Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Am Flush With Excitement: A New Guest Commode!

I am king of all I survey from my lofty perch atop this, the Hope Diamond of commodes.
 
I'm not the kind of guy who gets all giddy over something as mundane as a new commode; but when replacing the old one requires as much effort as my recent encounter with the guest-bathroom toilet did, I think I was entitled to a certain sense of achievement as I settled onto it with a sigh for its maiden cruise.

The silly thing had been running for two weeks and I was weary of listening to it as I worked at my desk. When at my PC, I look directly into the guest bath when I turn my head to the left. I had been busy and just didn't feel like dealing with it. Besides, my master bath upstairs was (and remains) in complete disarray because I have an unfinished remodeling project ongoing in that section of the house. While that's been underway, I've been sleeping in the guestroom, and utilizing the guest bathroom for showers and personal-biological imperatives. The potty in question was a squat, round thing that I had wanted to replace since buying the house. Rather than just replace the guts in the tank, I decided this was the time to switch out the whole Magilla. Silly me.

No, replacing the old commode didn't measure up to curing cancer or surviving a climb to Mt. Everest's summit and back, but changing it out wasn't nearly the walk in the park the DIY videos on YouTube portrayed it to be. Not even close. Not even in the same ballpark. Not even on the same planet.

At the heart of the matter is the same issue as with nearly every repair or home-improvement project I tackle: This house is over 60 years old. Even if lurking around every DIY corner wasn't some half-assed, jerry-rigged, messed-up bit of amateur workmanship that must be dealt with, home building six decades ago was much different than now. The cement board/plaster walls, 60-year-old wiring and one-step-up-from-outhouse plumbing all conspire to add hours and extra expense to even the simplest of chores.

I went to Home Depot (the first trip for this project) and found a perfectly acceptable chair-height, elongated crapper for $98! I was ecstatic. This isn't going to cost much at all, I thought to myself as I wallowed in my ignorance. I was driving a Fiat 500X that week, which has a cargo area roomy enough to cart home my new acquisition still in its carton. Manhandling it up into the cargo hold was a chore, but doable. Arriving home, I left it in the car and headed in to begin taking out the old throne.

From the get-go, I am not keen on any task requiring me to enter the dark, mysterious confines of my home's crawl space. But, I was forced to when I couldn't complete every DIY toilet-replacement video's Step No. 1: Closing the shut-off valve controlling water flow into the toilet tank. The knob would turn, but nothing happened. Under the house I went to stop the water flow at its source.

As these nasty areas go, mine is sort of the Taj Mahal of crawl spaces. The floor is covered stem to stern with a thick layer of visqueen. It seems both water and critter tight. I can bend a little at the waist and maneuver around freely. The main water-line shut-off valve is just to the right of the crawl-space entrance, which is located inside my house. So, it's not quite as nasty as I make it out to be, but it's still a pain to climb down in there.Not to mention that I think I can sense little beady eyes looking at me.

With the main water supply into the house turned off, I went about emptying all the water from the tank and disconnected the water line. Removing the tank from the seat, I started to think the worst was over. I decided to head to Home Depot and purchase a new shut-off valve. HD trip No. 2. Oh, but first I needed to wrestle the carton with the new toilet out of the car and onto my carport.

Back home, I was ready to move forward. Now all I had to do was free the nuts holding the bowl to the floor via a bolt on each side of it. At least that's what the DIY videos showed. Yeah, not so much. This bowl wasn't attached to the floor by bolts sticking up, but had been secured by sinking screws into the floor. What? The screw on the left side broke free easily; however the one on the right was frozen solid. After 10-or-so minutes of trying to break it lose, I hiked out to my shed and got a small sledgehammer. I broke the bowl base into pieces and then removed the screw. I then hefted the bowl off the drain.

If you've never replaced a potty, you might be surprised to learn that once you pull the bowl lose from the floor, you are left with a big, waxy mess. A time-honored way to keep sewer gasses from escaping into the air is by inserting a wax donut that's roughly 2-inches thick between the bowl and the drain pipe. It's sticky and just plain nasty. All of that muck must be cleaned up before moving on to the next step of the installation.

At this point in a normal installation, I would have been home free. According to the DIY videos, all I needed to do was insert a new wax ring around the drain, push the bowl down on top of it, put the nuts on the bolts on either side of the bowl and connect the tank. I had now been messing with this for about three hours and had yet to remove the new toilet from its carton. But I thought I might be on the home stretch. Boy, do I crack myself up.

