DIY: Pass Time, Save Money, Feel Good

Day 123 | $57,116 paid | $33,601 till freedom

This entire week is a corporate holiday at the place where I work, and since I didn’t fly home for the holidays to save money, I’ve had to keep myself entertained here in Austin. The temptation, of course, is to spend money–go to movies (Mission: Impossible 4, anyone??), accept the invitation from my friends to go to the shooting range, etc. To pass the time, I’ve gone out to the bars with friends a few times since flasking is free, I’ve been blogging a lot more than usual (also free), and I’ve hit the gym and made it down to Town Lake for a few runs (sunk cost of annual gym membership and just the cost of fuel to drive).

I’ve also used the time to attack some chores that I’ve been wanting to get to for awhile. By doing (most of) them myself, I passed the time, I saved money, and all of them but the last one made me feel good about doing a job well done, on my own.

Chore #1: Fixed Convertible Top
Tuesday was gorgeous, so I washed my car and patched two tears in the soft top. The car is 12 years old and the top is original and looks fine from far away, but it has a half-inch and a one-inch tear that are the result of wear and tear (literally), not any sort of abuse or negligence. The tears don’t let in any rain, but they are definitely cosmetic issues. One of them is right above the passenger’s head, and a girl once ask me if she was going to get wet if it started raining. That was embarrassing.

Before I stumbled upon the concept of early retirement, my intention was to live with the tears for the next six months until my loans were paid off, then spend $1,500 (only slightly more than a typical pre-NMHD monthly loan payment) to replace the entire top.

Now that I’m taking a longer-term view past the loan pay-off period, I’m thinking that $1,500 is quite a bit to spend on fixing something that is 98% fine. So I went online and found that Tear-Aid ($7) is the recommended choice by S2000 owners who have repaired their tops. I picked some up at Academy and patched up the top in about thirty minutes. I put the patches on the inside of the top to avoid the patchwork quilt look, and they seem to be adhering well so far.

Chore #2: Cleaned House
I spent six hours on Wednesday doing spring fall cleaning–dusting, polishing, vacuuming, etc.

 Chore #3: Repaired Towel Rack
I have a monster of a bath towel that gets heavy when it gets wet. The towel rack in the master bathroom had relatively puny anchors holding it onto the wall and they were slowly working themselves out of the wall and threatening to give up the ghost altogether. So I installed some hardcore anchors and I could probably do pull-ups with the towel rack now. Problem solved.

Chore #4: Replaced Grout
About eight inches of grout between two tiles in my shower was shrunken and cracked and would soon be at the point of allowing water in behind the tiles, so I chipped all the grout away with a screwdriver and applied fresh grout.

Chore #5: Raked Leaves

Chore #6: Tried and Failed to Fix Toilet
All of the chores this past week have gone really well, except for this one. In fact, I’m still frustrated by it.

I had a classic running toilet problem: post-flush, water was slowly leaking from the tank into the bowl such that the tank would have to refill itself every hour or so.

I finally got around to opening up the tank this week and having a look-see. I diagnosed a faulty flapper, so I replaced it. The problem persisted. I then decided that I would replace the entire flush valve, thinking that maybe the replacement flapper wasn’t compatible with the original flush valve. I closed the water line, emptied the tank, sopped up all the water out of it, and took the flush valve out. This was easier said than done because that sucker was on there tight, but I still managed to remove it without using any tools besides my hands. 

I put in the new flush valve and gaskets, then finger-tightened it as much as I could and opened the water line. Water went everywhere! Apparently, the gasket between the valve and the tank wasn’t seated tightly enough. I tightened the flush valve down some more with my hands, but the problem persisted.

At this point, I figured I just needed to get better leverage on it to tighten it, so I removed the entire tank from the toilet and put it on my bathroom counter. I really put my back into it this time and finger-tightened it as much as I could. I didn’t think I needed a wrench to get the proper torqie because I had been able to remove the original valve using only my hands.

