Things we take for granted: competent civil servants, and flushing toilets

One of the most important things we take for granted, every day: a working toilet.


It’s so easy to take great things for granted, living in a prosperous Western nation.

I’m going to make a bold statement and say, I imagine most of us take flushing toilets completely for granted. We have them; we use them; we fully expect them to flush away everything we wish to be flushed away. Beyond that, we give them no thought. We take them entirely for granted.

For the past month, I’ve been wrestling with a toilet challenge (two toilet challenges, actually) that has been a total pain in the ass, pun intended, and made me pause to think about how fortunate I really am.

Mostly I am known for writing, posting photos, and shooting videos about food. Growing food, buying food, cooking food, serving food. Of course, what goes in must come out and so you can’t be enthralled with food and cooking if you don’t have working toilets. This is the simple truth.

Here, I pause to give a fantastic amount of credit to diligent civil servants. One of Durham Region’s super-competent civil servants called me in July with in inquiry:

“Mrs. Smith, how many people live in your house?” she asked.

“Just me,” I replied. “I had lots of company at Christmas,” I added, “but other than that, it’s just me.”

“You are using as much water as a family of 4 to 8 people,” she broke the bad news to me. “Is it possible you could have a leak somewhere?”

“In my brand new house?” I gasped, shocked. “Geez, I hope not! That would be horrible!”

In fact, when I checked my bills I noted that for one month I spent $60 on electricity; $20 on natural gas; and $261 on water. Whoops! How did I miss that?

Durham offered to send someone out to check my meter and look around my house. Again, a super-competent woman came out and inspected my meter, with which she found no problem.

“The leak must be past the meter, inside the house,” she noted. “Can I look at your toilets?”

I removed the lid from my guest room toilet; she stared intently into the tank for several moments.

“Your toilet is running constantly,” she pointed out the water lever which just exactly, invisibly, imperceptibly forming a sort of Meniscus curve at the very edge of the drain pipe.

“It’s so quiet you don’t hear it; but it’s constantly draining the tank, 24 hours per day.” It turned out that my en suite toilet was doing the exact same thing. Two toilets running 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. $261 worth of water in one short month.

I thanked the lady from Durham Region and set about figuring how to fix the problem. I turned to YouTube, which is a GREAT source of “How to” videos, and decided I needed to replace the floater assembly.

I won’t bore you with the seemingly-endless details, but it took me several different days dedicated to toilet repair to fix the problem. John at Newcastle Rona was incredibly helpful. I did indeed need to purchase two new, completely different floater assemblies – the kind that have an adjustable “collar” to allow me to adjust the floater height, which the original toilets did not have – but for almost a month I did not have use of my en suite bathroom.

Which is surely the definition of a first world problem, except that it exactly coincided with the nightmare of a giant spider bite in my nether regions. Since my own bathroom was mostly out of commission, I wound up with gauze, sensitive bandages, Polysporin, hydrogen peroxide, mirrors and goose neck lights everywhere: in my bathroom, in the guest bathroom, in my bedroom….

“I thought the whole point of having my own bathroom was that I got to keep my private stuff private!” I finally fumed. “This toilet will be fixed today, no matter what happens. Nothing else will happen until I get my bathroom back!”

Today, I think it finally is fixed. I’ve got the collar mechanism on the floater assembly figured out. It didn’t help that a washer went wandering during the process and caused another leak, but I was pretty quick to figure that out.

I am going to celebrate by completely tidying and organizing the bathroom – I get to pack away the wrenches, the plumbing products, the spider-bite first aid items, and get back to having an actual bathroom with a working toilet.

For which I am truly grateful!

And thanks, Durham Region.

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