Lost Journal: Plumbing the Depths of my Wallet

Journal entry: January 23, 2009 (age 39) – Plumbing

Like everyone else, my wife, Amanda, and I are limiting our expenses these days.  But withholding money for certain things is not an option.  Things like a working toilet.

We’ve known since we bought our house 2 ½ years ago that the pink porcelain perch in our bathroom would have to go.  Aesthetics aside, the commode was prone to overflowing, and recently it had developed a slow leak around the base.  A plumber’s snake, a new wax ring, and, most importantly, a professional-grade plunger had failed to remediate these problems.  Reluctantly, we decided it was necessary to flush some money down a new toilet.

The total cost, including installation, was $400.  But this was an investment in our home, and the model we picked had some appealing improvements.  With consumption of just 1.28 gallons per flush, it is 20 percent more efficient than even the current, low-flow standard of 1.6 gallons.  The height of the bowl is several inches taller than our previous water closet, making it easier to spend long, leisurely afternoons reading Entertainment Weekly.  Plus, the new toity is white, rather than a sickening shade of Pepto-Bismol.  Only the brand name of the toilet gave me some pause.  The word “Jacuzzi” brings to mind a very different piece of plumbing.  So I was relieved to learn that there were no French attachments to blur the line between the two.

Just a few hours after the plumbers installed the toilet, I noticed a problem.  The water softener in our basement was now draining constantly, gushing water into our utility sink.  I had to shut off the water completely to avoid drying up the Susquehanna River.  When one of the plumbers returned the next day, I told him it seemed freakishly coincidental that the water softener would break down immediately after the new toilet was put in.  He offered a probable explanation that didn’t make me feel better, but at least made some sense.  They had to shut off our house’s water supply before they installed the new toilet.  Sometimes when the water gets turned back on, sediment or rust in the pipes can come loose and damage hardware further down the line.  In our case, there was an ancient, Sears water softener just waiting for our plumbing to throw a clot so it could shuffle off this Kenmore-tal coil.

As a temporary fix, the plumber bypassed the water softener so we could have running water without the huge drainage.  But Johnson City has very hard water, so unless we want dry skin, damaged hair, and spotty silverware, we need to buy a new water softener.  My preliminary research online and in the home improvement section of a bookstore indicates that choosing one will be a complicated matter.  One tank or two?  Ion exchange or reverse osmosis?  No groceries for six months or a second mortgage?

What began as a $400 investment will now likely explode to more than $2,000.  And when we finally get the water softener installed, I wouldn’t be surprised if our chimney collapsed.

Tim Mollen
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