Tag Archives: DIY

Why Don’t My Fittings Fit?

Copper 90 Degree Elbow FittingYou’ve probably noticed that not all fittings and pipe are the same. In fact, you might have noticed that it’s almost easier to consider the pipe size to be a name rather than a description, since your measuring tape doesn’t seem to help you much. Really, is it too much to ask that a 1/2″ fitting actually measures 1/2″ somewhere?

Apparently so, but why?…

(This article has found a new home on our site!)

To learn more about the history of fitting sizing and how to determine what size you actually have and/or need, just click here.

Making Home Plumbing Repairs Easier

Have you ever replaced a faucet cartridge, replaced a water filter, or changed out a flapper? Sure you have! And if you’re a homeowner, probably more than once.

What’s the most frustrating part? Shutting off the water to the whole house (at least in my opinion). Mostly because it goes something like this:

Angle stop in chrome finishLook for the shutoff valve for the faucet (or toilet, or filter, or whatever it is this time). Realize there isn’t one. Swear under your breath while hunting for the shutoff to the house. Realize it’s been a while since it was tested and it needs a bit of work to actually close. Swear under your breath some more. Swear full voice if you happen to scrape your knuckles. Tromp back to the bathroom with a glare that could cause street gangs to run away, but doesn’t keep your spouse from complaining about mud on your shoes or your knuckles from stinging. Debate taking the time to treat the scrape, decide it’s done bleeding anyway and you’ll get to it in a minute. Open a faucet to drain the lines and wait. Maybe treat your knuckles while you wait after all. Now fix what needs fixing and go back outside to turn the water back on. Now go back inside and turn the faucet back on to get water back in the lines. Notice a leak at a connection. Swear under your breath and turn the faucet back off. Swear extra if it’s not the original problem. Fix it right this time. Turn the water back on. Sigh in relief – you’re done! And you got your aerobic exercise in for the day.

Now if this sounds like fun to you, great, you’re doing just fine and probably weren’t actually swearing. Hopefully you never have to wait two weeks for a special order cartridge while the shower in your only bathroom is leaking like a sieve. Turning off the house water after each shower or paying a huge water bill will probably cause you to swear even if you didn’t before.

Example of a filter housing with a shutoff valveBut if you’d like to make changing a minor part less of a production, install shutoff valves at every fixture. Most reputable brands offer shower valves with screwdriver stops which let you turn off the water just to the valve while you’re replacing a cartridge, so there’s no other valves needed there. Look for filter housings that come with integral shutoff valves to make changing the cartridges quicker and easier. You can find decorative shutoffs to match almost all finishes in nearly any size for your bathroom and kitchen faucets, as well as your toilet supply line. A classic brass ball valve will also do the trick. There’s even push-fit valves if you don’t want to mess with wrenches or a torch.

If this sounds like a bit of a production in and of itself, you can work on it in steps. The next time you need to fix some plumbing-related thing, just add a shutoff valve or five to your parts list and install them while you’ve got the water off anyway. Eventually it’ll all be taken care of and the only plumbing-related swearing you’ll have to do is when a toddler shoves a rubber ducky down the toilet.

Finding Kohler Replacement Toilet Parts

Want to keep it working just like the day it was installed? No problem.

Just like anything else with moving parts, toilets will wear out. Fortunately, unless the bowl or tank are cracked, you can usually just replace the guts and go on like normal.Example of a Kohler Gabrielle series toilet

Potential toilet problems vary, but for the sake of this article, we’re going to assume you already figured out what you need to fix and why, and just need to find the parts. If you’re super-organized and thought ahead, you already have your original paperwork and parts breakdown handy. If that’s the case, find the part number and give us a call and you’ll probably see your new toilet guts sooner than you think.

However, if you’re like most people, the installation instructions and parts breakdown were recycled as soon as the warranty was up, if not sooner. Now a few years have gone by and you really need to replace that flush or fill valve. You tried the generic ones at the hardware store, but they’re just not cutting it. What do you do?

If you’re tired of your toilet and don’t want to bother replacing parts, or are simply in the market for something more efficient, you’ll go shopping for a new toilet and a plumber to install it. But if you were already planning on doing that, you probably aren’t reading this, right?

