Saturday, February 18, 2012

Quiltingmama's Excellent Adventure in Plumbing

WARNING:  This post will contain graphic photos of a toilet tank, but only clean water will be shown.

A few days ago I was still halfway asleep in bed when I heard IT Prof exclaim with some degree of panic in his voice, "The toilet's broken!"

"Oh, no!  I thought.  "Is water flooding out?" I called as I stumbled out of bed and stood ready to run for rags.

"The toilet handle's broken," IT Prof replied.

"Oh, good," I thought.  "That's not so bad," my brain continued.

I walked over to the "broken toilet," removed the tank's lid, and set it down in a stable position on the closed toilet lid.  I rolled up my pajama sleeve, stuck my hand in the tank, and pulled the chain, which was lying on the bottom of the tank because the rod connected to the handle had broken off.  "Cheap plastic," I thought.

Meanwhile, IT Prof came over from the sink and, for some reason unknown to him and me, demanded worriedly,  "What are you doing?"

"I'm trying to see what's broken," I answered.  "The good news is we can still flush the toilet from the inside."

"We need a plumber," IT Prof told me.

"Why?"  I thought.

The more I considered the broken toilet handle, the more I believed we finally had a plumbing problem I could fix without risk of flooding the house.  Certainly it was worth trying before I called a plumber.

So, after I used the exercise bike (yes, I'm currently on a health kick), showered, dressed, and ate breakfast, I drove to Lowe's.  Sure enough, there were several choices of replacement toilet handles with the rods attached.  Some of the merchandise looked like what our toilet handle mechanism had looked like before failing.  After I selected what I wrongly or rightly believed was the sturdiest, I spent about $8 and took my new toilet handle and rod home.

I had no trouble taking the two separate broken pieces of the old handle and rod out of the toilet.  When I opened the package, however, my problems began.  "How do I separate the rod from the handle, so I can install it?" I wondered.

Judiciously cautious attempts at separation failed.  The instructions on the package were not helpful either because all they said was something like "Install new toilet handle."  Now I was afraid that I would break the new toilet handle trying to replace it.  Maybe I should have called a plumber.  But, the repair looked as though it should be embarrassingly simple.

I am a baby boomer, not a child of the Information Age.  I know YouTube exists, but I rarely use it.  I decided the computer might be able to help me separate the parts of the new toilet handle.

Sure enough, I had my choice of videos (which, as far as plumbing and I go, were much better than text instructions).  About ten seconds into the video, the plumber had shown how the nut came off the opposite end of the rod and the rod went into the tank from the outside hole for the handle.

"Eureka!" I thought.  I was almost as proud of thinking of YouTube as Archimedes had been in his bathtub after his discovery.

Previously I had been afraid of breaking the plastic nut if I tried screwing it off, but the video made me brave.  With a little bit of force, the nut came off, and, just as the plumber had done in the video, I pushed the rod through the hole in the tank, fiddled with it a little so the rod turned in the correct direction, and screwed the nut back on.  I attached the chain to the non-handle end of the rod.

Nothing exploded when I gently tested the flushing mechanism.  Nor did the handle break off as some sort of cosmic joke.  The new handle did its job!  I replaced the tank lid and proudly looked at my new toilet handle.

Aren't I weird to consider replacing the toilet handle as a great achievement?  However, when IT Prof, who tends to be less handy around the house if it doesn't involve computers than I, came home, he was suitably impressed.  Not only was he glad the handle was replaced, but he also thought I had been very clever to think of using YouTube to help me.

We really are barely competent at home repair, so our standards of success are rather low; aren't they?

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