets.

Of course, I’d never suggest doing without. It isn’t the utility of the toilet I dislike, it’s that they fail. They fail in varied, annoying and often expensive ways.

It was the failure of Breezy (for those who don’t recall: it’s in the main bathroom upstairs) that set me off. Or rather, prompted my dear wife to apply the goad of wifely urgency:

“That toilet keeps flushing. You need to fix it.” That’s all I needed, just a word. Re-applied periodically, over the course of two or three months. Then I get to action. Because I am a man of it.

Since I’d had it with all three of our toilets, I decided I was going to go all out and replace their innards completely: rip out the old float valves, overflow tubes, flush levers, flapper valves, seats and bolts. All of it.

Because enough’s enough.

My wife and I chose a Saturday to procure said toilet guts at the local Home Depot. In an uncharacteristic turn, there were several helpful associates there in their bright orange aprons ready to help us find what we needed.

“Toilet parts?” we asked. The hard-boiled guy who looked a little like Willem Dafoe’s brother spoke first.

“You’re right close by. Next aisle over,” he said, and walked with us to where the gleaming toilet parts hung in blister packs as high as could be seen without neck strain.

“Excellent,” I said.

“What do you need?”

“Well, I was tihnking about replacing everything.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Are they pretty old?”

“Over eight years,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s the best thing to do. Myself, I like to replace ‘em all out every two years or so,” he said, his tone taking on the delight of a man looking forward to his next fishing trip.

“Well, guess that means we’re due, then.” I countered, not sharing the anticipatory glee by any measure.

I grabbed three sets and steered our cart toward the checkout line.

After dispatching some other distractions at home, I started in on The Great Toilet Recovery Act of 2011.

My first victim: Breezy.

These “total gut replacement” kits require one to remove the tank from the toilet. Luckily, they come with new gaskets and bolts, which means that if it leaks once you’re done, it’s not their fault.

So let’s get to it! First step: turn off the water supply and remove the supply hose. Suddenly remember that you need a towel underneath to catch the drips. Okay, done. Now, flush the toilet to empty the tank. No problem. Next, loosen the bolts securing the tank. Wisely remember before getting too far that you should have a bucket handy to catch the inevitable cascade of water that will pour forth from the bolt hole. Loosen the bolt, watch in frustration as the water clings to the porcelain surfaces surrounding the hole to form a maddeningly perfect dispersal pattern that avoids the carefully positioned bucket entirely, showering the bathroom floor.

Mop up the flood with your second towel.

Finish with the bolts, then remove the inlet valve assembly. Observe a fresh new waterfall soaking the other side of the toilet and marvel that there could still be water left in the tank after the last deluge.

Mop up the floor with third towel.

Inspect tank for any additional pockets of water that may be hidden. Satisfied that the tank is not going to suddenly spout forth from another hidden spring, it’s time to remove the overflow valve and flapper seat assembly. This requires use of the largest wrench you have. Open the jaws as wide as they’ll go to fit the massive nut holding the assembly in place. When you find that even this is not wide enough, proceed to wield the wrench according to it’s alternate use, repeatedly bashing the side of the nut to loosen it enough to turn by hand.

With the old assembly removed, scrape any remaining gasket off the tank, both inside and out. Make a disgusted face at the deteriorated, gloppy, foul condition of the old gasket and wonder whether it had contact with anything unsavory. Wash hands thoroughly.

With the tank thoroughly stripped of its workings, it’s time to get the new parts ready for installation. Remove them from their packaging, scoff derisively at the instructions, and set them aside. How hard could it be?

Let’s see: flapper valve and overflow tube assembly, inlet valve assembly, package of three bolts and nuts, mysterious plastic arm with foreign-looking double gasket and large plastic nut, long black flexible tube, small cup.

Hear wife’s voice in your head: “Read the instructions.”


Ah: the mysterious double gasket is actually two gaskets cleverly formed together, and the plastic arm is the bracket for the fill tube. No problem.

