A Little Light Plumbing

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I do my own repair-work; I have a set of wrenches, screwdrivers, and even a power drill with complete set of drill bits. Most of the time I simply hang pictures, make things, change light bulbs, and do whatever needs doing to keep the home in one piece, however this weekend my talents in the DIY department went to the next level: plumbing. My toilet has been doing strange things lately - running extra water, dripping and swishing in the dead of night. The float ball was out of whack and the flapper chain kept disconnecting. What’s a single gal to do when there’s no burly-but-ever-so-adept-at-fix-it-chores boyfriend in the picture? I wanted to stamp my foot and be petulant, although I knew that wasn’t going to get me anywhere. But this is plumbing! This involves water valves, and washers, and shanks, and levers, and this is serious…and in the meantime, the water kept running. Something needed to be done, but was I really the girl for the job? Straightening my shoulders I realized that no one could rescue me but myself, so I did some research.

Through the magic of the internet I was able to determine that not only are toilet repairs common, but they’re actually quite simple. Don’t bother with replacing parts, replace the entire mechanism in one go and totally improve your household plumbing experience. Luckily, there’s an amazing hardware store just around the corner from me. Hardware Unlimited is a neighborhood place, still independently-owned, where you can buy everything from a tea kettle to an elbow join. The staff is uncommonly kind and knowledgeable, and no request is beneath them – even when I need an ultra-miniscule screw to reattach a one-of-a-kind button on my Paul Smith handbag, they are happy to find just what I need. So, a-hunting I went for a complete toilet repair kit.

And voila! There they were in the center aisle. There’s the basic, old-fashioned kind, but reading the packages like I do at the grocery store, I found that the newer kind are better. What’s this? Not just plumbing, but modern plumbing? Oh yes. Don’t go with a float ball when the all-in-one float cup is a better option. It precisely regulates the water level in the tank, which is just what I need because I determined that my overflow pipe was taking in too much water. (My what is taking in what? Wow, I'm smart. And handy.) Victory! Now all I had to do was swap out the old with the new. Here’s where things got tricky.

I turned off the water well-enough, disconnected the supply, drained the tank, etc., but I thought the old valve would simply come right out on its own. Little did I know that old toilet valves are very stubborn things that don’t like to move – especially when they know they’re being replaced. Mine took a severe beating, and more than a little truck-driver-esque profanity, before giving in to the physics of its threaded shank. Make no mistake Mr. OldValve, you will be moved.

Following the overwhelming, but still somewhat readable directions of my new Fluidmaster 400/AK Complete Repair Kit, I disengaged washers, lock nuts, and couplings, and connected tubes, angle adapters, gaskets, and valves. It is more than a bit disconcerting to look at your only toilet and see it completely disemboweled, knowing that you will probably need to use it sometime soon. The trepidation inherent in this realization certainly helped to spur me forward. I was tough but gentle, improvising but precise – I was a home improvement surgeon. The whole procedure took about an hour, and no sports fans, no “plumbers crack” was shown to anyone. (Oh, and don't worry, I have since treated myself to a manicure...)

My toilet now sits silently, flushing beautifully with a simple press of the finger.

I am proud. One of my colleagues warned me to never let a man know that I can perform this task on my own – they would surely want to marry me instantly.

Image from Getty Images