But wait, there weren't any bolts to slide the bowl over and tighten it to the floor. Around the rim of the drain, there should be a flange to which those bolts are attached, and that flange was missing. It had been cut off and removed. Whoever installed this toilet simply put the wax donut on the floor, pushed the bowl down on top of it and screwed the bowl to the floor. I could have saved myself some money and a lot of time had I just done the same thing. But, hey, this is my house and I wanted a cleaner job. Back to YouTube to find a video with ideas of how to handle things if the flange is gone. 

The shiny new replacement flange in place, but not secured to the floor.
It turns out that a broken or missing flange isn't an uncommon problem. They make replacement flanges with those upright bolts that fit down into the drainpipe and can be screwed to the floor. Trip No. 3 to HD in search of a replacement flange. Home Depot had one that looked as though it would work. So far, in addition to the cost of the toilet, I had spent nearly $20 on the new shut-off valve and 12-inch connection hose and another $20 on the replacement flange. My time invested in this project was fast approaching four hours and the new commode was still in the box.

Returning home with my purchases, I looked at the clock and realized it was 6:30. The main water line was still off, I needed to install the new shut-off valve, get a shower and get something going for dinner. Getting a water-tight seal where the shut-off valve connected to the water line required two or three tries and a couple of return trips to the crawl space turning the water on and off. Finally around 7:00, I was ready to call it a day. But wait, the new toilet was still sitting on the carport in its box. Nuts. I had to open the box and remove the tank to make it light enough that I could wrestle the box up the steps and into the house.

A trip to Calif. with Honda and a couple of assignment deadlines prevented me from returning to this project for a week, during which I navigated around the commode carton in the middle of my dining area. It did give the cat something different to sleep on; so, at least she was happy.

Returning to this task, the first thing to do was to secure the replacement flange to the floor. In this bathroom the floor consists of small mosaic tiles over a concrete slab. Sinking screws into the floor would require a drill bit engineered specifically for tile. Trip No. 4 to HD. I found a pack of tile bits in four sizes for $10. I mounted the appropriate one in my drill and proceeded to drill the first of four holes. There was a lot of racket, a little dust and even less of a hole. The bit was completely burned away and I had little more than a dimple in the tile. Okay, plan B would be using a hammer and chisel to chip away all of the tile where the screws would go. I drew the outline of the flange on the tile with a Sharpie and started chipping away.

An hour later, the flange rested on the tile, but the screw holes were suspended over bare concrete. Now I needed a concrete drill bit and concrete screws. Trip No. 5 to HD.

Drilling the holes and sinking the concrete screws went fairly smoothly. The flange was squared up to the the back wall and secure. But there were some fairly wide spaces between the flange and the tile in places. I didn't want to get the new throne installed only to discover some sewer gas was leaking out. Trip No. 6 to HD was to buy some $5 foam sealant like you put around doors and windows. You spray it in and it expands creating an airtight and watertight seal. I applied it, wiped away the excess and let it cure for 24 hours.

While buying the sealant, I also spent $9 for a cleaner solution to the wax donut. I think there is still wax involved, but it's contained in a rubber skin. Fitting over the two bolts the bowl attaches to, it slides down into and over the flange.

Finally, after seven or eight total hours of labor, it was time to remove the new toilet from its box. Excitement was running high at Casa de Heaps. I slapped the bowl down over the bolts and worked it around a bit to flatten the rubber/wax donut. Tightening the wing nuts over the bolts, I realized the bowl wasn't flush with floor. It was a little uneven, rocking back and forth a bit. Trip No. 7 to HD was to buy some shims to level things out. Eventually the bowl was secure to the floor. A quick check with the level assured that I would list neither to starboard nor port when in a seated position. Dumping a couple of buckets of water into the bowl, I was pleased to see there were no leaks.

I fitted the tank to the bowl and bolted it on. Now it was just a matter of attaching the line running from the shut-off valve to the tank. Dammit. Too short. The instructions called for a 12-inch line, but that didn't account for the extra inch this toilet sits away from the wall. The typical distance is 13 inches; here it's 14 inches. Trip No. 8 to HD was to exchange the hose for a longer one and to buy some caulk to seal the space where the bowl joined the floor.

Ready to go, I pressed the flush button. I swear I could angels singing.

Hours of work, roughly $60 in installation parts and more cussing than I've done since erecting my shed, but it was worth it. It's my home's showplace.

3 comments:

  1. These damn thing are heavy. No way would I ever attempt an operation like this. You are to be admired.

    ReplyDelete