Fixing Flapper Valve in Toilet

If you notice the water coming on by itself to fill the tank of your toilet, the problem could be your toilet’s flapper valve.  You can easily renew it or replace it yourself and save plenty of money.


Flapper valve?  Most toilets have a flapper valve.  The flapper valve holds the water in the tank until you press the handle to flush the toilet; doing so raises the valve and allows the water to flow from the tank into the bowl.  (There are other methods of getting water from the tank to the bowl, but the flapper-valve method has been around a long time and is probably the most common.)

Over time, the flapper valve and the seat on which it sits can be fouled with hard water sediment, rust, lime, or other dirt and grime. (Amazing how much dirt and grime is in “clean” water.)  The valves can also lose their flexibility, which keeps them from sealing properly.  Thus, water slowly and continuously seeps from the tank into the bowl.  If you watch closely, you might see it form little ripples in the bowl.  When the water level gets low enough, the toilet mechanism turns the water on to re-fill the tank, and you hear it, which lets you know it’s time to work on the flapper valve.  You can verify that the flapper valve is leaking by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and looking to see if any of it ends up in the bowl after an hour or two.

You might try cleaning the valve and valve seat.  Remove the valve and clean it with a scrub brush, scouring pad, or steel wool.  A bit of dishwashing detergent might help. Do the same with the valve seat.  Once it’s all clean, re-assemble it and check to make sure it no longer leaks.

In my experience, once a flapper valve is leaking, it needs to be replaced.  Obtain a new one from your local hardware store.  Remove the old one and install the new.  There are plenty of youtube videos that will show you how.  You might want to save the chain and the metal clip in your hardware jar; they might come in handy for some other job.  I used such a clip once to replace a lost cotter pin.

One final note:  the various toilet cleaners that “clean the bowl every time you flush” are bad for the toilet mechanism in the tank.  Avoid toilet cleaning products that go into the water while it is in the tank.

As usual: Do it yourself and save $$$.

Which reminds me of a story:  I had a friend, a little old lady, who called a plumber when the water in her toilet kept coming on.  The visit from the plumber cost her something around $100.  That seems like a lot to charge for the few minutes of labor needed to replace a part that costs about $6 (retail)  — but I can understand that the plumber had to take the time to go to her home and he could have been working on another job (maybe something that would better justify a plumber’s time) instead of replacing a flapper valve.  Still, I wish she had told me about the problem before she called the plumber.  I would have been happy to do it for free.


Inspiration From Youtube

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, your thoughts become you deeds.  Thus, if you control your thoughts, you end up controlling your deeds.  That’s called self-control and it’s essential if you want to reduce your spending and thus be able to increase your saving.  One way to control your thoughts is by listening, reading, and watching media on the subject of personal finance.  You can find podcasts and radio shows, books, and (of course) videos.  Here’s an example.

Maybe not everything mentioned in this video is applicable to your situation.  Okay.  So find another video.  You know how to work the internet don’t you?  Then you can find books at the library or among the used books at your local thrift shop.

Finally, I’ll mention that as you get lots of personal finance advice from a variety of sources, some of what you’ll hear or read might be not only not applicable to your situation … it might also be downright incorrect or untrue.  But that’s okay.  If something isn’t true, remember that free advice is sometimes worth what you pay for it.  And it isn’t just the actual factual content that you’re looking for.  It’s also the inspiration that comes from seeing and hearing someone else talk about doing what you want to do.  Just knowing that other people have done it should show you that you can do it too.  That’s one reason why The Richest Man in Babylon is still one of the best books about personal finance, despite the fact that it’s almost 100 years old.  So get inspired and save money!

Tightening the Newel Post

The newel post (the large vertical post at the bottom of the handrail on the stairs) at my house had gotten loose in recent years  Tightening a newel post is certainly an easy do-it-yourself job for anyone who has an electric drill and knows their way around a hardware store.  What I did was basically the same as what Tom Silva does in this video — except I used two screws, perpendicular to each other, one in a tread and one in a riser.  Good tip, using a carpenter’s square to make sure the drill stays level.  Also note: it’s best to apply pressure to get the thing straight before you put the screw in place; don’t use the screw to make it straight; straighten first, then use the screw to keep it that way.

