DIY Plumbing Repair: This is Why Plumbers Are Well-Paid

A couple weekends ago our guest bathroom toilet developed a slow flush. I plunged a few times thinking someone was probably guilty of not being frugal with the toilet paper, but the problem seemed to be getting worse. This was the first time vigorous plunging was not a successful remedy to the slow flush. Like most dads, I was determined to solve this problem myself and set out to learn more than I ever wanted to know about the anatomy of a toilet.

The internet offers a wealth of information when it comes to do-it-yourself home repairs.

A quick search on the web revealed some promising leads. Apparently, they make a toilet snake, or toilet auger, that is approximately three feet long and has an extended protective coating to prevent damage to the porcelain bowl. My regular plumber’s auger is much longer, and does not have a protective surface. I shut off the computer and ventured off to the nearest home improvement store.

In the plumbing section I found several varieties of toilet augers with a wide range of prices.

The Cobra Heavy-Duty Industrial auger was $48.93. Since I wasn’t planning to snake but one toilet I thought this was a bit unnecessary. The Cobra “Homeowner” edition auger was more my style – $7.48. I also picked up a wax ring just in case I had to pull up the bowl to snake the main drain in the bathroom floor. Not much selection here – just a good old-fashioned $1.54 wax ring with flange.

I returned home to test out the new toilet auger when some new evidence was introduced.

My son confessed to his mom that he had thrown a toy “down the potty.” Hoping it would be a small toy that would eventually pass, we asked which one he threw in the toilet. He replied, “Harold the Helicopter.” Fans of Thomas the Train will recognize Harold as the helicopter who buzzes around the Island of Sodor. My main concern was that Harold’s blades would snag on the toilet’s exit and create a messy backup. Then again, this would be an ideal situation as opposed to it snagging in the main drain several feet below the house.

As excited as I was to try out my new toy I put away the auger for fear of pushing Harold further down the drain.

I proceeded to turn off the water at the wall, flush several times to attempt to drain the tank and bowl, and then unbolt the toilet from the floor. I laid the bowl on its side, and guess who I found clinging to the very bottom of the exit? Yep, it was Harold. I pulled him out, along with some other stuff I won’t mention – just in case you are reading this on your lunch break. I cleaned off the existing wax ring, affixed the new one and reseated the toilet to the floor.

My household repair material costs totaled $9.65 with sales tax.

I spent around an hour of actual labor time, not including my trip to the store. I’m not current on the going rate of plumbers around Austin, but I imagine it would have cost more than $9.65 for one to the come to our house, diagnose and rescue Harold the Helicopter.

So what is the point of all this?

Besides telling you way more than you ever wanted to know about toilet repair, the story serves as a reminder to try to develop some handy skills so you can make your own minor repairs around the house. It will save you a ton of money versus calling in a professional. However, there are times when a professional is needed. For example, I don’t pretend to know anything about electrical circuits or related equipment. Attempting to “wing it” could be hazardous to my health, so I call in an electrician when electrical repairs, or new wiring, is required.

I also consider my time valuable.

Besides working full time, writing part time, and being a husband and father all the time, trying to squeeze in household repairs can create a schedule crunch. There is a break even point, financially, where you would be better off to hire someone and continue to work on money-making endeavors. This is especially true of emergency situations that happen in the middle of the week, or the middle of the night. A busted pipe, or a fried electrical panel, could potentially tie up quite a lot of your time to repair, even if you have the know-how. Instead of sacrificing time you could be using to earn money, you may very well be better off hiring someone to give you a hand.

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