Feedback. And Toilets.

Today's home improvement lesson, boys and girls, comes to us from the wide and wonderful world of Plumbing.

Specifically, it comes from the toilet in my master bathroom.

Now, modern plumbing is a wonder, it cleans your body, your clothes, and your dishes, while whisking away debris, dirt, dust and even poo with nary a complaint.

The downside of modern plumbing is that it necessitates you having pressurized water pipes leading into your home.

To put this another way, every moment of every day, there are several thousand gallons of angry, impatient fluid pressed against the inside of your valves and faucets like shoppers against the glass at Wal-mart on black Friday morning. They are just WAITING to flood your house. They're desperate for the chance.

Next time you're standing at your bathroom sink, have a look at it, somewhere around the rim you'll probably find a hole, leading back into the porcelain. Run your finger around the underside of that metal disc in your bathtub from which the drain control protrudes, and you'll find a slot.

These are overflow pipes. In the event that a valve fails, they keep the hordes of anxious, moist, and vengeful liquids in your pipes from flooding your whole house and a portion of your yard. The mission of these overflow pipes is to deny you the chance to return home to a domicile that has apparently attempted to stage a re-enactment of the Life and Times of Noah starring your book and music collection as the sinful humans. Instead, these fluids are routed directly into the drain--expensive, to be sure, but cheaper than replacing all of those original G.A. Henty tomes and the complete works of Abba.

There's such an overflow pipe in your toilet, too. You can't see it, because it's hidden in the tank, out of view, but it serves functionally the same purpose.

If you, like a previous owner (or plumber?) in my home, decide to cut that pipe too long, so that it is taller than another outlet for water (say the hole in the tank through which the handle operates) you're likely to leave a mysterious surprise for future operators of that toilet. In your hypothetical future (now my past), when the fill valve gets confused (as they occasionally do) and runs, instead of draining safely into the sewer system, the water will burst joyously forth, run down the side of the tank, and attempt to turn your bathroom floor into the world's tiniest--but most dangerous!--slip-and-slide.

I discovered this evening that replacing a fill valve and flapper meant rather thorough and careful thought and planning. Confirming appropriate lengths for the pipes and chains and configuring the height for the valve and float cup was not unlike tuning a soundboard for a band performance. Each item must be tuned in harmony with all the others. Make one thing too short and you get a feedback loop and the system wastes water. Make another too long and it just won't flush at all.

Truly, plumbing is more than just a science, kids--it's a genuine craft. Beyond that, properly tuned plumbing, is art.

Admittedly art that I don't want to give a shit about, and I wish would just fucking work. But Art, nonetheless.

(House: +2, Patrick, +4).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009