Example of a painted Kohler Portrait toiletFor those of you that love your old Kohler toilet, don’t have the budget for a new toilet right now, or simply don’t want to mess up your beautiful tile floor, you’ll need to figure out what’s supposed to work for your toilet for the best replacement results. Maybe you know the name of your toilet and the year it was installed, or maybe you only know it’s a Kohler. Either way, we can help you find the parts you need.

The best way to find the parts you need is actually hidden in your toilet tank. No, not the parts themselves, though that can help too, but we really mean the tank and lid. Carefully remove your toilet tank lid and gently set it aside. Then look around the inside of your tank. You should see some letters and numbers impressed into the porcelain. Kohler toilet and tank numbers currently follow a four-digit pattern, often starting with a “K-“. Sometimes a toilet will have a five digit number preceded by a “K-“. These numbers are the toilet model number for one-piece toilets, or the tank model number for two-piece toilets. Sometimes a toilet or tank number will have two letters following the number (something like “-AA” or “-PB”). These are revision codes. These letters and numbers are the key to finding what parts you need. Use these numbers to search our site, find the appropriate model number and voilà! Your toilet’s back in business!

If you don’t see anything in your tank, you can also check the underside of the lid (the unfinished part). You will nearly always see a five digit number, often beginning with an 8, impressed into the porcelain. This is your lid number. You also might find a repeat of the number you found inside the tank. Both of these numbers can help pinpoint the original parts for your Kohler toilet.Example of a Kohler Pillowtalk series toilet

Keep in mind, Kohler, like many toilet manufacturers, continues to evolve their toilet designs. They add new toilets, start using new technology or parts, and discontinue what doesn’t sell well or is out of style. Unfortunately, this may mean that your original toilet parts may not always be available. Usually when Kohler has decided to stop making a particular part, they choose another part to take its place. Occasionally they choose to stop supporting some toilet models altogether and you’re forced to buy universal-style replacement parts to keep your terrific Kohler toilet up and running (or not running, as the case may be). Don’t worry, we offer those too!

Now that you know the secrets of finding the perfect replacement parts, you’ll have “fix the toilet” crossed off your to-do list in no time!

Your turn: what’s your best (or worst) toilet part replacement story?

Dry Fitting PVC Connections

Example of a PVC elbow connected to a section of PVC pipeSeems like a great idea, right? Fit everything together for your sprinkler system (or laundry-hamper-holder) so you know exactly how long the pipe needs to be cut, then take it apart and glue back together permanently.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

If you dry fit PVC plumbing connections, you’ll wind up with PVC fittings that only allow the pipe to go in part of the way, rather than all the way like they will when you’ve got them all gooey with glue.

Why not, you ask? It works with Legoes, wooden dowels, puzzles, the tile you set last weekend, and all sorts of other stuff you’ve done before. What’s so special about PVC plumbing fittings that they won’t let you test out your design precisely? What happened to measure twice, cut once? Are you doomed to have to hire a pro or screw up over and over?

Photo of a PVC wye fitting

A PVC Wye Fitting

Not necessarily, but let’s explain a bit about PVC plumbing fittings and then go from there.

(Hold on, need a disclaimer here: If you don’t know what you’re doing, a pro really might be the best idea – they can usually do it faster, better, and with far less frustration than a newbie. If you do hire a plumber instead of tackling the project all alone this time, take the time to watch what they do and you might learn something new – hey, you could consider it an educational investment! And, as always, consider the bad things that could happen if the project fails…. )

PVC fittings are designed to connect to PVC pipe by interference fit, also known as a press fit or friction fit. What this means is that the fitting is designed so that it does not exactly match the pipe – the hub of the PVC plumbing fitting is actually tapered a bit to make an extremely snug fit so there’s no gaps for PVC glue/cement to fill in. This is a good thing when you think about it (hmm… incomplete seal = leaks = bad).

Why is this important? Despite the name, PVC glue is not glue at all. It’s actually a solvent that kind of liquefies the PVC it touches so the pipe and the fitting will essentially melt together where they are “glued”. Think of it like welding metal – same idea but with chemicals instead of a torch (and less chance of catching things on fire). Once cemented together and the connection has cured, the pipe and fitting are no longer separate pieces, which is what makes a properly cemented PVC connection virtually leak-proof. Also, since you’ve got cement gooped on, the fitting slips in much easier. Learn more about PVC and PVC cement here.

