Friday, March 02, 2012

Still Good Enough

I tackled a plumbing issue today. So far everything is holding.

That issue was in question. Let me back up. My half bath downstairs developed a problem when the toilet seized up in mid-flush. After that, it would refill slowly and had a slow leak that fed into the bowl.

But it still worked. And I have two more full bathrooms that work. So no crisis that calls for me to spring into action.

Also, I don't have complete control of my water supply. So if I need to turn off the water for my entire  condominium unit, I need to get into the common stairwell to the ranch units by ringing doorbells and hoping someone lets me in. And then hope that I can find the water shut off valve under the stairwell before I flood.

Also, the valve to that particular toilet has a history of being iffy. I once turned it off to fix the toilet and left the water off long enough to compress the rubber enough so that it did not actually open up the flow of water when I turned the valve back "on." It took months for it to loosen and open. Luckily I was in my home when it indicated its new "open" status by spraying water onto my wall because I hadn't tightened one piece enough. (And since no water flowed through, how was I to know?)

So I had the situation where the toilet worked and if I tried to fix it I could make it worse or even face a plumbing disaster if everything went belly up. The 70% solution seemed tailor made for me.

So I had bent the float road and propped the intake tower to reduce the flow of water to a trickle. The toilet took minutes rather than seconds to fill, but it worked.

Then a week ago I messed with it. I tried readjusting the float and the water flow really picked up. So in my mind we were down the the 55% solution. And the weather was good today so the prospect of dealing with flowing water in mid-winter didn't deter me.

So I grabbed the repair kit I had already bought and prepared for work. I cleared out the rug and other stuff around the toilet. I vacuumed up the spider and its old meals in the corner that I hadn't been able to see before. And I prepared to get this done quickly to avoid that old valve problem I had faced.

I turned off the water and flushed the toilet. Or rather, I turned the water valve all the way to the right. Water still flowed into the toilet, although at a slower rate.

My plan had failed already. But that's OK. I fully understand that no job survives first contact with the plumbing.

But my plumbing job was now a race against time with time measured by how long the bucket I had could collect the water that would leak when I pulled the tube from the water source to the toilet.

So my toilet repair triage immediately ruled out replacing the flap mechanism. That seemed to work fine so the old one stays.

I had trouble removing the plastic mechanism. I loosened it enough to get water flowing into the bucket but it is old-style requiring tools to loosen rather than a hand-cranked bolt. Now the tower mechanism was out and the tube was free.

Water was up to about the 20% level in the bucket.

I put the new tower in and added the bolt to the outside bottom and tightened it up. Then I got the new outer bolt that keeps the tube in place that I can fortunately hand tighten with the wings, and ...

Well, and at that point I noticed that adding the new outer bolt would require me to remove the tube from the valve mechanism near the floor so I can slip the new bolt up the tube to fit under the flared top of the tube.

At least at that point I had the open tube over the bucket. If I removed the tube from the bottom, water would flow to the floor while I did the switch.

So another triage moment. I went with the existing outer bolt. Luckily in my haste to remove it quickly I hadn't destroyed it assuming I had another.

The water in the bucket wan't more than a third up.

I added the rod and ball float. I put the new overflow tube in place. And I opened the valve. Water wa coming into the tank and it wasn't leaking at the opening in the bottom!

As the water flowed in, suddenly the tower shoots up like a kid's toy based on compressed air. Except this isn't fun and water is fountaining (mostly) up. I turned the water off and flushed the toilet to remove the water.

Did I mention that I had removed the carpet and had an old small blanket ready in case of a moderate water emergency? Well, yes, I did do that. So the blanket goes in place to dam and absorb the water flow. For such a brief leak there sure seemed to be a lot of water.

Apparently the locking mechanism to adjust the height of the intake tower was in the unlocked position. I attempted to lock it. I opened the water again. This time I held my hand over the tower and only had the valve opened partly. At some point, the tower popped up. But I avoided the fountaining and closed the valve again.

The water in the bucket was about half way up.

In the end, it took two more tries and on the second one I extended the tower a bit before locking, and it seemed to lock.

I turned on the water a bit. The tank filled and then the water flow stopped! As it should! I flushed and it quickly refilled. Success!

And the bucket as no more than 60% full. Granted, a lot of water that I had hoped would go in the bucket was residing in towels and a blanket. But still.

I emptied the bucket down the sink. Then it was a job for water and bleach on the floor and sink area.

Then the wet stuff went to the washing machine and I went to the shower. I dreaded leaving the new mechanism in place unsupervised. But I returned and the repair was holding.

I did put a small plastic bowl under the opening to catch any drips when the floor felt damp since I remembered that another toilet had leaked a bit before seals expanded sufficiently to stop all the water after I opened the valve. I probably didn't dry that part of the floor enough. But just in case, this would tell me.

In a perfect world, I'll wait for the water to go out to the entire building one day and quickly swap out the old outer bolt for the new one since I could remove the tube from the base without water flowing out. On the other hand, I'm at 100% now with toilet functionality. So perhaps not.

And I do want to replace the faucet in that bathroom and need to fix a slow drip in my kitchen faucet that developed recently. I used to be able to tilt the handle just so to stop that leak. No more. Now I can only turn the faucet so I can't hear the dripping. I'm just not sure if I'm below the 70% solution there or not. And I am sure that I can't turn the water off if something goes wrong.

I will say that I'll take the faux crises of the comfortable middle class over real problems any day.