Make Your Own Soap

The basic principle of avoiding convenience applies to soap.  You can make your own soap and save money in the process — and probably get better soap.  Exact soap-making instructions are a bit beyond the scope of this blog (you can find plenty on the internet and there are lots of instructional videos on youtube), but I’ll give an overview of the basics.

All you need are three ingredients:

  • Fat (such as lard, coconut oil, or olive oil)
  • Lye
  • Distilled water

You can also add some other ingredients for scents or added effects (such as lavender, peppermint, honey, oatmeal, and various coloring).

The preparation method for basic soap-making is

  • C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y add the lye to the water (rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory)
  • Warm the fat over low heat
  • Get both the fat and lye-water to the correct temperature (which usually means warming the fat while waiting for the lye water to cool)
  • C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y blend them together
  • Mix until thickened
  • Add any optional ingredients
  • Pour into molds and cover
  • Allow to cool slowly
  • Remove from molds
  • Allow to cure in the air for several weeks

That’s all.

homemade_soapYou can get very creative with the scents, colors, molds, and packaging.  You might be inspired by the soap-makers in your family tree.  (“Your great-grandmother used to make her own lard soap in the backyard.”)  You might explore the soap-making traditions of your ancestors.  (“This is the kind of soap they made in the old country.”)  Once you’re a skilled soap-maker, you have an excellent and one-of-a-kind unique gift for all-purpose giving.

You’ve probably heard that lye is dangerous.  It is dangerous.  That’s why you wear gloves and safety glasses.  You should also wear long sleeves and pants.  It’s also a very good idea to work with the lye outside, as combining lye and water creates toxic fumes.  But, in my opinion, the danger level isn’t so inordinately high that soap-making must be left only to professionals working on an industrial scale.  I’d say it’s not too far from the danger level of making using hot oil on a stove to make a large batch of french-fries.  Of course, you do need to be careful and, to repeat for emphasis: wear safety glasses.

Do some research and if it interests you, procure the ingredients and make a batch.  You should find a tried-and-true recipe and follow it exactly.  Measuring quantities and temperatures precisely is absolutely essential when you’re making soap.  It’s not like making a stew or soup that you can easily vary by adding more of one ingredient or less of another.  The fat, lye, and water must be combined in the correct amounts and at the right temperature for saponification to occur.

Depending on what fat you use and how you obtain it, I think there’s a good chance that you’ll find the money savings and the high quality of the product are worth the effort.  You might come to see, as we have in my household, that making your own soap isn’t much different than making your own breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

New Thermocouple for Water Heater

Before the morning of December 31, 2016, I don’t think I’d ever heard the word “thermocouple” and I certainly didn’t know what one was.  By noon, I’d replaced the thermocouple in my house’s water heater and in doing so repaired it and put it back into service.

The previous evening, I noticed there wasn’t much hot water coming out of the faucet.  I went downstairs and took a look at the water heater and noticed that the pilot light was out.  That was unusual.  (The pilot light, btw, is a small flame that burns 24/7 that serves to ignite the thermostatically-controlled main burner when it comes on, as necessary, to heat the water in the tank.)  Before that day, the only time the pilot light ever went out was when someone used a fan to dry a wet spot on the floor (caused by a leaking washing machine) and positioned it so that it blew toward the water heater.  The fan, I think, blew out the pilot light.  When I re-lit the water heater pilot that time, it stayed lit.  On December 30, I re-lit it the pilot light, saw the main burner come on, but the next morning … no hot water.  I tried lighting it again, but it wouldn’t stay lit.  For some  reason, it was repeatedly going out.  Some internet investigation made me suspect that the problem was the thermocouple.

thermocoupleA thermocouple is a very clever device.  Gas water heaters have a useful safety feature: If the pilot light isn’t lit, the gas turns off and won’t come on.  In other words, if the water in the tank gets cold enough to trigger the main burner, but there’s no pilot light, the gas won’t come on.  Even the gas to the pilot light itself turns off when it’s not burning.  The gas will not flow if it’s not going to be properly burned immediately.  This prevents gas from accumulating and possibly causing an explosion or fire.  That’s pretty useful, preventing your house from catching on fire or blowing up.  If you wonder how this can be made to work in a machine that is not connected to household electricity, the answer is the thermocouple.  A thermocouple is a device made from two metals which, when heated, produce a small electric current.  This small current can be made to keep open an electrically-controlled valve such that when the electrical current stops, the valve closes.  (So, in this way a gas water heater with a pilot light does make use of electricity, even though it’s not connected to household electrical system.)