Okay, so we know why dry fitting PVC plumbing fittings won’t work the way you want, but what to do about it? Surprisingly, the answer is incredibly simple: use a ruler or measuring tape.

Image pointing out the stop lip for pvc pipe

Pipe will fit snugly against this lip if properly placed

No, seriously – check out the inside of a PVC fitting (or click on the picture to your left); you can see where the end of the pipe will be once properly cemented and inserted. Simply measure from that point and you’ll quickly find out how much pipe you’ll need to get to the next fitting. Some people have a good eye for how the pipe will fit by just looking at the outside of the fitting and can simply line up the pipe and fitting right next to each other and go from there.

Please note, different PVC fitting manufacturers might have slightly different hub lengths, so if you’re sourcing your fittings from multiple vendors and need a high degree of precision, you might want to measure each fitting. If you’re sourcing all fittings from the same manufacturer, you shouldn’t need to check every fitting, but we would recommend checking at least one from each different type of fitting (90 degree elbow, tee, side outlet 90, coupling, etc) and size. It’ll only take a minute and will really help make the project go much more smoothly.

Now that you know how to “dry fit” your PVC plumbing fittings, get out there and finish those projects!

Your turn: what’s the most useful thing you’ve learned about working with PVC?

Finding American Standard Toilet Parts

Example of an American Standard Roma series one piece toiletAmerican Standard Brands, as it’s known now, can trace its beginnings to 1872, when the first bit that was to become a plumbing fixture empire was purchased. Over the years, the company has expanded, eventually merging with other companies including various sanitaryware companies like Porcher, Jado, Crane (previously Universal Rundle), and Eljer. These brands are, at the time of this writing, still marketed as separate brands, though virtually all customer service functions have been consolidated under the American Standard Brands banner.

What does this mean for you? Surprisingly, not as much as you might think. Sanitaryware companies have come and gone, merged and spun off since the first toilet manufacturer produced its first toilet. This is nothing new, though it can be frustrating at times.

But eventually, like all toilets, you encounter a problem. Perhaps it’s just a little leak, but as we all know, little leaks can cause big problems. So, if you’re ready to deal with your little leak before it becomes a huge headache, read on!

Now, for the purpose of this post, we’re assuming you know you have an American Standard toilet but don’t know what replacement parts you need to get it back in perfect working order. That’s where we come in. We’re your source for information and parts – we’ll help you find what you need to know to identify the parts for your particular toilet.

First step, carefully remove the tank lid and set it aside somewhere safe. A broken tank lid will only add to your toilet issues, so let’s not go there right now. Though, should you need a replacement lid, we can certainly help you!

Second step, look inside your tank. Lots of interesting stuff, right? Some of the parts probably even look like things you’ve seen on the store shelves.

Photo of an American Standard acutating unit (flush valve) model 47086Here’s where it can get tricky. Some American Standard toilet parts are easily replaceable by “universal” or non-OEM parts as they are fairly standard styles. However, some American Standard toilet parts are unique to a particular model and won’t be so easily replaced.

So, while you’re looking in the tank, see if you can find letters or numbers impressed into the side of the porcelain tank. We’re looking for model numbers, and American Standard model numbers typically have four digits, most often starting with a 2 or a 4. This will be your tank number or your toilet model number, and will determine what toilet parts will fit properly and work the way the manufacturer intended.

Example of a hand painted American Standard toilet tank lidIf you don’t see anything on the inside of your tank, try looking on the unfinished underside of the tank lid – again, very carefully. The model numbers are often repeated on the tank lid, sometimes with additional number/letter combinations and even dates!

Once you have those numbers, you can begin the hunt for the right parts. We show parts breakdowns for many American Standard toilets on our site, and offer a wide variety of replacement toilet parts, from the old actuators to the newer flush valves. We’ll help find what works for your toilet. Even if we don’t list it, we can probably get it or recommend a good replacement for a discontinued part.

Once you have the parts you need, the fix is as good as done. Take an afternoon, call a friend, order pizza and get that toilet taken care of! Oh, and just in case you ever need the info again, make sure you keep your parts list in a safe place.

Your turn:  What’s your best/worst toilet repair story?

