Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Toilet Repair

This is an absurd little story. The basement toilet has been a problem for some time. The handle misbehaved, sometimes jamming, sometimes swinging wild. Then a few weeks ago the chain connecting the flush lever to the flapper valve came loose. Since the end of the chain appeared to be intact, and I found no broken links lying around, I assumed that the chain had torn through the rubber tab on the flapper valve where it had been connected. Well, in that case, we need a new flapper valve, and since the handle is being difficult, we will get a new one of those too.

I remove the handle. This takes some doing. It is devilishly tight. I try turning it one way, but it does not loosen as expected. I try turning it other way, and that does not seem to help either. I am leery of turning it too far, I do no want to crack the porcelain. I work it back and forth a few times and it finally starts to loosen up the wrong way. The fool thing has a left handed thread!

I don't take the old valve with me. That would require closing the shut off valve, and those valves tend to be cantankerous and difficult. So I go to Home Depot and eye-ball their selection and pick out a new flapper valve that I think will fit, along with a new flush handle and lever. The old handle and lever is metal. Looking at the new ones I can see that there is a small metal tab about an 1/8" square that protrudes from the sleeve and interferes with the handle. This is what restricts the handles range of motion. On my old handle, this tab has broken off, which explains for its' unseemly behavior. Well, if this one broke, chances are a new one of the same construction (die-cast metal) will also break. So I pick up a plastic one instead.

Back at the house I install the new parts. Everything works as planned. Both the flapper valve and the lift handle fit and work together. Only problem is that the flapper valve does not quite seal. One tap with my finger and it seals. Okay, maybe it needs to operate a few times to become accustomed to the seat. Well, no, that does not help. It is just not going to work. We will have to get another valve. Back to Home Depot to pick up another valve. This time I have the original with me, so I have a better idea of which one to get. It is still a crap shoot.

Back at the house again I inspect the old valve. There is a rubber tab sticking up where the chain connects. On one side of the tab I can see a cut where the chain evidently pulled through the rubber. I pull the cut apart, but it does not separate completely. I look at the other side of the tab. There does not appear to be a cut on this side. What the devil? How did the chain get loose from the valve without cutting through the tab? The last link of the chain is quite whole. I can only surmise that the rubber valve was molded around the chain when it was made, and that the chain was not correctly positioned when this was done, and so instead of the chain going all the way through the tab, it became half way embedded. This was not as strong as it should be and so it failed. I take the old valve, connect it to the chain with a paper clip and put it back.

But now the handle sticks. The plastic arm has a bend in it that causes the end of the arm to drag very slightly against the front surface of the tank. Evidently the first replacement valve was slightly heavier than the original and this minuscule additional weight was enough to pull the arm all the way down. Not so with the original valve. Well, let us see if we can straighten this arm.

First I try just bending it with my hands. It is surprisingly rigid and I get the feeling that much more force will cause it to snap. Next I try pouring boiling water over the bend, but this has no effect. Lastly I use my wife's blow dryer. It has a narrow nozzle, perhaps 1/8" by about 2". I turn it on high and direct it at the bend for a minute. I give it a try, but it doesn't give. Put it back in the heat for another minute, and boom! It bends as easy as kiss my hand.

So now we are back in business. I imagine the paper clip will eventually corrode, or perhaps the other half of the rubber tab will fail, but I have spare parts a plenty now, and should be able to deal with it, if I remember where they are. But why should I have to go through all this? Why are the valves in toilets so archaic? Think about all the time wasted by people all over this country spent fixing these fool things. You would think somebody could come up with an economical solution to this absurd situation. Evidently you would be wrong.


AndrewP said...

I tried to read your Toilet story but I could not become engaged with the characters.

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