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Dear John
Don’t Break Up with Your Broken Toilet

It’s True Love We’ve had a long love affair with the John. About 4500 years ago, the people of Harappa in India had toilets in each house that were linked by a kind of sewage system. There were also toilets in ancient Egypt, China, and Rome. Even the flush toilet as we know it was basically developed about 150 years ago. I’d call that a long-term relationship, if ever there was one. But what do you do if your John breaks your heart by breaking down? Go out with your girlfriends, get drunk and complain about it? Sounds fun, but it won’t help you fix your toilet. That’s what I’m here for. Think of me as the Dr. Phil of plumbing.

The Getting to Know You Phase Since really understanding each other is the key to a good relationship, I’m going to tell you how a toilet should work:

The flushing handle is attached through various chains and levers to a rubber flapper or ball that covers a hole in the bottom of the tank. Pushing the handle lifts the flapper or ball, opening the hole and allowing water to flow from the tank into the toilet bowl to do its business by getting rid of yours. As the tank empties, a floating ball – conveniently called the floatball – gets lower and lower. When the tank is empty, the flapper or ball falls back over the hole and water refills the tank. As the water level rises, the floatball rises. When it’s at the right level, the floatball shuts off the flow of new water.

You’ve Got Issues Probably the most common problem is the toilet that just keeps running. This is annoying as all get out and it also wastes loads of water and, therefore, money. Take the lid off the tank, flush the toilet and see what happens.·

  • Is the floatball not floating up? You can tell if the floatball is the problem by lifting the float arm (the arm attached to the floatball) manually. Oh please, just reach in – the water in the tank is clean! If the running stops, that’s your culprit. Examine the floatball to see if it’s got a hole or is otherwise damaged. If it needs to be replaced, just unscrew it, match it up with a new one, install it and voilà! If it’s not the floatball itself, it could be the float arm. Usually, this repair is as simple as literally bending the float arm so that when the floatball reaches the right level, it actually shuts off the water. ·
  • Is the flapper or ball staying open? Check to see if it’s being blocked from closing by anything or if the chain that pulls it up is kinked, bent or tangled. ·
  • Is the flapper or ball corroded or torn? Replace it. This is very easy, just remove the old one and bring it to the hardware store to match it with a new one.

    A variation on this problem is that the toilet stops running only when you jiggle the handle. This is almost always due to the chain that lifts the flapper being somehow tangled or damaged. Just replace it. Very easy and very inexpensive.

    On the other end of the spectrum, what if there’s just no magic? In other words, you flush the toilet and nothing happens. This is usually an easy fix also. Somehow, the mechanism between the handle and the flapper is disconnected. Usually it’s that troublemaking chain. It could be broken or simply have become unhooked. Open the lid and take a look. If it is the chain, rehook or replace – whichever is appropriate. If it’s some other part that’s worn out, simply take it to the store, get one exactly like it, and replace. If only other relationships were this easy to fix!

    A Real Loveseat Now that you know a little more about your toilet, its needs and foibles, balls and levers, don’t you feel more bonded, more connected? And I’m sure it feels the same about you. So, when your toilet breaks down, instead of sending it a Dear John, you can give it the TLC it so richly deserves. Damn, I’m good. If only Oprah would discover me and make me a bajillionaire.




















  • / Issue 57 - September 2018
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