Once I got it as tight as I possibly could, I conducted my version of a leak test, pictured below. I put it on top of a bucket and filled the tank a quarter of the way full. Leakage! I put the tank back on the counter and tried to tighten it some more. My fingers were developing painful indentures from the flush valve nut because I was putting so much force on them. I eked a little more movement out of the nut and conducted another leak test. No leaks! I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn’t going to have to call a plumber and get charged $100 or $150 for a house call. Extremely pleased with myself, I replaced the tank, tightened up the bolts holding it onto the toilet bowl, and opened the water line.

After the tank was about halfway full, a slow leak of about a drop a second developed. Apparently, my leak test had not been robust enough, and the weight of the additional water was heavy enough to create a leak. I was getting extremely frustrated. I removed the tank from the toilet again and tried using the old gasket, which looked markedly different from the new one. My logic was that maybe the new gasket wasn’t “right.” Clearly, I was getting desperate. I tightened up the flush valve, replaced the tank onto the bowl, opened up the water line, and the leak was actually worse than before!

I thought about running up to the store to get a wrench or something to tighten the flush valve, but I sincerely thought that that wasn’t the problem because I had been able to remove the valve with my bare hands in the first place.

After wrestling with the toilet for two hours, I admitted defeat and looked for a plumber on Yelp. The first two highest-rated ones didn’t answer their phones, but I got through to the third and he came by within a couple of hours.

I watched him work through the entire process, and he ended up using tongue-and-groove pliers to tighten the valve. I wanted to shoot myself in the face. Those things cost about $20 at the store, and they’re pretty much a workshop necessity, anyway. If I have a number of obscure tools for my old motorcycle, then surely I should have a set of tongue-and-groove pliers, right? Wrong.

I have to say that boiling down the two-hour debacle into these few simple paragraphs makes it clear that this was definitely not my finest hour of lucid thinking. If I had been more patient and investigated a few more alternative solutions–like getting a wrench–I could have saved a considerable chunk of change.

The plumber threw the tank back on the toilet, filled it up with water, and of course, there were no leaks. The flapper was still causing problems, though, so he replaced it. We put some dye in the tank, and none of it leaked into the toilet bowl. $94 later, my plumbing problem was solved.

Or so I thought.

Yesterday, the darned thing started leaking again, albeit at a slower rate of about one tank refill every three hours instead of every one. It appears that the flapper isn’t making a perfect union with the flush valve–instead, it’s landing on it slightly askew. I haven’t called the plumber back yet, but when I do, I’m hoping he’ll come  back and fix the problem for free. He should.


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5 responses to “DIY: Pass Time, Save Money, Feel Good

  1. Oh man, I had the same thing happen to me. Replaced the flush valve and it still runs sometimes. I’ve taken to adjusting how the flap is attached to the handle, to try and have it come down right in the middle of the flush valve. It’s on-again off-again at this point.

    It’s nice that I know how to take a toilet apart, but at this point I just want it to stop running.

  2. Emily Marcroft

    Eh, I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. You learned something. It’ll save you money in the future, or at the very least when your future kids are having a problem with the toilet in their apartment, you can be the so-smart hero dad for fixing it/telling them how to fix it. 😉

  3. Sounds like a great learning experience! If the plumber won’t come back for free, also keep in mind that a whole new toilet is often less than $100 brand new. I also just got a high-quality almost new one at a used building materials store for $30.

    Judging by the look of your old tank, the new one will also save you water, and make your bathroom look nicer too (which feeds back into improved dating success mentioned in your other articles ;-))

  4. Rose

    For future renovation needs, look at the ReStore (one of the ways Habitat for Humanity raises money) for stuff you might need. The one near me sells brand new toilets, old tools, etc. for pretty cheap. And going back to one of your posts I read earlier today, they also take away large item donations (i.e. bookcases, tables) and small household items too. There’s one in Austin:

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