Reading on: one must cut the overflow tube to be one inch lower than the critical line on the inlet valve. Given the height of the tank and the inlet valve, that would mean I’d need to hack off about five inches of the tube, which would put the fill line of the toilet at about three inches depth. Hmmmm. It also says that it is CRITICAL that the tube be NO MORE than ONE INCH LOWER than the CRITICAL LINE because this is PLUMBING CODE. Clearly, I will be in violation if I do not cut the tube. The toilet police will undoubtedly be alerted upon its first flush. We don’t want that.

Inspecting the new parts more closely, I see that the inlet valve can be adjusted. Ah, that’s the key. The instructions mention adjusting the inlet valve. Set the valve to maximum height for the tank, and install it. Next, measure the overflow tube and make a mark where it should be cut. In this case, two inches down. Okay.

Take a trip down to the garage, scare up a hacksaw and make the cut.

Back upstairs and install the overflow tube and flapper valve assembly. This assembly requires use of the very large nut, the one that is wider than any wrench you could ever legally own. Happily, the instructions are very clear in stating that the nut must be secured HAND TIGHT ONLY! Good; hands I have. I keep them with me at all times.

With this secure, I’m nearly done.

Then I notice that the flapper valve itself has an adjustment. Really? I’ve never seen this before. The instructions mention that this adjustment is for flush volume. Well, let’s go for the gusto here: set it to max!

Now install the new flush arm, and cut the chain to length. Be sure that the chain is long enough to let the flapper valve seat properly, but not so long that the flush arm has to actually exit the top of the tank in order to work. Most people are keen on having a solid lid on their toilet tank, and the lid will hamper the flush arm’s progress if the chain is too long.

Finally, secure the fill tube on the overflow tube with the bracket. The instructions helpfully explain that if the fill tube is inserted down into the overflow tube (as is commonly done), then it could siphon water back out, which makes the toilet re-fill periodically. This is that mysterious “ghost flush” that some toilets (including Breezy here) will do from time to time.

Now that everything’s installed, it’s time to put the toilet tank back on the bowl.

Make sure everything’s debris-free, and seat the tank on the bowl securely. Insert both bolts with gasket from the inside, and secure from underneath with the metal washer and nut. Use a flat-bladed screwdriver that has a head that is as large as possible; preferably the size of a crowbar’s wide end. Hold the nut securely from beneath to keep it from slipping. Doing both at the same time is easiest if you are an Orangutan, as it requires an arm span of eight feet. If you have opposable thumbs on your feet as well, this is the time to employ them.

With the tank in place and secure, it’s time to reconnect the water supply.

Remember, hand tight only!

If all goes well (and it actually did in my case), you can turn on the water supply now.

Check for leaks. Tighten things a smidge if there are any leaks… but don’t overtighten.

Try a test flush. Notice that the water level, upon refilling, comes to within one millimeter of the top of the overflow tube, send prayer of thanks to God that you didn’t cut off more of that tube.

All done! And it works! No more mysterious flush/refill cycles, no more jiggling the handle, no more manual re-seating of the flapper valve.

Oh – and while we’re at it, let’s install the new Never Have To Adjust Or Replace It toilet seat. Now we won’t be able to really call this one Breezy any more…

So: one down, two to go.

But not today. Now, it’s time to take some Ibuprofen and rest on your laurels for a while.

After two and half hours of work, I headed downstairs, schlepping four sopping wet towels, a bucket of scum water, a tool box and a box full of old toilet guts, no doubt looking like I lost the battle. My wife was on her way up.

She took a look at me and smiled. “I’m glad you’re the husband,” she said.

Me too.

3 Responses to Man’s Work

  1. michaelsownmom

    Yes, I am very glad you are the husband!!!

  2. Yes, I am so glad you have addressed this much maligned and ignored topic. Toilets should come out of the closet!! It is time someone revealed the enormity of this issue: we must stop hiding from it. Let us hope that others will see the light and reveal their own toilet torment!! Good for you, Michael’s Daddy, you are a leader.

  3. next older brother

    Hope none of those wet towels ended up on the roof, har, har.