Pick that up — and put it down PROPERLY

(My favorite line from the film of “A Clockwork Orange” that is in the movie but not the book)


Who knows what evil lurks beneath your plumbing. Adee-do. And I do, too.

Licensed tradesmen are not in the budget, so we take care of the plumbing ourselves, and the toilet has been leaking out of the base — between the toilet and the drain pipe.

I’m no virgin in this department. Upon moving in 10 years ago, Ilene and I, after first flush with the supplied water closet (that’s what it’s called “across the pond,” as it were) immediately hoofed it to Home Depot and picked out a new American Standard (which is, as I learned Sunday upon examining its underbelly, was made in Costa Rica), got a wax ring (which up to that point I’d never heard of), picked up the old bowl, dropped the new one in, assembled the tank and lived happily ever after … until recently that is.

Yes, Ilene told me that something suspicious was happening down there, and yes, I initially wrote it off to “condensation” (we’re living in CALIFORNIA — THERE IS NO CONDENSATION), but it did get me to keep an eye on it, and I saw the error of my ways.

This time I planned. I got all the parts I’d need — new wax ring, new “johnny bolts” (attaches toilet to floor), new seals and bolts for tank, plus adhesive grout with which to replace tiles (two pieces of concrete “wonderboard,” upon which the tile sits, meet there, and it has cracked all the way across).

Disclaimer: When we had the tile put in by A LOUSY INSTALLER WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (principally because I forgot his name), he had to remove the toilet and re-attach it to do the job, so I blame this all on him.

I figured I would knock out the bad tiles that were half-under the toilet while I had the bowl and tank in pieces on the floor, then wait for the tiles to dry an hour or so and then replace the bowl.

Now in plumbing, as in all home repairs, there’s a lot that can go wrong (remember the sink trap I tried to remove but which disintegrated as soon as I turned the nut?).

First I turned the water off outside (the little shutoff to the toilet stopped working long ago — those things REALLY don’t work), then flushed all the water out and unbolted the tank. Then I removed the nuts from what are called the “Johnny bolts,” which attach the toilet to the floor and the flange around the waste line.

I had towels ready and laid the bowl on its side next to the tank (I eventually took both outside — it gets mighty crowded with toilet parts everywhere).

Yeah, it was a little leaky, all right. I spent a long time cleaning up, wearing one of many pairs of latex gloves and using ample bleach. The subfloor appeared to be in good shape, the tiles, though cracked, were still stuck down pretty good, so I decided NOT to chisel them out and replace, mostly because I’d have to cut the new tiles in order to fit them around the toilet flange. And in a one-bathroom house, you’ve don’t have the luxury of leaving the toilet unassembled — A household of three needs somewhere to, shall we say, conduct business, if you get my meaning. If you don’t, you probably have more than one bathroom.

I had all new hardware, Johnny bolts and tank bolts and washers, plus a new wax ring — which attaches between the bowl and the toilet flange to keep things water-tight. Now these wax rings last about 10 years, the package says, so I guess it was time. But it’s probably sufficient to watch for leaks at the base of the toilet and around the Johnny bolts (that was our first clue), and for those as fanatical as myself, to get under the house (provided you have a raised foundation) at least once a year to check all your drains and pipes for leaks. It’s great exercise crawling under a house, believe me.

So I got the wax ring on, firmly attached the bowl to the flange, squished the wax around as instructed, then put the nuts on the Johnny bolts, taking care to tighten them — but not so tight that I broke the bowl (a disaster that can only be remedied with a trip to Home Depot for a new toilet). Then I bolted the tank to the bowl, reattached the water line, turned the water back on and FLUSHED, checking for leaks between tank and bowl, and bowl and floor.

All looked good. We had a toilet, if not an uncracked tile floor. I also reattached the toilet seat better — it doesn’t wobble so much now.

Sitting on the toilet, however, I did hear a “clop.” I’d hoped to avoid caulking around the base, but it turns out the floor is not exactly level, and the toilet was rocking slightly, so I stuck a few folded-up magazine-subscription cards (1,001 uses for those) into the gap to level it out. And I will caulk the base, then remove the cards and caulk where they were, but I’m just so glad to have a non-leaking toilet …

I will finish the job, I promise. But after rebuilding the shower valves, snaking the bathroom sink (a hair-clog magnet) and figuring out how to hook up our portable dishwasher (thanks, Mom!), all I have to do is fix the leaky kitchen faucet (a Dishmaster … now that’s another rant for another time), I’m taking a break from amateur plumbing. Nothing’s leaking TOO much, after all.