Susan's Blog

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Toilet and Trouble

Bubble, bubble
Our toilets are trouble.
–William Sh**speare

As you may be aware, I live in a big house. In this house, there are four bathrooms (five, if you count the strange scary toilet in the basement but you would never, on your life, use that one). I am not bragging. Don’t envy me my toilets. In fact, don’t think this is some kind of nirvana house. Oh, it looks good on paper. And I have made sure it is very, very pretty. Every room is carefully decorated (by me, not a decorator. That is my other would-be profession, had I not become a writer of sorts, etc. As it is, I decorate my friends’ houses, for fun.), all the colors are well-thought-out with the furniture and art. But if you look close, you will see all of its flaws. Just like me.

If you focus on the flaws, as I tend to do, (alas), you will probably find that the biggest problems of all center around our plumbing. Every single one of the bathrooms has issues. First, there is the new bathroom. New! We put it in when we moved in, around six or seven years ago. We gutted the one that was there because the tub leaked to the front entryway ceiling below. It was a tiny clawfoot tub; kind of cute, but with a ramshackle shower and, as I’ve said, a leak! So, we did a whole new bathroom, state-of-the-art, all white and new nickel, new beadboard. Took me several iterations with the stupid contractor to explain that I wanted real beadboard tongue-and-groove wainscoting, not some wallpaper-thin stuff with lines etched into it. It also took me a few go-rounds with him to make him understand that, yes, I wanted tile, not some kind of fiberglass unit that I would never have to scrub! Yes, I wanted real grout that really collects mildew. By the time he was through with me, $20,000 later, I felt as if I had the (slightly crooked) matte nickel shower curtain rod wedged right up my —

But I digress. The whole raison d’être for this new bathroom was the leak. Not only a leak that you take but a leak that we got. So what happens, the moment we use the new shower? A leak!!

Even after that well-recommended contractor came back with his wall-eyed plumber (probably a clue to the terrible work he did) and fixed the shower drain, we had leaks, this time, from the toilet. It turns out, after a long winded discussion, we learned that, you should not plunge toilets; you can break the “seal,” or some such circus animal. God knows. But seal-breakage = leakage = money shrinkage.

Why do I mention plunging? Because we were plunging a lot. That brand new toilet clogs every other day. I don’t know if it’s my growing boys and what they eat, or if it is someone’s fascination with toilet paper. I can’t exactly catch them in their wrongdoing, if you know what I mean. So, every other day, you flush, and you don’t get the beautiful symphonic whoosh, you get a constipated toilet and the whole stew rising just to the edge of the toilet.

So, the master bathroom toilet sucks — or rather, it doesn’t suck enough. Which causes me to use the one near Max’s and Nat’s rooms. Not so much. No matter how often I clean in there, it is always dirty. What is it with males, that they just don’t even think about trying to aim better? And guess what else? The toilet in there is also relatively new, though we did not renovate that room (there is a huge clawfoot tub and a rubber hose attachment for the shower, but never mind, I use it only for lovely baths). That toilet clogs when the other one clogs!

So, where else can I go? Upstairs, you might think. To the Hinterlands. The third floor, which is on a different heating system, the old heating system, which still uses a converted former coal furnace and radiators. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It is another mystery, like the plumbing. So the third floor is cold, and frankly, so cut off from the rest of the house that it is a little too quiet up there. A little scary. But the toilet works. Provided you push the handle down long enough. But for the longest time, the faucets would moan like a dying monster when you turned them, so…

So, down, down the bolge, to the first floor toilet. If you lift the lid, it reads, in fancy black script, “Number 21,” on the porcelain lip. [It is telling you that this is the 21st circle of Hell. ] A very old toilet, original to the first renovation of The House, which was built in 1886. The first renovation occurred in 1913, before World War I; the little bathroom is a brick addition to the house (literally a brick s***house). The heat in there, just a tiny black radiator, is never on, because it is on the old heating system, which we don’t use because it is so flakey, so it is cold. So cold, that when the little faucet drips, it freezes in the drain. It might as well be a washstand whose ice I have to break every morning in order to wash, like a girl in a nineteenth century orphanage.

But let me tell you, they don’t make them like they used to; toilets, that is. This toilet is the champ. This toilet has a wooden tank high up on the wall and a pull chain and a 90 decibel whoosh that scares children, but it will flush a carburetor. And that is good.

I won’t go too far into the fact that this toilet tank was lined with new copper several times until it finally stopped leaking, and the plumber who did that gave up on us, saying, “Your plumbing is haunted.” I believe him. It is all too weird the way the toilets on the second floor clog in tandem, even though they are completely unrelated stacks. And sometimes, all of a sudden, there will be a burble and a whoosh, and the toilet in our bathroom unclogs itself.

