Plumbing in the Mobile Home : How to Make Do When You’ve Got a Fixer Upper : Toilet


Hooking Up to the Septic System

Our Rent to Own mobile home was a fixer upper’s fixer upper, but we were making progress with the plumbing, working toilet or no working toilet. There had been several such units to choose from, none of them in great shape, but it did seem I’d chosen the least horrible of the lot.

Neither Pam nor I ever fell through the floor of the thing anyway.

With the main water supply line providing plenty of slightly cow-poo-smelling water, the next step was to hook up the sewage drain to the septic tank. It was a fairly long run, something like ten feet between the outlet and the downhole opening. I didn’t even consider running hard line. One purchase of a twelve-foot chunk of four-inch flex hose (plus a few hose clamps) and we were good to go.

Sort of.

At least, we hoped to avoid having to use bucket toilets (just an old bucket like the one in the photo, Pine Sol and water in the bottom, a standard toilet seat on top)–which we did in later years for quite some time, but that’s another story.

With sewage, unlike with a pressurized water line, gravity is everything. When you flush your toilet, you want a nice, steady “drop” in the line as everything flows gently downhill and into the septic tank. You do not want absolutely flat spots of any significant length, and you certainly don’t want the “stuff” to have to climb inside the hose at any point.

Especially not under a mobile home during a South Dakota winter, when temperatures may well drop to thirty below zero and promptly freeze any bottom-dwelling sediment rock solid inside the hose until spring thaw. Or until the sewage line bursts from the pressure. Whichever comes first.

Hmmm…how to get that thing flowing downhill all the way, no upsies?

Ah. The mobile home tires were just lying around doing nothing since the unit had been put up on blocks. Might as well put a few of those lazy things to use.

This may be the only place you’ll ever hear a plumber–even a do it yourself plumber like yours truly–refer to draping a sewage line. But that’s what I did. Draped the discharge line over a few tires, got a nice “waterfall” effect.

It worked, too. We lived in that home from July of 1997 through June of 1999 without a single sewer line stoppage. If it works, don’t knock it.

Repairing the Toilet: The Floppy Seal

The toilet tank did not leak, but the toilet bowl did. The most likely culprit was the floppy seal. Ask any hardware store dude or dudette for one of those and they’ll know what you mean. It’s nothing but a thick wax ring that goes between the toilet itself and the exit pipe in the floor.

That’s right. You owe your floor’s cleanliness to a blob of wax.

Don’t Google it, though. You get pages on fur seals and Navy SEALS, yada yada yada, not a thing to help you plumb the toilet.

Searching for “toilet seal” (without the “floppy”) works a little better.

The procedure needs to be done carefully, but it’s not complicated. First, disconnect the incoming water line so the toilet can be moved without breaking the line. Then, unscrew the two bolt caps that hold the toilet to the floor. On older units, one or both of these may turn out to be corroded to an extreme degree, making it all too possible to break a bolt. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen; you don’t want to go there.

Now the toilet is lifted straight up and set just a bit to one side so the old floppy seal can be removed and a new one set in place.

Lifting the toilet and setting it back down atop the new seal is the trickiest part; knocking the wax ring to one side leads to a plethora of possible problems. Once the toilet is sitting squarely where it belongs, it’s time to cinch down the bolt caps again–evenly, tightening a little bit on each side, back and forth until the deed is done.

Reconnect the water line…and turn on the water to check for leaks.

The floppy seal.

The floppy seal.

Repairing the Toilet: The Guts Inside the Tank

If you’ve every done any toilet repair at all, it probably involved replacing and/or adjusting the parts inside the water storage tank that provides the flush-power. Every home improvement store carries the necessary repair kits, and most of their instructions (complete with sketches of the various parts) are surprisingly good.

In other words, you can figure it out by reading the pamphlet inside the parts package, so I’m not going to go into that here.

Except for one thing: The toilet flush handle is usually one part of a lever that pulls on the chain that lifts the stopper out of the drain hole leading to the toilet bowl. If the stopper has become too worn, so that it refuses to seat properly no matter what you do, the replacement parts kit is the only way to go. But even with the new parts installed, adjusting the lift lever can be an art unto itself.

Sometimes shortening or lengthening the chain (via the S-hook provided) does the trick…but occasionally it doesn’t. More than once, I’ve had to bend the in-tank lever itself at a weird angle.

This case was one of those times. The tank had no lid yet–since the existing lid was busted flat in two–but everything functioned the way it was supposed to function when I was done lever-bending.

My wife, having survived more than a week without indoor plumbing of the toilety kind, watched with intense interest as the tank filled…the flush worked perfectly…and the tank refilled again. When the stopper seated at precisely the correct point and she knew we were good to go, she burst out with a delighted exclamation:

“Toilet by Fred!!”

That was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.

The broken (and tape-repaired) toilet tank lid.

The broken (and tape-repaired) toilet tank lid.

Repairing the Lid to the Toilet Tank

Buying a new lid for the toilet would have been prohibitively expensive–if we could even locate a lid that fit the model we had. The fixer upper mobile home was anything but new, and these things do tend to change size and shape over time.

But there’s always…tape. Nope. Not duct tape this time, but a strip of that nice, clear plastic packing tape we’d used to seal boxes for the move to the country.

Say what?

Yep. The steps were simplicity in action:

    1. Line up the two pieces of the lid on the floor, just like we were going to try super-gluing Mom’s favorite vase back together after accidentally shattering the thing with a baseball bat.

    2. Apply tape.

    3. Very, very carefully turn the lid over.

    4. Apply tape to underside.

    5. Somewhat carefully lift the lid, fliip it back over, and settle it in place atop the toilet tank where it belongs.

That, too, lasted for the entire two years we occupied that dwelling.

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