Finding a “Good” Faucet

At its most basic, a “good” faucet is one that does its job well. That is, lets water out when you turn it on, and doesn’t let water out when it’s turned off. Okay, so that’s not all we’re looking for when we look for a “good” faucet. If it was, we could install a hose bibb in the kitchen and call it good, right?

So, let’s try again: What makes a good quality faucet? You know, something we’d be proud for others to see in the kitchen or bath and will enjoy for years? Ah, that’s a little more tricky, but we’ll figure it out together.

Example of a single hole Danze kitchen faucetA good, quality faucet, has almost nothing to do with the style of the faucet, the finish of the faucet, or its location. Kitchen faucets are not inherently “better” than laundry faucets, and single hole faucets are not automatically “better” than centerset faucets. A high quality faucet functions well over the years, has repair parts readily available when maintenance is required as well as other support from the manufacturer. Let’s take a minute and go into these a little more.

Consider what the faucet is made of. In most cases, quality faucets are made from brass or stainless steel, but the material composition does not guarantee the quality. If possible, look at the faucet construction in person. Are the threads cut neatly, or do they seem a little off? Does the swivel spout move easily? These things can give you a feel for the quality and workmanship.

Examine the finish. Does it have flaws? Is it consistent? Is it a PVD finish or a living finish? These are things that can help tell you what to expect from the finish in the years to come.

Try looking for replacement parts for any faucet you consider. If you cannot find them, you may have problems down the road when you try to repair your faucet. Will you need to ship the faucet to the manufacturer for a cartridge change, or can you do it at home? If your faucet is an investment you plan to keep for the next decade or three, you will eventually need to repair it. If you plan to change out your faucet in the next few years, it may not be as much of an issue.

Check out the manufacturer of the faucet. A well-known manufacturer may or may not make a “better” faucet, but they might have better support, which typically means less frustration if a problem does occur with the faucet. Talk to your local plumbing house, installers, and anyone you know with that brand and/or style of faucet to get their impressions and learn from their experiences. If a faucet has a great looking lifetime warranty, but the manufacturer or retailer is unresponsive, the warranty may not be worth as much to you. On the other hand, a warranty that only lasts a few years, but with a manufacturer that has a great history of taking care of their customers may be more useful, even after the warranty has expired.

Example of a pre-rinse style kitchen faucetNaturally, no matter how “good” the faucet is, if you don’t like the way it looks, you still won’t be happy. Keep in mind that many manufacturers make visually similar styles, so you have choices there, as well.

Whatever faucet you choose, we always recommend keeping the manual, parts breakdown, and any other paperwork safe for future reference, just in case.

Your turn: what’s the best or worst faucet you’ve encountered and why?

The New Grab Bar

When you hear “grab bar”, what comes to mind? For most people, it’s those long bars you see in public bathrooms or hospitals. You know, those stainless steel, industrial looking chunks of metal bolted to the wall.

What if we were to tell you that you may have encountered grab bars and thought they were something else? What if we were to tell you that grab bars are great for more than just public restrooms and hospitals? What if we were to tell you that the addition of elegant grab bars, placed discreetly, could increase the value of your home? What do you think of grab bars now?

Here's a grab bar with finials in a polished brass finishLovely example of a satin nickel grab barHow about a great antique brass grab bar?

First of all, grab bars these days come in all shapes and sizes and in a lovely selection of finishes. Long gone are the days of only one option, though of course the stainless steel tube is still widely available. But if you’re in the market for something more elegant, we suggest taking a second look at grab bars.

Example of a child pulling on a sturdy grab barSecond, by definition a grab bar is incredibly sturdy – it is designed to hold hundreds of pounds of weight without breaking or pulling from the wall. Hmm… when was the last time your toddler swung from the towels when you were trying to get him in the tub? Or knocked the towel bar down when trying to stuff the towel over the bar? How many times have you reinstalled or replaced that cheap chrome towel bar only to have to do it again? A solid and durable grab bar begins to look like a great investment after a while, doesn’t it? A sturdy, all brass designer towel bar, while not designed for the weight of a person, may stay on the wall longer, but for the same price or sometimes less, you can get a grab bar that is ADA compliant so you know it’s been tested and rated to hold the weight of a person; Tarzan Jr. won’t be able to budge it!

