Flushing out the laughing culprit

December 06, 1997|By Rob Kasper

I BELIEVE THAT the lid of the toilet tank is like the door to your kid's room. You don't open it until you have heard repeated sounds of distress.

So the other night when I was awakened by the sounds of running water, I was reluctant to investigate. I told myself maybe I was dreaming, or maybe it was raining, or maybe one of the kids was taking part in their latest nocturnal ritual, the post- midnight shower. As I lay in bed, I slowly eliminated each of these possible explanations.

I got up and stumbled toward the noise. It was coming from the toilet tank. Employing a time- honored technique of nocturnal repairmen, I jiggled things. When that didn't work I removed the tank lid. Soon the water stopped "laughing." I went back to bed.

But, just in case more ministrations were required, I left the lid to the toilet tank off. This action seemed similar to leaving the door open to your kid's bedroom. It sent the message that I was keeping an eye on things.

As long as the tank lid was off, the toilet kept quiet. But a few days later, some member of the family -- and I have a suspect -- was less than thrilled at the prospect of viewing toilet innards every time she walked into the bathroom. The lid went back on, and again the tank water started misbehaving.

Things inside the toilet were out of kilter. To get them back in kilter, I got some help from toilet-parts people in California. These were not just any toilet-parts people. They were people from Fluidmaster, the nation's largest manufacturer of toilet-tank replacement parts. This lofty status gives these folks the right to decide which month of the year should be National Toilet Repair Month. They picked October.

I failed to celebrate in October, but I did still have some of the National Toilet Repair Month loot that the Fluidmaster folks had sent out to members of the plumbing press in honor of the occasion. Moreover, I had some of their parts in my noisy toilet.

Included in the toilet-repair kit were some leak-detection tablets. I have seen these tablets in hardware stores but never have had the courage to buy any.

Basically, I have felt that looking for leaks in your household plumbing is like looking under your kid's bed. You probably won't be happy with what you find, so in most instances, it is best not to probe.

But since I had a problem -- the running water was laughing at me -- it made sense now to try to find out if I had a leak. So I dropped one of the tablets in the toilet tank and let it go to work.

The tablet turned the water in the tank a bright blue. Following instructions, I remained vigilant for 10 minutes, waiting to see if any blue water migrated down to the bowl. This would show there was a leak. In plumbing theory, this is called trickle-down.

But in this instance, nothing trickled down. The lack of trickle- down was both good news and bad news. The good news was that the absence of blue water in the bowl meant that the flapper -- the flap-style flush valve that sits on the bottom of the tank -- was doing its job. This surprised me since, according to data collected by the National Toilet Repair Month minions, a worn flapper is the leading cause of toilet leaks.

The bad news was that since the flapper wasn't the problem, I had to find another culprit. Eventually, after much study and many flushes, I found it. Sometimes the toilet handle would work its way into a new, out-of-kilter position. In this position, the handle would get hung up on the lip of the tank lid. When the handle was stuck on the tank lid, the flapper in the bottom of the tank wouldn't close, and tank waters would run out of the tank, laughing all the way.

To stop the laughing permanently, I will have to reposition the nut holding the toilet handle and make adjustments on the tank lever arm, the piece of metal connectingthe handle to the flapper. That is the long-term, solid solution. The quick fix is to remove the lid of the tank. When the lid is off, the handle can't get stuck.

I settled for the quick fix.

Some day I'll get around to trying the long-term solution. Maybe I'll wait until next October, the next National Toilet Repair Month. I would hate to repair a toilet out of season.

Pub Date: 12/06/97

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