Adventures in home repair

February 04, 2007|by KATE COLEMAN

"YESSS!" I recently shouted, triumphantly pumping my fist in the air.

The source of my enthusiasm?

A football team's championship win and ticket to today's Super Bowl?

Certainly not.

Word that a major publisher wants my memoirs?

I wish.

No, I'm afraid my motivation was more mundane: I had just replaced the "flapper" - the rubber device that facilitates the flushing of the toilet in my first-floor bathroom.

I'd done this a few years ago, with help from my friend Sam, who used his superior strength and a wrench from the handy toolbox in his truck to loosen a really tight bolt on the old assembly. I appreciated his assistance but not his head-shaking disbelief that I, unable to locate my trusty little can of WD-40, had poured on a little salad oil instead.


Made sense to me.

I've had other do-it-myself victories - the favorite of which I undertook to retrieve an earring from the trap, the U-shaped part of the drainpipe under my bathroom sink.

Trap is an actual plumbing term, thank you very much. I'm not sure how I know this. Maybe it comes from having spent hours of my New Jersey childhood hanging out with my wonderful uncle Jimmy Wilson, a plumber who let his nieces play unrestricted in his tool-filled yellow panel truck.

The earring was not recovered without challenges. One of these days, I'll buy myself a how-to manual, but so far, when a problem happens, my urge to fix hasn't been deterred by not knowing what I'm doing.

I got a bucket to catch the water - and the earring - after I detached the trap. Then I put the drainpipe back together.

Done? Not quite. It leaked a little. So I decided I needed something to seal the joints. "Naval jelly" - another term from my childhood - popped into my mind.

At this point - thank goodness - I called the wonderful experts at Startzman's Hardware on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown. Charlie Startzman gently informed me that naval jelly is something used to remove rust, not to seal leaks.

Oh. OK. Then he asked me if I'd replaced the washers.

Right. I remember washers, the flat little discs in faucets Uncle Jimmy would routinely replace so they wouldn't leak.

New washers did the trick, and the pipe hasn't leaked since.

There's satisfaction in fixing things - a sense of power in being able to do something all by myself.

But sometimes I hold on too long. My old wooden storm door is an embarrassing example. Despite problems and flaws, I'd stubbornly stood by it. I had the old screen replaced. Before the door could be rehung, a tornado blew through town and tossed the door around my carport. I had the screen replaced again. A short time later, I sort of ran over the door while pulling into the carport.

I was ready to have a new energy-efficient aluminum storm door installed a couple of times, but professionals who were here doing other work enabled my addiction to thrift and preservation by fixing the old one - at least until the next problem arose.

Last summer, my friend Buck noticed the door frame hanging without benefit of the screen panel that somehow wouldn't quite fit back in. He removed and carried it down the street to his home workshop and power tools. He squared it, returned and rehung it complete with new weatherstripping.

But the poor old door looked tired. And poor old Kate was tired of it.

After what I was horrified to realize was more than eight years, (a span verified by reports of the aforementioned tornado) I finally gave up and hired someone to install a shiny and airtight new door. I love it.

Sure, there's satisfaction in doing it myself, but I've also found happiness in crying "uncle."

Besides, I can still replace flappers.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column and covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for The Herald-Mail.

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