Grab bars on the side of a whirlpool tub are safe and stylishAnd thirdly, and possibly the most important, the sense of safety a grab bar can offer is amazing. If you fall and try to grab for something, towel bars will buckle, plain walls offer no grip, and shower doors should never be used as handholds or safety grips. If you or your loved ones ever reach for a towel bar or the shower door to steady yourself, you know how reassuring it can be to have a good handhold when you need it, so why don’t you install a grab bar right where you automatically reach to steady yourself? You’ll be glad you did!

Believe it or not, there are three grab bars in this pictureSo, for your next home improvement project, consider investing in your safety, style, and beauty and add a grab bar or three!

Your turn – what convinced you to finally install grab bars in your home, and were they plain or pretty?

Quick Fix?

When you find a leak, but can’t fix it properly right away, what can you do? Do you let it drip, or do you jury-rig it? You don’t want to waste the water or allow a leak to damage your home, but sometimes your choices are limited.

Well, while we usually recommend fixing something properly the first time – it really does save you time, money and frustration in the long run – sometimes the quick and dirty fix actually works. Please note, we never recommend a makeshift repair anywhere you can’t get to easily or if you’re unlikely to get back to it soon. In those cases, call your plumber right away so no further damage is done. Depending on what caused the leak, there may be more of an issue than the drip you can see.

That being said, we recently added a product to our inventory that’s good for a quick fix, and a whole host of other things.

A variety of colors of silicone repair tape

Rescue Tape is a silicone self-fusing tape designed to be a versatile tool in your gotta-fix-it-now toolbox. According to the manufacturer:

You can repair leaks on plumbing and hoses in a flash, use to insulate electrical wiring or as shrink wrap, wrap tool handles, and much, much more.

Sounds great, right? We thought so and checked this stuff out. The idea of Rescue Tape is nothing new – we’ve seen silicone repair tapes on tv, at the box stores, on auction sites, you name it. And we’ve seen the reviews. People seem to love it or hate it. We’re going to try to explain why.

While we’re simply not able to test all of the claims (like whether or not it insulates up to 8,000 volts per layer), we did reproduce a few common things that might prompt the use of silicone tape.  

Example of rescue tape used on a hose connectionThe results? We successfully stopped a leak on an outdoor garden hose  connection. We wrapped a greasy pipe and kept it from leaking when pressurized to 80psi. When we cut the Rescue Tape away after wrapping, the layers looked like they had all fused together; it was one chunk of silicone! As a bonus, it didn’t leave any sort of residue.

Our team members are very creative and found all sorts of other uses for it. How about, instead of painting tool handles to make them stand out, wrap them with Rescue Tape for a nice grip and a distinctive look (You there! Where are you going with my bright-orange-handled tools!)? Baseball bat handles, wagon handles, door handles, and basically anything you can wrap this around (pencil grips anyone?). One team member wrapped their child’s scooter handles when the original foam handles ripped off. So far, so good! How about the backyard swing set? Wrap the chain in silicone tape for a pinch-free swinging experience. So many uses, so little space to write about them all…

Using this stuff is pretty straightforward – you stretch it out and wrap it around whatever needs to be fixed. The catch is how much you need to stretch it and how to wrap it around. We’ve found that most of the issues result from not stretching enough and/or failing to wrap enough.  Also, it doesn’t stick to other stuff, so this is no good to use as weatherstripping for your car doors. The tight layers of fused silicone are what work together to fix things. This means that an uneven surface will probably allow a leak to continue since there’s stuff the silicone can’t seal around (though we didn’t actually test it on uneven surfaces). However, if you’re trying to even out a rough surface, say for a nicer splinter-free grip on an old wooden handled shovel, that would work much better.

First, you have to stretch this stuff out so that it pretty much is half the width it is when relaxed. Trying to do this and get it to stay while you’re trying to wrap a hose can really makes you feel like you need a couple more hands, but trust us, you can do it.

Then you need to overlap the tap by at least half its width so you’re basically creating a double layer as you wrap. Go back and forth over your original wrap a couple of times, still stretching the tape for all you’re worth, and keep going until you get to the the manufacturer’s recommended 3-5 layers and 3-5 inches to either side of what you’re trying to fix.

