Jehovah’s Witnesses bought me a toilet

I have been undertaking, or paying others to undertake, a bunch of projects as I get my house ready to put on the market. I’m working to increase curb appeal and remove obvious objections to buying this place. I’m behind schedule, as I had hoped to be ready to list the house June 1. August 1 feels more likely now.

So the chain-link fence is fixed where it had been broken and mangled by the people who removed my 21 dead ash trees two years ago. And the network of cracks growing in my asphalt driveway are now well sealed. I paid people to do those jobs. Meanwhile, I’ve been painting walls every spare weekend. And I took up the worn-out carpet in the hallway to reveal the hardwood floors, and then discovered they’re in iffy shape and that carpet runners are way cheaper than having the floors refinished.

But the big job, which I finished last weekend, was fixing my bathroom floor.

Longtime readers might remember that when I bought my house, the main bathroom was a fright. Here, take a look.


That’s fake brickface painted yellow, with laminate sheeting glued to the wallboard above. The medicine chest provided the only light in the room, except three of the four bulb sockets didn’t work. And whoever laid the floor had to have been drunk or high while they did it, as the tiles were all at an angle and didn’t meet properly at the corners. And they didn’t bother to remove the toilet to place the vinyl tile underneath it. They just cut the tile around it and squirted some caulk to fill the gaps.

I got my house at a good price after it had been on the market for a year. I assume prospective buyers took one look at that bathroom and bolted. But the price and location both worked for me, so I bit.

Side note: nine years after the housing bubble burst, after considerable investment in my home, it looks like I’ll be able to sell it for about what I paid for it. My part of town has been slower than average to rebound from the housing crisis. It’s disappointing, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

It took me a couple years, but I finally commenced Operation Lipstick on the Pig to make the bathroom look not awful. Here’s how that turned out. New sink, new light fixture, new towel bar, mirror and side cabinet replacing the medicine chest, fresh paint, and some painted railing to finish the raw edges. I even put folding doors on a closet that had none, and added shelving. A valance and a better privacy covering over the lower six windowpanes came a little later.


But the one thing I didn’t tackle was the floor. There was a little water damage around the toilet and tub that needed attention, and I wanted to lay better-looking flooring. It all sounded expensive and possibly beyond my skills, and besides, my bathroom had been torn up for weeks already. I was tired of the mess. So I put it off for another day.

And then that day kept not coming. The water damage by the tub got worse; the subfloor by the tub became positively squishy. I slathered on some caulk to keep it from getting worse, and then I lived with it like that for six years.

Preparing a house for sale will motivate you to tackle those jobs you’ve been putting off.

I started two weekends ago. I figured I’d remove the toilet, remove the old vinyl, remove and replace the water-damaged areas of the subfloor, lay new vinyl, put the toilet back, bada bing. Oh good heavens is that not how it went.

I knew things were not going to go well when I discovered that my toilet has always been attached to the floor only with caulk. Caulk! CAULK. It’s a wonder the toilet stayed put these ten years! I said an unkind epithet out loud to the previous owner of my house as I stuffed a rolled-up rag into the hole to keep sewer gases at bay.

I removed the old vinyl with my hair dryer and a putty knife — time consuming, but not hard. But in doing that I discovered that a layer of 1/4-inch plywood had been screwed to the floor. It, too, had been cut around the toilet! Another unkind epithet passed aloud through my lips. The previous owner’s ears had to be burning. And then my weekend ran out of time. I’d have to live with my bathroom like this for a little while longer.

Fortunately, I had long planned a few days off the next week. I just never expected I’d use them to work on my bathroom. And it took four of the next five days to do it all: remove the plywood, fix the water-damaged subfloor, put on a layer of cheap, thin vinyl where the original vinyl tile was missing (so that there were no low areas), and then lay new, bright, cheerful vinyl over it all.

And then Margaret asked, “Do you want the toilet that’s sitting in my garage? It’s essentially new.” I never liked the old toilet much, as it was a weak flusher, so I said yes. Margaret got her spare toilet when her employer, a large church, bought a church building Downtown to be their second campus. The building had most recently been the Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Witnesses had built a few apartments into the building. Margaret’s church removed the apartments and made the furniture and fixtures available to staff. Margaret snagged several things including this toilet, which she thought could go into a rental house she owns. The toilet ended up not being needed there.

So I took it home and installed it. I had never installed a toilet before. It took me five hours to get it done. The flange in the floor that holds the bolts wasn’t in the best condition, but I didn’t want to try to replace it so I made it work. I had to re-seat the toilet three times because the bolts kept popping out of the flange as I tightened them. I was quite cross by the time I was done. But it did get done, and it doesn’t leak. Success! Bask in the glow of this photo of the completed job.


The new toilet flushes so well! And the new floor looks so good! Too bad I won’t be around here long enough to enjoy it.

Next house I own, I won’t put off jobs like this so I can enjoy them after they’re done.

Yeah, right.


I hate automatic bathroom fixtures

This showed up in the men’s room at work recently, and I rejoiced aloud.


Yes, it’s a soap dispenser pump. It replaced an automatic dispenser. the kind that squirts soap into your palm when you stick your hand under it.

The concept is fine. Futuristic, even. Very House of Tomorrow.

Except that it was overactive. If your hand moved anywhere near it, soap immediately squirted onto the counter. What a mess! And after a while, its squirter grew weak and it took four or five squirts for one handwashing. The facilities guy tinkered with it and tinkered with it, and finally threw in the towel. He put in this old-fashioned pump, which provides endless trouble-free service.

Most automatic bathroom fixtures just don’t work right:

  • At my last job, at one of the sinks the automatic faucet would randomly decide to run for five or ten minutes even though nobody stood before it to wash their hands. This went on for two years, despite frequent repairs trying to get it to behave.
  • The towel dispensers where you wave your hand by a sensor to eject a towel seem only to sometimes recognize your wave. And the towel is tiny, meaning you need to wave six or eight times to get enough.
  • Don’t even get me started on forced-air hand dryers. Well, except for the high-powered Xlerator and the Dyson Airblade; those both work incredibly well. But as for the rest, it’s just faster and better to wipe your wet hands on your pants.
  • But most of all I hate automatic toilet flushers. So you’re sitting there, minding your own business, when you shift ever so slightly. The flusher thinks, “Aha! He’s gone!” and flushes – which sprays some of the toilet’s contents all over your naked butt.

Look, I understand the promise of automatic fixtures. Less wasted paper and water. Toilets that are always flushed for no unpleasant surprises when you approach. No need to touch anything so germs aren’t spread.

But they usually don’t work. Can’t we just go back to flush handles, faucet handles, and paper towels you pull out of the dispenser?

At least in my office, they finally got the soap dispenser right.