Toilet Breaking

One of these days I will learn to just hire it out…

The downstairs toilet has been going off on its own for over a year now.  It’s been annoying, but I’ve always managed to adjust or reseat some piece of equipment in the reservoir tank to buy a couple weeks of stability.  But last week it got to the point where every time you flushed, the plunger mechanism that lifted to let the water into the bowl would suck the O-ring below it out of its track.  This caused the toilet to go off roughly every 30 seconds and require one to stick their arm into the reservoir and push the O-ring back down to get it to stop.  Although the kids would have probably thought it a great thing to do every time they flushed—and would probably be spending a lot more time in the bathroom—I decided it was time to replace the toilet’s internals.  Plus, Ann was hosting a Halloween party in a few days, then William was having some friends over for his Birthday, and I plan to host the family for Thanksgiving dinner.  I imagine it would look sort of strange for me to run into the bathroom and perform open-reservoir surgery on the toilet every time someone relieved themselves.  So, I picked up some new toilet internals and the night before Ann’s Halloween party set to work.

The only way to replace the parts causing problems was to remove the entire reservoir tank in order to remove a nut under it.  This was probably a pretty humorous process to watch from behind as there’s really no space to get to the necessary nuts and bolts without literally hugging the toilet and bending around it in strange ways.  Fortunately, the kids were with their grandmother or they probably would have been taking pictures and offering choice words of encouragement.  After a couple of setbacks, the tank was off, the internals replaced, and the whole thing was bolted back on.  Now, for the test flush…

I turned on the water for a couple seconds and checked for leaks—so far so good!  I then let it fill a little more and did the flush.  Thankfully I hadn’t filled the tank too much as water spewed most everywhere—except of course into the bowl where it was supposed to go.  Don’t ask me why, but I was still wearing my church clothes at this time, (who doesn’t fix toilets in their Sunday best?), so first stop was to change into something more appropriate—and drier.  Next I looked over the parts that I had removed and found a rubber gasket that looked like it could fit between the reservoir and bowl assemblies.  Unfortunately, testing this theory would require removing the tank once again, so I went upstairs to check one of the other toilets.  Sure enough, there was that gasket!  Oh, well, back to hugging the toilet to remove the tank yet again.

A little while later, everything is bolted back in place and it’s time for the leak test.  I let a little water in and notice a slight drip falling off the bolt in back.  Now, this bolt is the hardest to get to and frankly my main concern is if the gasket now keeps the water flowing into the bowl correctly.  So, I fill the tank a little more and test a flush.  It works, although there’s still that pesky leak in the back.  Regardless, I’m feeling pretty confident at this point, so let the tank fill all the way while I tighten the back bolt some more.  My logic there is that water is dripping from the bottom of a bolt means it just needs a little tightening…right?  Keep in mind that because of the tight space, I’m only tightening about three ratchet clicks at a time, so it’s slow going.  But no matter how much I tighten, and it seems like a while now, the drips keep dripping.

My efforts are quietly interrupted by a strange sound.  It’s faint, but weird enough that I stop and sit back to assess the situation.   As I think about it now, I liken the sound to the squeaky cracking noise you hear when putting an ice cube into warm liquid.  I didn’t have time to make that association then, though, as a second later there was a much louder and more definitive cracking noise followed by a thunderclap as the entire reservoir split in two and one side slammed into the vanity.  A cornucopia of other sounds quickly erupted—things not usually heard in the bathroom unless you have one of those radios that play “soothing nature” tracks in there.  First up was Niagara Falls as 1.6 gallons of water spilled onto the floor, (OK, 1.6 gallons is chump change compared to Niagara, but it was impressive up close in a small room).  Next came the trickling of a forest creek as the water flowed around me and out into the hallway.  Finally, there was the tropical rainfall as water seeped through the floor and fell into the basement.  (The fact that water seeped through the floor into the basement is a bit disturbing now that I think about it…)

My plans for the day are totally shot at this point.  I manage to clean up the water, vacuum up ceramic slivers, and mop, but like a good procrastinator leave the rest of the mess for tomorrow.

Cue early Monday morning.  I have a couple hours before work and have to tackle the bathroom quickly because Ann’s Halloween party starts right after quitting time.  My plan is to remove the reservoir from the toilet in the master bathroom and replace the broken one with it.  All is going well until I’m lifting the remains of the broken tank…

There are two things that I’ve heard about but never really understood.  One is the sharpness of ceramic and the other is the speed of communication of the central nervous system.  I didn’t “feel” anything, but something made me look down at my wrist in time to see the jagged edge of the ceramic tank slicing into it and cutting a clean line.  I watched almost the whole thing unfold and it was exactly like something from a movie when a scalpel is used to make an incision in someone’s body.  It was only after the cut ended and I was marveling at seeing various layers of skin before my brain registered, “ouch”, and things like, “this is going to be gushing blood any second now”.  I grabbed some paper towel and applied pressure, then went upstairs and wrapped an Ace bandage tightly around it.  My first thought was to go to Urgent Care and get a couple stitches, (logical), but I had a SCHEDULE to keep and this toilet wasn’t going to cause me any more grief, (illogical).  Logic did not prevail.

After the First Aid, it was back to the toilet.  This time a wide berth was made around sharp ceramic while the pieces were packaged up and carted off to the garbage.  My wrist kept sending me throbbing messages like, “you shouldn’t be picking up heavy objects”, but the complaints were ignored.  The replacement reservoir was attached and worked like a charm on the first try.  Work was attended as scheduled.  Ann had a great party.  Somewhere in there I even managed to sculpt “severed finger” Hors d’Oeuvres out of string cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds (from our pumpkin), and chunky salsa.  (They looked really cool.  You rip the string cheese in half, carve the un-ripped side so it’s rounded, slice some “knuckle wrinkles” on the top, apply a pumpkin seed as a fingernail, and spread some salsa on the ripped side to look like blood.)  There’s only one thing to wrap up and that’s the toilet now missing a reservoir.  Well, I suppose the cut too, but by the end of the day it was looking much better, (i.e. closed enough that you can’t see distinct layers of skin), after I applied some of that liquid skin on it during a redressing, so guess stitches really weren’t needed.  But the toilet is the important thing, right?

I figured I’d either have to buy a whole new toilet or special order a reservoir tank from the original manufacturer, but on a whim the kids and I stopped by one of those home improvement stores tonight and actually found just a tank for sale.  I was going to attach it after the kids were in bed, but it looks like someone previously bought this unit, took some parts from it then returned it.  So, I’ll have to exchange it tomorrow and try again.

I was going to wait to write down this memory until the journey was totally finished with the new tank attached, but seriously, what could go wrong now??

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