Plumbing repair and the male species

A couple of months ago I was working down my “Honey-Do” list when I got to the last insult: fix the leaking downstairs toilet. The Joe Bob Briggs Summary of this story would sound like: Plumbing-Fu, Gratuitous Multiple Trips to Home Depot, Cussin’, Gratuitous Water Spraying, Teflon Tape-Fu, and Tool Tossing. Three stars, check it out.

This repair had been on and off my list for a while. The toilet would slowly drip, and then refill. I replace the flapper, and it seemed to work fine whenever I was home. She’d put it on the list, I’d try to keep an ear out, but I could never reproduce the symptom, and take it off. (It can be fairly argued that I did not want to reproduce the leak.)

Eventually, this was the last item on the list. If a new flapper didn’t work, the next step would be to try a putty-like washer that flattens out the rough spots. I drained the toilet and let it air out. The toilet sits under a shelf, so I could barely get my arm in, let alone position the damned washer correctly on the hole. I somehow turned it into a horribly deformed mobius strip before giving up.

That was a pretty pointless exercise, and the kids kept coming in before realizing that I’m working, there are two other functioning toilets in the house. Use them. . Sigh… now my recourse would be to replace the spud washer between the tank and the seat. This more serious, multi-hour project, includes another trip to Home Depot. Being male, it also means that I ought to undertake every other task needed to make this toilet completely craptastic:

Since I would be ripping out the tank, I might as well finish painting behind it. Check.

Can’t reach under there, so while it’s out, let’s replace the flush valve because Lord Knows it’s hard enough to get in there. Check

The other nagging thing is the water cutoff valve was the original issue with the metal flex-line built in, and as soon as I try to move it out of the way, it’ll probably rupture. This requires ripping out the old valve and putting a new one on. Checkmate.

As is custom in my family, whenever I’m undertaking plumbing repairs, especially involving direct access to running, pressurized water, my spouse will take the children out of the house. I don’t want to speculate on the exact reason, except that there’s an implicit mutual understanding that this is best for everyone involved.

I rip everything out fairly quickly. (This appears to be my calling in life.) I try to get the new valve on first, because once the water’s stopped, I’m almost done. For some reason, I can’t seem to fully stop the trickle of water out of the valve pipe. It’s not that quick, regular, or pressurized, and I assume it’s just the upstairs draining down.

Round 1, I rely on the existing compression fitting to hold. It doesn’t. I waste another half hour “draining the pipes.” For Round 2, I wrap the end with a couple of layers of teflon tape. Nope. Drain again, and put a large bowl under to catch the occasional spurt of water. Round 3, I pull off the existing compression fitting and use the new one. Bzzzt. By Round 4, I theorize that somehow the pipe’s warped where the original compression fitting was and water, being devious, mockingly goes past. Another trip to Home Depot… I see they have a dozen different kinds of these valves and they’re mostly mis-shelved. I try to compare them to what I have, finally ask the guy there for some suggestions. He recommends cutting a small piece of the existing off. To do this, I can buy an $8.00 tool or a $28.00 tool, the primary difference being the $28 tool allows replacement of the cutting disc. Normally this would be a no brainer — go for the expensive tool — but I usually avoid plumbing work, so cheap it is.

Round 5, I cut off about an inch of pipe and try it with the new compression fitting and valve and teflon tape. Not only does it leak as well as before, but it also so short that it drips into the wall. I figure I’ll have to extend the pipe a bit and work with that.

Round 6 begins after another trip to Home Depot, I return with a plumber’s torch, a one foot piece of copper pipe, and a fitting, intent on welding a 2″ extension of copper pipe onto the existing one, just so I can put a fricken valve on. Then it hits me like a lemon peel wrapped around a large brick: What in the hell am I thinking? Torch = fire. Fire = potential other long-term projects, possibly involving more plumbing.

My spouse is still out, so I thumb through the yellow pages, finding a nearby, 24-hour plumber. Feeling hopeful, I call. They have someone who can be out in an hour.

