That dreaded sound in the house: The toilet’s running!

#644 in a series of true experiences in real estate
July 2012, Hills Newspapers

Years ago when my kids were little, my husband and I bought the house where I still live. The house needed work and so we immediately began tearing it apart. We took off the front porch, tore down ceilings, and gutted the kitchen. Workmen arrived every morning at 7. It was busy and chaotic at our house, we had big projects on our minds, and we weren’t getting enough sleep.

Probably this explains why we didn’t notice right away that the toilet in the back bathroom was running. When we did notice, it seemed like a small thing to fix, so we waited until the plumber was at the house for something else, then asked him to take care of it.

He fiddled with the insides of the toilet, then left. He came back, spent more time, charged more money, and left. It ran the same.

In the middle of the night when all was quiet, we’d all hear the toilet gurgling water down the drain. I said to my husband, “Why don’t we just get rid of that toilet? Buy a new one?” He looked at me like I was out of my mind. “You don’t replace a whole toilet just because it’s running,” he said. “It just needs some adjustment.”

When the plumber returned, I appealed to him. “Wouldn’t it make sense to put in a new toilet, fix it once and for all? How much do toilets cost?”

“We may need to replace some parts,” he said, “but there is no need to get a new toilet.” He didn’t say how much new ones cost.

Over a period of time different plumbers replaced the toilet’s innards – the float and the seals and so forth – to no avail. I did what I could. I wrote checks to the plumbers and shouted after they’d left, “It’s still doing it.”

The toilet didn’t run every minute or even every day. There were respites. I don’t remember how many different people worked on it. I never wanted to know how much we spent on it so I never added it up, but I do know that I continued to suggest that we give up and buy a new one. Any man who happened to be in the vicinity would answer, “It just needs some fiddling.”

Much of the house was put back together and the toilet was still running when my husband and I separated. He moved out leaving various problems to me. I could do whatever I wanted about the toilet now, but I had other things on my mind.

One morning I was walking my kids to school when I saw a pink toilet standing on my neighbor’s driveway. “They must be remodeling,” I thought, and I was very excited.

I asked one of the workers what they planned to do with the toilet. It was going to the dump – did I want it? Minutes later I had loaded it into a wheelbarrow and stashed it in my garage. I saw it as insurance.

I tried once more. I got another plumber to look at the old toilet. Like the others before him, he was sure he could fix it. He charged more than anyone else because it took so long to empty the tank and apply epoxies around the drain. “This should work,” he said.

The toilet was silent for awhile, maybe a couple of weeks. This time when it started, it ran for shorter periods, only a few seconds at each interval, just enough to drive us all crazy. My kids complained, “The toilet makes noise all night and wakes us up. Can’t you stop it?”

There were days when I woke up determined to fix the problem, but somehow those days got complicated, too busy, and I’d forget. I’d come home tired at night thinking about dinner and homework, then walk into the hallway and hear that noise again. Finally I got around to calling one last plumber, managed to meet him during the day, and went over the entire history of the toilet as I knew it.

This guy was great. He marveled over the quantity of epoxy the last guy had applied. He adjusted the float and the wire, then sat down on the edge of the tub to see what would happen. It didn’t disappoint. It ran right away.

Then this man said to me the words I’d been waiting to hear. “I don’t know what else to do. I think you should replace the toilet.”

Done. Pink wasn’t the right color for that yellow bathroom, so my good man switched toilets around. In less than two hours all was quiet in the house.

But about a week later while I was reading a book to my kids at bedtime I heard a familiar sound. “Oh, no!” I said loudly. Annie sat up in bed. “What? You scared me, Mom.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I thought I heard the new toilet running. Did you hear anything?”

Nick was sitting up, too. “I didn’t hear anything,” he said reassuringly. “It was probably just a phantom sound.”

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