Know Thyself: How a DIY Plumbing Fix Cost Us Hundreds

by Kevin on January 17, 2013

I’m a big fan of trying to do things yourself when you can. You learn something and usually save money in the process. My father-in-law, wife, and I built our man/media cave in our bonus room last year all by ourselves. That included putting up cement fiberboard, gluing and mortaring thin brick to the fiberboard, running network and audio/video cables through the walls, and moving a power outlet. We saved a ton of money on labor for that part. My wife and I also designed a coffee table and media rack that ended up being unique and saving us money on what we would have spent buying the items at retail.

The project was fun and exhausting… but it was ours.

Unfortunately, not all DIY projects go this way. At least not DIY projects that I am a participant in.

How DIY Projects Can Cost You Big Money

We all understand that taking some of your own time to do something can result in big savings. You’re not having to pay a licensed professional with a high hourly rate to come out and do something for you. Even something as simple as cutting your own lawn might “make” you $70 per hour if that is what someone else would charge you to do it.

On the other hand, DIY can go terribly wrong and lead to further damage and costly repairs to fix your mistakes.

This is one of those stories.

(And forgive me for not using the appropriate plumbing terminology. Work with me here.)

DIY Running Toilet Fix

Our master bathroom toilet was running. Not a lot, but enough to be a waste of water (which costs money) and an aural annoyance. We resorted to turning the water on and off on the wall until we could get it fixed.

“Toilets are simple,” everyone told us. “Water comes in from the wall to the tank, water leaves the tank to the toilet, and water leaves the toilet to the plumbing system. Those are your three trouble points.”

And I concur. Toilets are simple devices. Simply frustrating devices I now know I cannot fix on my own!

Ahem.

My father-in-law came to visit and we tackled the project, replacing the water fill valve. (Step one in our toilet water process for those of you keeping score at home.) In hindsight and with the infinite knowledge of toilets I have, this was a dumb move.

Why?

Water couldn’t be running from the water-in valve. At worst it would be that the water level was set too high which would cause the tank to fill to a point where the water level would go over the overflow portion of the water-to-the-toilet section. But you could easily tell from the water line on the tank that that wasn’t happening.

Nonetheless we threw some money down the drain on this solution. By the time we figured out that wasn’t going to work, we were out of time to work on the problem.

We resorted to the water on, water off at the wall solution in the meantime.

Commencing further down the “water level too high” solution, we later replaced the floating ball inside the tank to no avail.

As it turns out the problem was with the rubber gasket inside the tank on the water-goes-out-to-toilet section of the apparatus. Over 5 or 6 years of use had worn it down, built up grime, and so forth. It needed replacing. This made sense, finally, because that is where the running water would be running from — not the overflow valve because the water level never got that high.

See! I told you these things were simple…

We went to Lowe’s and bought a new flush valve kit (I think that is what it is called!) – a new flap, chain to connect to the handle, main seal, and so forth. This meant it was time for major work where we emptied the tank and removed everything inside before removing the tank from the toilet to get easier access to everything. We swapped everything out, put the new main seal on (the seal between the tank and the toilet), and installed the new flush valve kit. We tightened all of the screws down hard.

Per my father-in-law’s recommendation we waited 24 hours with the tank full of water without using the toilet to make sure there were no leaks.

There were no leaks; hooray! We commenced use of the toilet. No more having to run to the 2nd bathroom upstairs.

And everything worked great…

…until a week later. When I came home to a bathroom floor full of water around the toilet….

And under the trim to the drywall… and from there, leaving two nice streaks on our kitchen ceiling.

Sigh.

Apparently the seal wasn’t seated properly or the screws weren’t snug enough. Whatever reason, the tank slowly emptied itself that fateful day. And it is going to cost more to fix the problem now than it was before.

Hiring a Professional to Fix a DIY Problem

Dear reader, I implore you, know thyself. Know what you are good at. Know what you are not good at. At the latter things, hire a professional to do the job right. It will save you time, effort, and money. We had several hours of time invested in three different fix attempts on the toilet. We bought parts at Lowe’s. But at the end of the day we had to hire a plumbing company to make it right.

And it only cost me an extra $230.

(I have never been more happy to write a check for $230 than that day.)

On top of that as some point in the future we are going to have to attempt to paint the kitchen ceiling. Only problem there is the kitchen, living room, and part of the foyer ceiling are all one giant piece of ceiling with knocked down texture. So you can’t just paint the kitchen ceiling and hope no one notices the color difference between the other rooms. You have to paint the whole thing. And that’s if you can paint over the knock down texture without having to do it again. Add another $500 at least to the list.

Lesson learned. While I can disconnect the electric on my dishwasher without getting electrocuted, I hired professionals to do the installation. And the next time we have plumbing issues I’m not going to touch them with a 10 foot pole.

I would love to have someone else share their story of a DIY job gone wrong. Any takers?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Monnin January 17, 2013 at 10:46 am

I’m also of the mindset that doing it myself is like working for whatever rate I’d be paying a professional to do it.

Recently I had my own toilet problem. The strange issue arose when I flushed the toilet and noticed water rushing out from between the tank and the bowl, over the top of the bowl, into the bowl.

First I tried my own fix, emptying the tank and trying to fill whatever hole there might be with lots of caulk. Didn’t work.

Second I tried another fix, taking the tank off and examining the connection. I didn’t see a problem, but thought maybe the rubber gasket could use some caulk. So I caulked it, then put the tank back on. I should have done a little research on toilets first, because when I put the tank back on, I tightened too tightly, breaking a piece of the bowl off where a bolt was attaching it to the tank. I tested to see if it would work anyway, but water would then spill to the floor when flushing.

Luckily, the final solution was also a DIY. My wife and I bought a new ($88) toilet and I installed it with my father-in-law. He’s installed at least one toilet in his house, so I’m hoping I don’t have the problem you had.

Total cost of the fix was $88, since I was using left-over caulk for previous attempts. I’m glad to have the experience it gave me, which gives me more confidence for future DIYs.

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Jessica N February 4, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I’ve learned from experience sometimes you just have to leave it to the professionals. My husband had a bad habit of trying to fix things… like the radio of his car…. and in the end of it all he would not only NOT fix it, he usually had broken something else. All of the lights in his car don’t work now. I didn’t even understand because he was trying to fix the radio, how he messed up the lights is beyond me!

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