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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Back to Plumbing



I'm feeling well enough to get into jobs I don't like. Not sure if that's progress.

One of my toilets was leaking water from the tank to the bowl. It wasn't a lot, but it bothered me. I'm very sensitive to the working systems of my house. It used electricity to run the pump, was a waste of water, and caused unnecessary wear and tear. Another concern was the septic system. Too much water in the leach field can cause it to fail. With the spring snow melt and rain, there's already a lot of water to deal with.

I tried to do some quick repairs. Lesson one: universal flapper valves are not universal. The first one I bought didn't work. Lesson two: even the correct style might not form a perfect seal.

One of my Christmas gifts was a gift card from Lowes. It was enough to buy a complete replacement kit for all the workings in the tank. I was done messing around with sub-par parts. I thought the kit worked reasonably well. That is, until I turned the water one and the bathroom floor was covered in water. It turned out the bolt gaskets that came with the kit just did not work on my toilet. Fortunately, the old parts were still good, so I didn't have to run to the hardware store.

Toilets are pretty basic with a lot of parts in common between different makes and models. Unfortunately, there is just enough variation to cause problems. They are also built cheaply. When the original parts were removed it came as a surprise to see how poorly they were made. All the metal parts were rusty and the plastic parts brittle and weak.

Toilets are one of those things you want to just work. When you think about it, though, there's a lot of stuff that has to function properly for it to do its job. There's a bunch of moving parts in a wet environment. Water and sewage systems have to be functioning. In the case of people with water pumps, the electrical systems must function too.

It kinda made me long for the simple composting toilet I had on the sailboat. It didn't use water, power, or need a holding tank. In an emergency situation a simple Luggable Loo bucket style toilet is fine. I built my own for my first sailboat using a bucket, a toilet seat and some scrap lumber. There was very little odor, and believe me, in a small sailboat there is no place to hide from foul odors. What smell there was mild and earthy.

Having some kind of bucket toilet is a good idea for emergencies. It's easy to build a nice one. Plans are all over the Internet. If you don't want to do that you can often buy simple ones from big box stores for less than $20. Peat moss or coconut husk works well to cover up the deposits. If you don't have that, sawdust or even kitty litter will do.

Modern flush toilets are nice, but a major failure point in an emergency. Sanitation is important and a backup plan is a good idea. In the old days, everyone had an outhouse -and they were disgusting. Wastes are broken down by anaerobic bacteria, and the gases generated are nasty. Composting toilets use aerobic bacteria and the process is much more nose pleasant.

Toilet issues are something most of us don't like to think too much about. However, like they say in the kids books: everybody poops.

-Sixbears

20 comments:

  1. I remember when my father installed a composting toilet in my parents former log home. After cleaning out the compost just once, he said "nope", and immediately installed a regular low flow toilet

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    1. There are composting toilets and there are composting toilets. Some are easier to deal with than others. Some work better than others.

      The one I had on the sailboat was much better to deal with than normal marine heads.

      But thanks Adam, as now I have an image of your dad noping his way through a bad clean out. It's funny because it wasn't me. :)

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  2. Years ago we bought the "Humanure" book by Joseph Jenkins and built our first composting potty. The resulting compost can be put on trees and shrubs. We recently purchased a small house with some acreage in Oklahoma and it has just one bathroom. We keep the homemade potty on the closed in porch which has good ventilation. It works great and solves the problem when someone else is in the main bathroom. Also, we have toilet issues like yours and are going to have to deal with them. We have the small leak which can make the well run for no reason.

    I appreciate your post about the toilet repair and your experiences. Thanks.

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    1. You are welcome Janet. Good to see you had a good experience. It's a useful book that takes a lot of the mystery out of the process.

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  3. I have never had much success with plumbing problems. Generally, my wife and I will try to do the work ourselves, but fail. Then we wind up paying a plumber to come out at $100 an hour to fix the problem. The only thing I have really had luck with is replacing the wax seals on toilets, replacing gaskets in faucets, and replacing faucets.

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    1. It would not have been worth a plumber's time to repair the toilet. He would have just replaced the whole thing and billed me.

      While doing my own plumbing can be a hassle, it's saved me a bundle over the years.

      However, just being able to replace wax seals and to repair faucets can save a lot of money, so you are ahead of the game there.

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  4. If it wasn't for the missus, I wouldn't even HAVE a flusher, except for eventual sale value.

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    1. Resale value doesn't bother me. I'm more interested in living in a home that I enjoy.

      My kids might feel different when the house falls to them, but that's their problem.

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  5. I agree. The main reason we maintain the toilet and septic is for resale value. Composting properly works.

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    1. There is a learning curve to compost, but it works.

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  6. BTW, check out Green Pig products for the septic on Amazon. It is supposed to be remedial and better than Rid-X. We'll see.

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    1. I got a big container of industrial strength additive years ago from someone in the industry. Seems to work well, but it's not for sale to non-commercial clients.

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    2. Good to hear you have the industrial strength. It sounds like you need it.

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  7. Because we have had major power outages due to ice storms (luckily not for a while) I keep many containers of water so that I can flush if it does happen. And there's that old saying...if it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down.

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    1. Nothing like filling by hand to realize how much water it takes to flush.

      Good planning to water ready to go.

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  8. I'm a pretty handy guy but when it comes to plumbing I can guarantee 2-3 attempts with a run to the hardware store in-between. I think plumbing in God's way to drive a sane man crazy!
    As for your comment on universal flapper valves I was beginning to think I was the only one who noticed that they're not! :-)

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    1. I've a cousin who now refuses to touch plumbing. All he has to do is to take out his tools and pipes on the other side of the house will start leaking for no reason at all. It's like an anti-super power.

      So you made the "universal" flapper discovery too.

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  9. You and I had similar weekends. The tower finally took a final nosedive and I had to replace it and the flapper (which looked like an alien spacecraft with all types of weird growth on it - gross!). But it came off and had only one hitch - it was leaking at the bottom. So I figured I should have replaced the stainless steel water supply hose as well and bought the part and installed - still a very small leak. I hope I didn't crack any parts - only used hand tightening as stated in instructions. If my tinkering doesn't work, maybe Flex-Seal might do the trick (applied on inside of tank, NOT on exterior threaded parts).

    Le sigh - home repair can be a real pain !

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    1. Indeed it can be a real pain. Chasing down those final leaks can drive a person nuts. Water finds a way.

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