The plumber, Darren, arrives as promised. He’s tall, thin, and well-cut guy who is unfazed when I fess up to my plumb-ingcompetence. I give him simple instructions: fix the whole thing. He thumbs through his book and quotes me $150 to do the work. I agree, thinking to myself, “I pissed away the whole day to save $150?.”

My wife calls while he’s fishing around in his truck, and I ask her to keep the kids out for another couple hours, vaguely dancing around the fact that here, in my home is a plumber finishing a job I couldn’t.

Darren asks me how to shut off the water. I explain that there’s a cutoff under the sink, and it’s shut off. He disagrees and finds the valve in the front yard. The water stops. (The cutoff valve doesn’t quite work, so water bounces around in the pipes until it can drain out, hence the nondeterministic flow I’m seeing.) Enlightened, I relegate myself to watching TV, occasionally popping my head in. This does not faze him, either.

An hour and a half and $150 later, I have a fully functional downstairs toilet. I pay the bill, trying not to let on how happy I am that the ordeal is over. Darren leaves.

While I clean up the array of tools and half-consumed (by me) plumbing parts, my wife and kids roll in. After the kids go to bed, I explain the story. My spouse avoids the obvoius sarcastic comments.

I was reminded of this close encounter of the plumbing kind after reading Bored but Busy. Incidentally, I returned the plumber’s torch to Home Depot the next day. I don’t need dangerous tools like this around the house 😉

5 thoughts on “Plumbing repair and the male species”

  1. I’m afraid we’ll have to call the Manliness Police on you. Failing the Toilet Test is a serious offense.


  2. I love the word “craptastic”. I’m going to start using it as often as possible in everyday conversation.

  3. My luck with plumbing has been pretty good, but I had a similar experience to you with DRY WALL.

    Interestingly, the drywall problem STARTED as a plumbing problem. Toilet was overflowing (after the wife used it) and water was hitting the tile in front of the toilet. Since I didn’t want a lot of water on the bathroom floor, I leaned over the water, down to the commode to shut it off with my right hand while bracing my left hand against the wall. I slipped, crashing down on the toilet paper holder, ripping it out of the wall, leaving two VERY large holes where it was braced into the dry wall.

    So instead of a simple plunger job, I now had to giant holes in the wall.

    I consulted my neighbor Gary, who is like Wilson on Home Improvement, except I can see his face.

    Gary lent me tape to patch over the wall then the “mud” you would put over it, a flat trowel to smooth it with and then a manual sander attached to a pole (although this was in reach). He did warn that if the holes were too big, it might be a job of cutting and replacing a section.

    So I got to work patching, putting on mud, smoothing. Didn’t look too good while wet, but let a dry a day. Then sanded. Looked bad, so sanded more. Sanded down to the tape, which ripped, so holes showed again. Back to square one.

    Went back to Gary and explained problem. Gary gave name of handy man. Called handy man, who came out and sawed out section of wall, replaced with new drywall, mudded twice, sanded. Wall good as new for $70, including all materials. He offered to paint and put in a new TP holder, but my male ego being bruised, I assured him I was up to the task.

    $70 after wasting half a day. Will be keeping handyman’s card.

  4. Working around the HOUSE!
    Any project requires numerous trips to Home Depot.
    I was mobilized and spent most of the last two years in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.
    When I returned home the project that I started were still the way I left them. Paint brush on the floor a toilet next to the pool table.
    The only consolation is that I no longer have that overbearing witch hounding me to fix something or in this case finish fixing something.
    Anyway, I have had unfortunate results with just about every house hold project. Once I started to remove some tape from the wall where a poster had been hung. Two hours later I was patching a large hole where my fist had entered the living room from the bedroom. Patching wallboard horror stories just get better. In repairing one wall I found it justified to remove the wall.
    I had an electrician come out to see if he could figure out why my lights were dimming. I turned on the garbage disposal and as the lights dimmed smoke poured out of the computer and the printer.
    He turned to me with the strangest look on his face and told me that I needed a priest not an electrician!

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