My second plumbing project of the year

I got my socks wet this morning. There’s not much worse than that, but one thing worse than wet socks is not knowing the provenance of the water now in your socks.

I assumed it was a shower dripping scenario. Safe bet, considering where my socks got wet. Sometimes you’re too enthusiastic to meet the day and water winds up not in the towel, but on the tile floor. That was not the case, because that would be an easy fix and not really worth discussing here after the obvious notation of the unpleasant nature of wet socks.

No, it was more than that. We have a plumbing problem. (For the first one of the year, a simple and yet long-running kitchen odyssey that I finally whipped in April, go here.) Precisely the sort of thing you want to discover just in time to leave for the office.

It seems that the seal at the base of the toilet has failed. So turn off the water supply, empty the basin, dry the floor and deal with it later. Also, this is a good time to replace the lid, which earlier this week started giving signs of failing as well.

It’s not an old house, but it’s nice when things go in concert, I guess.

I immediately envisioned this as a two-evening process, because who has the energy to correct all of this in one brief evening after a day of work and a trip to a hardware store and so on.

The day at work was pleasant, until late in the afternoon when I remembered this new chore I had awaiting me at the house. I visited the local small hardware store, between campus and domicile, for something called penetrating oil. I’d noticed that the bolts holding the lid in place were fused solid and something must be done about that.

This is peculiar hardware. It’s designed to be unobtrusive and installed once. No thought of that design is given to removal. That’s only going to happen once, after all. It seats almost flush, so the head isn’t large enough to offer real purchase. There is no drive, where your screwdriver tip goes, to control a counter-spin. (I just looked up that term, drive. I’ll use it incessantly now.) So it won’t be a painless removal. It won’t be pretty. Most importantly, it won’t be done by the person that installed them.

The directions on the penetration oil, by the way …

You can see why I bought this brand.

I did all of that, and in the “wait a while” portion I decided to re-fill the tank — something my lovely bride said made me hope that it was actually an easier problem to solve — to test our theory about the wax seal. Turns out the leak is from the underside of the tank. There are three contact points on the tank, one where the water moves and two bolt holes on either side. The water is coming from one of those bolt holes, I think. So I remove the tank cover. Inside, the non-suspect bolt on the left looks a bit worse for wear, some sharp rusted points, but fine. The one on the right, is my likely culprit. I reached into the tank to touch it and it exploded. I wish I had a camera on it. It looked like this:

That’s a hardware failure. Good news, maybe it’s not the wax seal. Bad news, now I have all of this to clean up the mess and fix the problem.

So I dried and cleaned and removed the tank from the base and wondered exactly how the head of a brass bolt simply disintegrates on contact. What’s in the water that can do that? And, in light of that, should I be considered about our many other standard water uses?

To the seat, then, with it’s peculiar one-use hardware that was, it turns out, totally unfazed by the penetrating oil. Ultimately we wound up snapping the hinge points and working a hacksaw through the bolts. (When you’re working a hacksaw through rust and steel it is important to remain patient, especially if you’re doing this in close proximity to porcelain you don’t want to mar.)

After that I went to the second hardware store of the day. The mission: a new seat and lid, and some new hardware to replace the bolts and washers that had failed in the tank.

Saw that bit of the sunset on the way there. Had a very kind young man help me find the parts I needed, and then returned to finish this job. Because, by now, I did not want this to be a two-evening experience. Get all of your wedged-in-a-tight-space-working-at-awkward-angles humility in one afternoon, I always say.

Bolt the tank to the base. Return the water supply, notice the leaks, turn off the water supply. Dry the wet floor again, tighten the bolts to create a proper seal. (Do not over-tighten around ceramic.) And then install the new seat and lid.

None of this takes any real time if you are working with good materials. We’re talking about four bolts and nuts here. But if home repair was easy, anyone could do it, right? After all of the this, and cleaning up and returning the tools to their proper home and so on, it was about about a five-hour project.

But I saw that sunset.

And I purchased replacement hacksaw blades. And, finally, I bought some standard wrenches. I’ve always gotten by with a metric set and crescent wrenches but this evening, wedged between a wall and the plumbing fixtures I finally just thought, ‘You know what? Buy a set with a 7/16 in it like everyone else does and get on with your chores.”

And, tonight, I will rest happily in the knowledge that there are no more leaks. And that the next time that lid gets replaced, maybe it won’t be by me.

Comments are closed.