COVID makes you do crazy things. And when I say "you," I mean "me," and when I say "do crazy things," I mean, "think I can replace my own toilet to save money, because, come on, it's just a toilet, how hard could it be?"
And thus begins today's saga in Coronavirus Chronicles.
The toilet had been acting up for months, but before Coronavirus, we had vague dreams of replacing a bathroom full of mediocre fixtures, a slowly crumbling sub-floor, a sink missing the HOT faucet, etc. And then, Coronavirus. And of course, if this past year has taught us anything, it's that there are many, many more important things than dealing with a mediocre bathroom. So even if we could have afforded it (which we couldn't, thank you pandemic) it was not on the agenda for this year.
I therefore came up with the brilliant idea of just changing out the toilet myself. And if you read closely, you can already see the root of my downfall: I was going to "just" do it myself. It "just" required some simple toilet removal work. And then "just" assembling a few tools for installation. I "just" needed to ensure there were no leaks, and "just" secure all the connections, and "just" get the right supplemental parts that were supposed to come with the toilet, and on and on. But I digress. Let's go back to the beginning, shall we?
This adventure started with me deciding to change out the toilet. Then I told DH (who is smart enough not to argue about this stuff), then I went to Lowes and found the CHEAPEST model they had, and then I bought it. Just like that. Easy. I even knew enough to go deep into the plumbing department and buy a flexible water line connector. (That's the bendy pipe-thingy that comes out of the wall into the toilet tank to fill it with water after you flush.)
Then I got it into the minivan, all by myself, tyvm, and got it home and DH even brought it in and up the stairs for me because, you know, he's indulging my DIY fantasies. And maybe just a little impressed. (He shouldn't be, you'll see.)
Ok, so now we're on to challenge #2: "Demo." First I shut off the water supply to the toilet, flush it, drain it, then I just (that word again) have to disconnect the water supply line (bendy pipe-thingy) and unscrew the bolts holding Toiletty to the floor. This part actually IS easy--everything comes apart quickly. This might have been an ominous portend, but I move forward. With a ton of elbow grease and a noise that sounds like a juicy cantaloupe being suctioned apart, the toilet does come off the floor, along with most of the wax ring. (Wax ring=the circle of thick, sticky, brown wax that seals the toilet to the drain, so there are no leaks or seepage (gross!) when you flush.) All is well and we even manage to get the old toilet down the stairs and out the door with no drama or splashing.
Now, for the slightly trickier part: "Installation." But I'm not worried, because YouTube has told me that it is all very simple. Thanks for the encouragement, YouTube! Ok, so FYI, when installing a toilet, first, you really have to stand around a lot, have a snack, inspect and re-inspect your tools, say things like: "who came up with these crazy instructions? Good thing we have YouTube!" Etc. Then you are mostly ready to start with the installation part. So we get all the parts of the new toilet out of the box. We check out the wax ring. We decide we do not like the quality of the included wax ring, so that becomes the first trip to Ace (which is closer than Lowes, in case you were wondering). Btw, did you know that much like real, pretty, non-toilet-affiliated rings, wax rings come in many different varieties? You've got your standard wax ring, your horned ring, your double-thick rings for high-sitting toilets (?). It's a whole fun assortment. Lots of great options, alas, none with diamonds. So we go to Ace, get the better wax ring, come home.
Now it's time to deploy that fancy new wax ring. But here's the dilemma: do we attach the wax ring to the toilet and then install it on the floor drain? Or do we place it on the floor drain, and then install the toilet on top? Guys, lest you think I didn't consult my plumbing guru, YouTube, you are wrong. I even researched on something called "Substack for Home Improvement," and boy do those guys have strong opinions when it comes to plumbing. There's an awful lot of trash talk about waste, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the consensus is: either way is fine. Or, either way is terrible. So that was helpful. We decide (drumroll, please) to stick it to the toilet first. (I am later advised that this was wrong. But that came from a plumber who was probably ranting on Substack, so who cares what he says?) Then, with just a minimum of cursing, we manage to get Toiletty set on the floor with the bolts aligned through the holes! It is looking legit!