Things to watch for: uneven, gritty, or bumpy surfaces can have the tape wrapped around it, but it might not stop a leak. Greasy surfaces are okay per the manufacturer, but grease (or anything else) between layers of tape is a definite no-no as it will prevent the silicone from sealing to itself. Clean hands are your best bet when working with this product.

Also, extreme water pressure may prove to be a problem. One team member used this on his leaky garden hose. He successfully wrapped the leak with about five layers, but he has 130psi at his home. The end result: “It made a really impressive bubble before it popped!” Needless to say, we recommend a pressure regulator, but that’s another issue altogether.

Here’s what the manufacturer has to say about what will work:

There are no guarantees how long a repair will last. There are many factors which contribute to a proper repair, including but not limited to the surface, the environment, the quantity of tape used, and the amount of tension Rescue Tape is stretched to. Because conditions and methods of use are beyond the manufacturer’s control, neither manufacturer nor seller will assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this product. Rescue Tape is not designed to be a permanent repair; however, many of our customers have reported that they have made long-lasting permanent repairs.

Our conclusion? Well, like we said, it’s a great quick fix for some stuff. It won’t replace properly soldered connections for our peace of mind (really, what does?), and really high water pressure will put it to the test, so this is not recommended for industrial repairs. But, our hose fix at the warehouse is still leak-free months later, which is more than plenty of time to find a new garden hose. If applied properly, it’ll even probably keep your kitchen p-trap from leaking until your landlord’s slower-than-molasses-in-January handyman gets to it. So, yeah, we like it and several of us have rolls in our toolboxes. Tell you what, next time you order something, toss in a roll of silicone tape to keep near your plumber’s emergency number.… or your child’s sports equipment.

Your turn: What’s your favorite quick fix?

Water On Your Bathroom Floor?

If you’re concerned about some water that you found on your bathroom floor (near your toilet), please rest assured that there are a number of common possible causes for the problem. After you eliminate the most obvious cause (bad aim), consider the following before presuming the problem is with the seal between your toilet and the sewer line. Usually, the issue is less costly than the potentially expensive possibility of wastewater coming up from beneath your toilet.

The Two Best Places To Start

plunger

Condensation: Probably the most common cause for excess water on the floor of a bathroom is water condensing on the outside of the toilet’s tank and dripping onto the floor. This is commonly referred to as the tank “sweating.” Tank condensation/sweat is caused by the difference in temperature of the water inside the tank, which is usually very cold, and the temperature of the air outside the tank in the bathroom, which is often warm and steamy. Tank condensation sometimes occurs more often in the summer months rather than the cold winter months, but can occur any time of year if the conditions are right. There are easy solutions to this type of problem, such as toilet tank liners (which insulate the cold water inside the tank from the humid outside) or anti-sweat toilet tank valves (which mix cold and warm water coming into the tank to reduce the temperature variance inside and outside the toilet tank). Unfortunately, it’s not convenient to confirm the water on your floor is completely an issue of tank condensation/sweat. Basically, you will need to wipe the outside of your tank thoroughly with a towel and then over time, try to visually detect whether or not water is gathering on the outside of the tank again.

Water leaking from inside the toilet tank: Once you’ve confirmed that the problem you’re experiencing is not due to tank condensation, then the next best place to begin would be to eliminate the possibility of you having water leaking from the tank itself. This is a fairly easy thing to check. Start by removing your toilet toilet tank lid (be very careful, because tank lids are extremely fragile, can be heavy and are usually slippery when wet) and add some organic-based coloring (such as food coloring) to your toilet tank water. We even offer color test tablets on our site for this specific purpose! They can be obtained free with any order placed through our web site. Do NOT flush the tank, but instead wait a little while for the tank water to change color and settle. If after a half-hour or so (without flushing the tank) you find the water on your floor to be the same color as the colored water inside your tank, or if you see any colored drips coming from anywhere on your tank, then you’ll know you have water escaping from the toilet’s tank since that IS the only place you have the colored water. The next thing to do would be to identify where the water is coming from. Any cracks in the porcelain tank should be discolored and highlighted by the tinted water. The tinted water will usually help in finding any leaks around the bolts and rubber seals between your tank and bowl or from the foam gasket where the flush valve allows water to enter the bowl.

Water can leak from inside the bowl for a few different reasons. Read more…