Trying to repair bathtub becomes a draining experience

February 24, 2007|By ROB KASPER

Little things can cause great aggravation. I reacquainted myself with this truism recently as I wrestled with a bathtub's faulty pop-up drain. I lost this battle but did learn some new words, such as "lift-rod assembly."

In its youth, this tub drain stopper could jump. At the flick of a lever the stopper would pop up to let water run out of the tub, or close to let the tub fill with water.

But over time it lost its "ups." Maybe it was age; maybe someone taking a shower -- the tub doubles as a shower -- had stepped on it. But lately flicking the control lever was like calling your cable or satellite provider: Nothing happened.

I lived with low pop-up drain expectations for a time, then last weekend I aspired to bathe better. I vowed to fix that faulty bathtub drain, to make it bounce up again. I came close.

I spent the better part of the day kneeling over the tub, peering into dark holes, running around town getting parts. In the end, I admitted defeat and called my plumber. His assistant fixed the drain in about 20 minutes. He figured out that a setscrew that held the stopper up was missing. When he put the screw in, the stopper bounced up and down as it should.

It was a small but humiliating experience. I had had hopes for success, but what I ended up with was a new appreciation for plumbers and a few spare parts.

I thought I could fix the drain because all the propaganda that I had read on Web sites and in home-repair books described this task as "easy." That should have been a clue. After about four hours, I was muttering at the repair manuals, "Easy for you, difficult for me."

I began this undertaking armed with white vinegar, baking soda, pliers and a screwdriver. The white vinegar and baking soda, one cup of each, were poured down the drain, followed by a pot of boiling water. This cleaned the drain. Cleaning your drains, rotating your tires, flossing your teeth are things good people do. I did feel virtuous as I purged the drainpipe. Moreover, the chemical reaction of vinegar and baking soda put on quite a show reminiscent of the Diet Coke and Mentos mints explosion videos that fill the Internet.

The pop-up drain basically had two parts, one vertical, one horizontal. They met in darkness, somewhere behind the tub wall. The vertical component is called the lift rod. It is connected to the overflow cover plate, the circular-shaped piece of metal that holds the trip lever. The horizontal piece is the rocker linkage.

Using the screwdriver, I removed the cover plate, pulled out the lift rod and fooled with it. I was trying to make it longer so it would push on the rocker arm and lift the drain stopper.

Again and again I flipped the control lever, but nothing happened. Then I packed up the parts in a plastic bag and began a peregrination to plumbing supply shops, showing my lift rod and rocker arm to some of the best brains in drainage. I left the Ferguson Enterprises shop on Edison Highway, which carries parts for my brand of tub, Kohler, with a new lift-rod assembly and fresh hope.

But when I got back home, even the new part would not make the old tub perform the way it should. I gave up, reluctantly. Even after I had quit, I would return to the tub, stare at it and think "maybe if I try this."

The next morning I watched as the pro attacked the problem. He pulled the old rocker linkage out and set it on the floor next to a new rocker linkage. He studied the two. That is when he detected the missing setscrew in the drain stopper. Without the screw, the stopper was slouching and could not rise above the drain. With the screw, the stopper was, in effect, taller and had regained its lift.

When I asked him how he had figured this out, he replied that it was "the process of elimination."

Taking a clue from a pro, I have eliminated fixing a faulty pop-up drain from my list of "easy" weekend projects.

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