Like anything else, thermocouples eventually (like maybe after 10 years of continuous use) stop working for various reasons.  So it happened that on the last day of 2016, I had no hot water for my morning  ablutions.  The internet told me that spending $12 for a new thermocouple, available from the nearby big-box home improvement store, and installing it myself was a good bet.  Youtube showed me how to do it.  The DIY fix is working just fine and (a penny saved being a penny earned) probably earned me a couple hundred dollars for an hour’s work.

Note: If you do this yourself, you must be comfortable with your ability to disconnect and reconnect the gas lines that go from the water heater’s thermostat to the main burner and pilot light.  Research and learn how to do this before you start.  Be sure to follow all safety precautions such as turning off the gas to the water heater, etc.  Handy hint: Use  noncorrosive gas leak detection liquid (not soapy water) to test the gas connection for leaks when you’re finished.

Treating a Sprained Ankle

If you think you have a serious health problem, you need to see a doctor.  Don’t rely on the internet to treat serious medical conditions.

ankleThat said, I was suffering, but not from a serious medical condition.  A couple years ago, while walking in my own back yard, I slipped on some damp grass and sprained my ankle.  (What is it that’s often said about accidents happening close to home?)  The pain was so bad that I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get back into the house.  I spent most of the next few days on the couch, alternating between applying ice packs and a heating pad to the injured foot.  Within a few days I was able to walk, albeit with quite a bit of pain.

The pain slowly subsided over the course of a few weeks.  But several months later there was still notable pain.  Not severe, not debilitating, but still bothersome.  The ankle just didn’t seem to be getting 100% better.  I waited a few months more, but still the pain hadn’t gone away.

Finally (sometimes, I’m just slow), it dawned on me to search the internet.  I had a vague idea that a physical therapist would do me some good, but I didn’t want to take the time to actually go see a physical therapist.  I just wanted to know what a physical therapist would be likely to tell me.

Of course, within seconds of typing a few keywords (and what is a “keyword” anyway? why don’t I just write that I typed “words”) into my favorite search engine I found a blog written by a physical therapist that discussed what kind of exercises he usually prescribed for patients who complained of persistent pain from a sprained ankle.  There were also helpful videos on youtube.  Basically, it was standing one one leg, standing on tiptoes, and leaning and pushing against a wall from a distance of an arm’s length or more.  Also, while seated, stretching the heel, pointing the toe, and lifting the outer and inner sides of the foot.

I started doing the exercises a few times each day, and after a few weeks, hallelujah! I’m healed!  The pain was reduced to almost nothing.  The exercises were just the right thing.  The internet to the rescue!

Saving Money (Again) With Youtube Instructions

I was in Phoenix a few weeks ago visiting my parents.  I noticed that it was difficult to get the shower in the guest bathroom completely turned off.  My parents were resigned to paying a plumber to fix it.  I thought it might be a DIY job and undertook the needed investigation.  I looked closely at the faucet and saw the brand name “Mixet”.  Never heard of it, but surely there must be something about it on the internet.  Sure enough, I found exactly what I needed.  At the local big box store, it was about $19 for a new cartridge and another $12 for a new handle (the old one was a bit cracked, so it was hard to tell which part was the problem, and it made sense to replace both of them as they were probably original to the house, which was built in the 1970s).

A little additional bonus:  At the big box store, the cashier at the check-out offered my Dad a special deal if he signed up for the store credit card.  Sign up and get $25 off the purchase he was making.  He took a minute and completed their credit card application.  Bingo!  What would have cost more than $30 now cost only about $8.  It was as if the DIY gods were pleased that we were doing the repair ourselves and were sending a special blessing our way.

As shown in the video, all it took was a screwdriver, a crescent wrench, a little grease, and 15 minutes.  The repair was a complete success.  We did it in a little over an hour, including watching the video, going to the store and getting the parts, and actually doing the repair.  All we really lacked, before we saw the video, was a little knowledge.  My father, who isn’t easily impressed (at least, that’s the way it seems) said that he was impressed.  I hope I’ve shown him that practically any DIY project is easier with Youtube.