I would not lie to you. We don’t understand it. We just live with it. It’s like something out of Harry Potter. And so, we all have our toilet preferences in this house, that kind of match our personalities/issues. Nat and I want completion, so we suffer through the cold and use the first floor toilet. Ned, because he likes a challenge, will use the new bathroom, so he just gets out the plumbing snake and unclogs it every other day. Ben uses the new bathroom, too, because he does not even notice if his stuff goes down or not, and refuses to use the first floor one because of the noise (he has some sensory issues, I believe). Max uses his bathroom, doesn’t notice the dirt, because he wants his privacy and space.

And now, flush with my toilet stories, I will bid you a-doo.


Hi Susan
Been checking your blog for a bit – I love the way you write – just like I think. Which is truly scaring. I love this piece on your toilets. Which is truly scary. I have one bathroom. One. For four people. It is a big one true but no one will go in there with anyone else so it is a big waste of space – though a really nice space. When our toilet clogs we plunge and plunge because without a doubt there is someone that ‘can’t hold it’ much longer. I envy your toilets – issues and all.

— added by lizziehoop on Saturday, February 3, 2007 at 11:39 am

In California, in our 7 year ‘old’ house we have lovely environmentally friendly low flush toilets. Result, semi-permanently clogged loos.
We have three, everyone uses THE ONE, no-one flushes……In my next life I will be a plumber.

— added by Maddy on Saturday, February 3, 2007 at 1:02 pm

We had a similar problem in our downstairs bathroom. So depending on how you were…um…feeling, you had to “make” a decision as to which bathroom was the safest. We had a couple of plumbers check out the waste pipe and the venting, but no “relief”. So naturally I researched this on the Web and learned about Toto toilets. Specifically, the UltraMax model. This model supposedly has a wider flush valve that helps get things where they need to go. We ordered it online and I installed it. This thing will stand up to any sit-down. It hasn’t even come close to clogging in the couple of years we’ve owned it. Take a look at Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools site at
which is where I first learned about it. I also ordered it from Performance Toilets as recommended by the poster.

Good luck. I’m sure everything will come out alright in the end.

— added by Brian on Saturday, February 3, 2007 at 9:14 pm

We have the same scary clawfoot bathtub/shower situation. Only, I have just one bathroom.
It is horrible to use that shower every day, but when I have baths… it’s bliss!!!

— added by Jen on Saturday, February 3, 2007 at 11:04 pm

I read your blog today and I was laughing out loud it was so good. They call it a century home because it takes a century to fix everything in it. You’re a great decorator. I love the woodwork and the stairs. Our house is 2 years old, and the last time it rained a lot, water was dripping through the ceiling in the den. New house or old, it’s still a money pit. Recommended contractor or not, it’s all a ****shoot in who you pick because ‘good’ ones stink too.

— added by MarkZ on Sunday, February 4, 2007 at 12:40 am

I like how you plunged into this slice of your life. My toilet does not stop running unless you turn the kitchen sink (which only has hot water) on.

— added by Someone Said on Sunday, February 4, 2007 at 6:53 am

We had our house built in 2002. (Custom job. The crowning glory is the 20’X20′ room lined with bookcases….) I see someone else has already recommended Toto; I second the recommendation. Not sure what models we have, but they’re low-flow toilets that WORK. (Plus the nifty feature of the seat & lid that go down sloooooooowly.)

The bathroom sinks are another story. Kids drop things into the sinks, or wash weird stuff off their hands into the sinks that ought to have been wiped off first, and those slow down/clog regularly. So we plunge the sinks!

— added by Julia on Sunday, February 4, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Hey Susan, I concur with your other posters – the ToTo is the cadillac of commodes. So if are ever driven to invest in fine porcelain products, this is a winner.

Jared is a fan of the wet wipe, but it doesn’t make him any more thorough. To cover his bases, he has been known to (okay, yesterday) use half a box of wipes at one sitting. When we explained to Thomas he needed to use our bathroom, because the one he shares with Jared was clogged, he said, sounding a little desperate “the poops need to get to poop city!” Thank heavens for the children, and heavy gloves.

— added by Lisa on Monday, February 5, 2007 at 5:17 pm

i can relate totally…i fix houses, we continually had issues with a faulty toilet and plumbing in the last project..and when i needed to go to the bathroom i chose to rent mobile restrooms …it made a world of difference…

— added by tshell on Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Ah. I hate it when toilets break down. They’re so pricey and irritating to fix. I feel your pain. I enjoyed reading your article, it was very colorful!

— added by toto toilets on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 11:58 am

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