But I got too excited, too soon. First of all, when we try to tighten the bolts that hold the toilet to the floor, we realize that we are missing some nuts. No problem. Zip over to Ace, show the guy the nuts, he finds the right ones in his wall o' fasteners (think very large jewelry box, but with a million tiny drawers of nuts and screws), zip home. But when I try to screw on the new nuts, they are not moving. I try a THOUSAND times. How hard can it be to screw in a nut? How can they not work? The guy from Ace hand-selected them from his wall o' fasteners! But it's not happening. So I zip back over to Ace. The guy and I discuss, decide there is a flaw in the manufacturing as opposed to his selection process, he gives me new nuts, I go home. Lo and behold, these nuts work!
But then we realize that the tank, which attaches to the toilet base, is very wobbly. This is normal, YouTube, Substack, and the printed instructions assure us in a rare moment of unity. You have to carefully tighten the screws holding the base to the tank to form a tight seal and to stop the wobbling. But you are fastening porcelain on porcelain, which can crack. So be careful! Be careful not to over-tighten, but also, be careful not to under-tighten. Make sure the tank is level! How do you do that? It's easy, by tightening. But DON'T over-tighten. Ok, but like, make sure it's really tight. How can you tell? Well, we can't really tell you. So good luck with that. And whatever you do, BE CAREFUL. In the course of all this be-carefulling, we realize that of course, OF COURSE, the assembly kit is missing some washers that are essential to the tightening (but not over-tightening) process, so that is ANOTHER trip to Ace. (This will not be the last.) And on it goes.
We finally go to Ace, buy the stupid washers, come home, level and (carefully!) tighten the tank, attach the fill valve (the thingy the clean water comes through into the tank), the flapper (the thingy that makes the water drain and refill when you flush), the flusher (self-explanatory) and flush chain. We, flush with excitement, take a deep breath, open the water supply, and...DISASTER!!! The water is leaking from every connection on the fill valve, it's shooting everywhere and I'm out of the strength to troubleshoot. We decide to revisit tomorrow.
Tomorrow comes: I make a few phone calls, another trip to the store, this time, Lowe's, whose manager very graciously sets aside a new fill valve and flapper for me by the best-rated manufacturer. Thanks, Lowe's manager! I pick it up. I take it home. Once home, I learn the exciting fact that 99% of toilets have a 2" tank opening. Lowe's has given me the part for a toilet with the 2" tank opening. My toilet, my special, cheap, STUPID toilet, has the 3" tank opening. What a way to find out you're part of the 1%! Back to Lowe's. Again, the nice people at Lowe's agree to switch the part, no charge. I come home. (I neglect to mention that all this time, life has been happening at my home. Five children have been running in and out of the bathroom, asking when the toilet (or dinner) will be ready. They do not receive an answer.) I try again. The fill valve is working, it's a million times better! But wait...if it's working...why the heck is water dripping all over my floor?!?!? Why, dear reader? I'll tell you. It's because when you start with a product that is junk (missing parts, crappy parts, etc), you end up with junk. The two tiny rubber washers on the screw attaching the tank to the base failed, allowing water to slowly leak out of the tank, through the floorboards, and into my garage ceiling for the entire time I was running around, trying to fix a disaster that had been fore-ordained.
And that was the end. Cleaning the crumbling, wet drywall from my garage ceiling was the last indication I needed to know that this plumbing DIY business is not for me, Coronavirus or no. I am not good at intuitively understanding how or when to tighten, I don't know how to troubleshoot problems that never arise for those guys on YouTube, I don't actually enjoy driving to hardware stores 10 times a day for no reason. I admit, I threw in the towel. Well, first I threw the towel at the wet mess in my bathroom, but then I threw it in.
So I guess the lesson of the day is: aw, forget it, I'm too tired for lessons. Derive your own wisdom from my tale of woe.