A few weeks ago, while over on the coast, I received an e-mail from Sandy. Attached was a photo of the inside of our toilet tank. “John, the flap broke and the toilet won’t flush!” This is when it’s nice having that second bathroom. Isn’t technology grand? It allows you to troubleshoot a non-functioning toilet from another county.

Back home I arrived with a new rubber flapper valve. The old one attached to the flush handle had a built-in rubber attachment. With the “new and improved valve,” the thin rubber strap was replaced with a thin stainless steel chain. A simple fix, you say? I would have quickly agreed. Pop off the old one, snap on the new one, and hook up the chain. So simple a child could do it.

With the new valve in place the water valve opened and the tank quickly filled, just like it should. But wait a minute! The float came up to the water mark. The water flow slowed. But it wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t see any flow, but I could still hear it. No adjustment made any difference. The only thing that stopped the flow was a light thump on the float. My mind started going over all kinds of low-cost repairs, none of which would be accepted by the plumbing code seal of approval. My quick and often unusual repairs of this nature are called “jury-rigs.” I’m a second generation “jury-rigger,” so I came across this skill through years and years of special training. Why spend good money if it can be fixed with bailing wire, coat hangers, or something else just lying around the house?

Not this time. With thoughts of the place flooding while we’re off on our next extended trip, I headed to Lowes for the correct replacement part. The toilet repair aisle is about ten feet long and six feet high, a mad scientist’s dream come true. The only thing I think was missing was some electric remote control device so you could flush using the remote for your automobile.

I sought the help of the in-store professional. Hmmm, over thirty years ago – while working part time a a local home improvement store, Scotty’s – I was this “expert.” With his guidance I headed home with the “Fluidmaster 2000,” a wonder of modern plumbing that eliminates the old fashioned and backward rod and float. We immediately dubbed it the “Flushmaster.” With the water off and drained and tools in hand, our toilet would enter the 21st century.

A few minutes later with the Flushmaster installed, it was time for the inaugural flush. The new valved opened, the water drained, and the toilet flushed. All was good. Putting the tools away and enjoying the feeling of self satisfaction, I returned us to a two bathroom home.

Or so I thought. A few moments later I heard the the water cycle, just a quick little squirt. How could this be? I replaced everything that needed replacing, and used all new parts.

Staring inside a toilet, waiting for something to happen, is just wrong. Finally, I noticed that water was leaking through the new valve. Just ever so slowly, until the water level activated the water fill mechicnism for only a second. I tried a few of my non-traditional fixes. The leak seemed to stop, until I walked away. Five minutes later, there was the sound of water cycling, still, for only a second. My thought was that it just hadn’t seated yet, it needed a little time for the water to quit leaking through.

We spent the night trying to sleep with the water making a squirting noise every five minutes. The next morning it was back to Lowes, trip three. I picked out the Best Heavy Duty Universal flapper valve in the store, $12 verses the $6 model I was returning.

Feeling confident, I repeated the steps to install this modern wonder of flapper valves, only to find that it wouldn’t fit. The plunger was larger than the opening!

That afternoon, on our way from a hike on the other side of town, we stopped at Ace Hardware. Finding their “expert,” I told him the saga of my plumbing misadventures. His reply? “I don’t know what to tell you, it sounds like you’ve done everything.” The Helpful Hardware Man was stumped as well. I felt better, but that didn’t get us our second bathroom back.

With Sandy’s help, we searched their shelves for an even more new and improved flapper valve. All they had were the same things I had seen at Lowes. Just as we were about to give up, Sandy noticed the Ace brand flapper valve on the bottom shelf. It had no fancy package, nothing declaring it to be anything special, just a paper tag with the Ace brand, and only $3.49.

Back home, with the valve quickly replaced, we watched and waited. Seconds, minutes and hours went by without a sound. Success!

One last trip back to Lowes – trip number four – for a $12 refund on the Best Heavy Duty Universal flapper valve. Jury-rigged with the Ace flapper valve, the “Flushmaster” is finally working as advertised. I shut the valves off on both toilets before we took our last trip, just in case.