Owner plays while house plots its revenge

August 21, 1999|By Rob Kasper

YOU CAN HAVE your summer fun, but your house gets even. If you attempt, as I did this summer, to break the slavish ritual of spending every weekend ministering to the house's every need, your abode will eventually exact its revenge.

It won't strike as soon as you return from your summer frolic. It will let you revel in the giddy sensation that all is right in your jolly little corner of creation.

The house is simply biding its time, waiting for your most vulnerable moment. One August night, when every square inch of sleepable space in your house is occupied by visiting relatives, the house makes its move. The air condition- ing pauses. It doesn't break. It doesn't stop working. It slumps for only a few hours, for no apparent reason. That is enough to keep you awake and to produce beads of sweat on your forehead until, for some reason, the air conditioner starts pumping out cold air again. It is toying with you.

Next the "guest toilet," the one off the downstairs hall, the one used only by visitors, the one you were counting on to relieve the early morning congestion in your relative-jammed dwelling, starts misbehaving. "Take that," your house snarls at you. "That is what you get for gamboling through the countryside when you should have been home, in the basement, oiling my parts."

As someone who has been in a long-term relationship with my abode, I knew this "house pout" was coming. It happens every summer. It is as predictable a part of domestic life as fielding annoying calls from home remodeling companies and arranging your work schedule to meet the termite inspection man.

While I knew the house pout would happen, I didn't know exactly how mad the house would be. It turned out to be two-days and four-trips-to-the-hardware- store angry. That is what I went through recently to soothe my unhappy house and calm the roiling waters of the guest toilet. The air conditioner scare was just a tease, I think.

At first flush, the toilet repair looked easy. Of the two major categories of troubled toilets -- your singers and your runners -- this one had the symptoms of a runner. It produced a trickling noise, followed by episodic bursts of activity from the cold water supply pipe. Your singer, on the other hand, emits a high-pitched whine, a sure sign that the float valve needs work.

To fix a runner you replace the flush valve. This functions like a plug in a sink. When it lifts up, the water in the tank gushes into the bowl, becoming a cleansing torrent that performs the essential duties of indoor plumbing. When the flush valve is closed, the rushing waters are restrained and become, instead, a mighty reservoir. When a flush valve is past its prime, it loses this ability to unleash a torrent one minute and to create a reservoir the next. Instead it trickles.

If, like me, you sometimes amuse yourself by lifting the lids off toilet tanks and admiring the works inside, then, like me, you are one twisted plumber wannabe. But you also know there are two styles, or genres, of flush valves, the plunger and the flapper.

The plunger-style flush valve is the high-wire act of toilet innards. Once the toilet handle is activated, the plunger begins its ascent to a guide arm attached to the overflow pipe. From this lofty perch, the plunger surveys the rushing waters, then after a pause it flings itself toward the hole at the bottom of the tank. Like those guys who dive off the cliffs at Acapulco or those Beethoven symphonies that leave you trembling, the plunger flush valves go for the big finish.

Being a big fan of the plunger- style flush valve, I was reluctant to remove this particular one, which had a long career of spectacular dives. I tried to replace parts of the old performer, a new rubber ball for its end, a new metal shaft for its middle. I used coarse sandpaper to smooth down the bumpy, corroded parts of the assembly. But even with the new parts and the vigorous sanding, the old valve couldn't perform up to its old standards. Now when it made its climatic plummet it would miss its target. Other times it wouldn't make the plunge, clinging to the guide arm like a jumper who has lost his nerve.

So I switched genres. I removed the plunger and all its pomps and replaced it with a flapper, a flap-style flush valve. While the plunger reminds me of a cliff diver, the flapper reminds me of a horseshoe crab. When its flap of molded rubber flops down on the hole at the bottom of the toilet tank, this device moves through the water like a horseshoe crab rolling in the ocean surf.

It seals the hole, not with a dramatic plunge, but with a big wet, sloppy kiss. But it gets the job done.

It took several more trips to the hardware store to get a flapper big enough to fit around the extra- wide overflow pipe that this particular toilet sported. But after much aggravation, the flapper landed where it should and the running toilet was stilled.

The house has made me pay for my summer idyll. But I think the ugly period of anger and recrimination is over. Until next summer.

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