Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ode de Toilet

Here's a post from David describing the adventure of replacing our master bath toilet. Let's just say, we're thankful we have a spare bathroom for situations like these. -- Elizabeth

Ever since we moved here, actually, ever since we first saw this place, we wanted to replace the toilets. They seemed very low and between rust stains and lack of cleaning by the previous owners, they were pretty disgusting.

Master bath toilet

Trust us, we used everything we could to get the bowl clean.

The tank wasn't much better. Can we get a collective, "Ewwww!"?

We replaced a toilet in our previous house with a “chair height” model and really liked it. We knocked it out in a couple of hours. We knew this one wouldn’t be quite so quick. The base of the toilet bowl was cemented in. 

Don’t know why, but it seems that it is not an uncommon practice in Belize. So the first step was to root it out of the cement.

After draining the tank and toilet, I started chipping the concrete away. It seems that the installer had used something very hard – not your normal cement – to keep it in place. Maybe hydraulic cement? My chisels kept slipping between trying to get under the bowl and the very hard cement. Eventually I cracked the porcelain of the bowl footing. So I just beat it crack silly until I could remove the bowl. That made my chipping life much easier.

You do what you gotta' do to get a toilet bowl out from cement

Again don’t know why, but whomever installed it put the toilet 1½” below the floor. No wonder it seemed low to us. And not only that, the soil pipe was 16” from the wall, standard is 10-12” Don’t know why they wanted the toilet so far from the wall; it obviously wasn’t to make it easier to clean.

So I cleaned out all the porcelain chips I’d made and was ready to install the closet flange (the plastic bit that is supposed to be what the toilet is mounted to). 

Typical closet flange
However, the previous owners saved money by not using a flange and just cemented the toilet in, presuming it would never have to be replaced, which seems to be their modus operandi for all things built into this house.

However before mounting the closet flange, the floor needed filling to support the new toilet at floor height. Now as this was a Sunday, the only store that sold cement I could find open was Cinty’s (always an adventure unto itself!) and they only carry 100lb bags! I needed about 5 lbs and my back and age no longer permit hefting 100lbs of anything.  So I had the store guys put it in our SUV. When I go it home, I used a board to slide it into the wheel barrow to get it near where I was going to mix it. For those in the States, you cannot buy concrete mix in Belize, just cement, you have to add sand and gravel to make concrete. (We had a bit of sand, the dogs think it’s a beach under our palapa, and some gravel, but not enough, so I threw in some porcelain chips, of which I had plenty).

Made up the cement mixture and threw it in the hole, making it level with the floor. Okay, so now I’m ready to install the toilet closet flange -- well not really. I had seen an offset flange at the hardware store, so I decided to try it to move the toilet a couple of inches closer to the wall. 

Offset flange

Got the offset flange only to discover that it needed the soil pipe to be 1½” lower than it currently was. So the next problem to solve was how to lower the rim of the soil pipe.

I measured down the correct distance and put a number of pencil marks around the interior of the pipe, yes, I stuffed a rag into the pipe to combat the malodorous air wafting forth. After thinking about how to lower the pipe, encased in concrete, the proper distance, I went back to chisels and hammer to beat a slot around the outside of the pipe. 

Then looking at my tool selection, the only one I had to cut the pipe was my Dremel tool. I carefully cut the pipe around the inside. The problem here is that the Dremel spins so fast that it melts the plastic pipe back together as one cuts. Using some wedges, eventually I got the top of the pipe off. Okay, so now we are ready to install the offset flange – well not really. 

Whomever installed the pipe had again saved money by using the thinnest walled pipe available. The concrete poured after the pipe was laid had deformed the pipe out of round! So out to the shop I went to sand the flange sufficiently to get it to enter the pipe.

That done, I beat – for 20 minutes – the flange into the pipe, hoping that it wouldn’t split the pipe. As luck would have it, it didn’t split. Okay, so finally the flange is in place, the wax seal is on, and the rest is a piece of cake. Well not really! The flange bolts that secure the toilet to the flange are supposed to be brass, so they won’t rust. The only flange bolts available here are brass-plated steel. One has to cut off the top of the bolts after installing the toilet in order to place the caps over the nuts and washers to make a neat job of it. So off to my shop to retrieve my hacksaw. Now whomever designed toilets  never thought it might be installed next to a wall (a convenient thing if one wanted to mount toilet paper nearby).

So after much ado and sweat (and 3 different sizes of hacksaws), I finally got the top of the bolts off, put the caps on, and the base of the toilet was installed. Time for a drink.

Okay, so installing the tank is really a piece of cake – well not really! Boy this is getting old. 

Bronte doing a quality control inspection of the toilet tank

Actually the mounting of the tank wasn’t a horrible experience. Of course the instructions (all in Spanish) left out several details, but eventually I got it on, the way I think it should be, and started to fill it with water.

It was taking a long time to fill, but I assumed it was also filling the toilet bowl as well as the tank. I couldn’t see any leaks so I thought it was all good, just a bit slow. Being the patient guy that I am, I filled a bucket with water and dumped it into the tank.  Water gushed out of the bottom of the tank. Time for a drink and a bit of clean up – “Oh Elizabeth, I could use a hand here.”

Off to the hardware store to explain the issue. I thought the tank and bowl were mismatched. They had another tank and bowl like the one I bought, only in off-white. (They only buy one of each item here in Belize and don’t order another until that one is sold). I showed that the problem was between the  gasket at the bottom of the flapper valve outlet and the toilet base was at least ½”, not really a water-tight seal. 

Even Bronte knew something was amiss!

The gasket came in the kit -- water inlet valve, float, flapper outlet valve, handle, screws and gaskets – they sold me with the toilet. They were confused and didn’t know how to solve the problem. The owner’s son happened to show up while they were in their dilemma as to what to do. He said he had a bigger gasket from another kit at their other store which would solve the problem. I followed him to the other store only to find out he didn’t have it at all. But could order it and it would be here in a couple of days. So we have a nice looking, very clean, chair-height toilet installed but can’t use it --- grrrr!  

So after a few visits to the hardware store in the ensuing days, they agreed to take my phone number and call me when the gasket arrived. Six days later, I got the call. Yeah. I trundled off to the store to pick up the gasket. It was the right size for the toilet base, however way too big for the flapper valve exit port. I dragged the owner up the steps to the toilet display area and explained the issue. He said that he understood and he had the right sided exit tube kit – at the other store and called them to have it ready for me. And I trundled over to their other store. Indeed they had the kit ready for me and the new gasket fit, but before leaving, I decided to check out if it would fit the tank. Well not really! 

I dragged the guys up to this store’s toilet display area and showed them that it wouldn’t fit the tank they had sold me.  "Oh", they said. Oh? So one of the guys went in the back and brought out a different tank. Hallelujah, it fit! All this time and frustration was because by them not ensuring that the tank and toilet base were actually matched. And the newly discovered tank had all the right pieces and parts all ready installed and boxed straight from the factory.

Took the new tank home, took off the old tank, installed the correct tank in about 15 minutes. Filled it up, no leaks, flushed perfectly. Done at last. If only they had known what they were selling, we would have had a nice working toilet a week ago, and little frustration for me. Ah, Belize, you gotta love it.

So this is our simple toilet replacement saga, I’m sorry that I didn’t take more pictures of the process, but I was rather preoccupied with stopping leaks and finding parts.  

Here it is, complete, and a happy couple can flush with glee, at last.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! Another project completed without loss of sanity. HeeHeeHee. I still like Daves plan. All projects stop at 11. Finished or not, due to heat breaks. Though now tht you are done, I do envy you your chair height toilet. (sigh) luxury.