A DIY Commod-ity

Greetings, dear readers. As you know, my home life provides any number of puzzles to work out, and a few that have proven more of a challenge than I had planned on. There have been occasions when DIY becomes “why, oh why”. One such “interesting” challenge happened a while back and led me into the world of (oh dear) PLUMBING. It’s a tale of one woman, three pairs of pliers, five wrenches, two screwdrivers, one new ballcock assembly, one float ball, two float arms, and a hacksaw… Yes – really.

Here’s how it happened:

It started on a Wednesday – I think it was a Wednesday, or maybe not. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I came home from work after a long day and realized that I really needed to pee. NOW. So I scurried into the house, dropped my keys and ran into the hallway bathroom to take care of business. Rush, flush, wash hands, pat dry… Much relieved and not suspecting any trouble, I then trotted back out to let my dogs play. It was shortly thereafter I realized that while that babbling brook sound was pleasant, it had no business coming from my hallway. This is when I learned that, while the commode flushed and the bowl refilled, the tank filled, and didn’t stop. It overflowed from the top and left about an inch of water on the floor that I had to splash through – in sock feet, no less – to fling myself at the base and turn off the water supply. It was then that I lifted off the top of the tank and saw that the plastic float arm had broken. Hmmm. I pulled up the flapper to get rid of the water in the tank, retrieved the bobbing ball, and set the top back on, thinking…


Well, OK – I hang out in hardware stores enough to know you can buy a new float arm. No problem-o, right? Ha!

The first trip to the hardware store produced a metal float arm with nice screw threads on both ends. I bore it home triumphantly and picked up the ball. And this is where things got interesting… The original plastic arm had broken off inside the threads of the ball and couldn’t be removed. OK – so the ball had to be replaced, too. Still no big deal, right?

On my next (yes, next – two trips and counting) trip to the hardware store I bought a new ball. The new ball screwed onto the new arm and looked pretty spiffy. And then a look into the tank showed that the whole assemblage was waaaaay to long to fit in there. This was somewhat problematic, but not the worst part. On top of the problem with fit, the old assembly did not have a place to screw the metal rod into – the old plastic arm was integral and they apparently don’t make those kinds of valves anymore.

So here’s where we are – I have a broken toilet, parts that might work, but they don’t fit the assembly on there, and no way to attach them if they did. Commode – 2, Plumber Gal – 0.

This is also when I have the sinking realization that I am going to have to replace the entire flush assembly – the thing that sticks right through the bottom of the tank and connects to the water supply. I am going to have to actually DO PLUMBING. As they say among folks who know me, UH-oh…

I live with the dread for a few days and then I go back to the hardware store (trip #3 for those counting). I get the assembly I need that has a nice simple design, just a couple parts and a place to attach the float arm. In addition, it comes with a float arm that is much shorter than the one I first bought, so I have some hope of this working with the materials I have. Score! I get it home and wait a couple days until the mood is right and we’re all quite relaxed. I wear low-riding pants for the occasion.

So it’s plumber-time. I bring all the new parts, sponge out the tank, and prepare to dive in. I should mention at this point, that the commode is set into a recess in the wall. There is about a foot between the tank and the side wall and I can only just barely lean in there to see what I’m doing. I reach in and unscrew the first connector, then pull the feed line off the assembly. There is just enough water in there to make it interesting. I get a plumber baptism… woo hoo! And that’s when the real fun begins.

I’m close enough to success to be quite pleased with myself. There’s one last flat plastic bolt holding the assembly onto the tank that I need to remove to get this done. This bolt-nut-washer thing is a very flat hex-nut with a built-in washer and it’s large, shallow, and slippery. I can’t budge it with my fingers, so I go looking for a wrench that will grip it, but won’t gouge the plastic. I have two pairs of slip-joint pliers, one large, one small. I can’t even seem to grip it with the small ones, so I wrap tape around the larger ones and give it a try. This requires getting up close and quite personal with the floor and the bottom of the tank. So I’m wedged in this narrow space under the commode, having to take my glasses off to see well enough to even find the bolt with the wrench and I get nowhere. Face to face with a commode and sweating, I have no traction and no luck. I need a better tool.

I take leave of the bath and rummage in my tool kit. On a whim I try the larger of my needle nose pliers, but that’s just silly. Not even close. I try calling my neighbor who repairs trucks – BIG ones. I tell him the size of this bolt and where it is and that leaves him scratching his head. He lets me borrow his largest crescent wrench. It’s too small. I’ve been crunched under a toilet and at this for two hours. I slump in defeat. The toilet will not be fixed this day. In case you’re keeping score: Commode – 3, Plumber Gal – 0.

I slink off, disgruntled, to plot my return.

… To Be Continued …

Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!

My new story collection is now available: Dog Days . I’d love to hear your thoughts if you check it out!

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