DIY Plumbing Repair: Now I Know Why Plumbers Are So Well-Paid

A couple weekends ago our guest bathroom toilet developed a slow flush. I plunged a few times thinking someone was probably guilty of not being frugal with the toilet paper, but the problem seemed to be getting worse. This was the first time vigorous plunging was not a successful remedy to the slow flush. Like all frugal dads, I was determined to solve this problem myself and set out to learn more than I ever wanted to know about the anatomy of a toilet.

The internet offers a wealth of information when it comes to do-it-yourself home repairs. A quick search on the web revealed some promising leads. Apparently, they make a toilet snake, or toilet auger, that is approximately three feet long and has an extended protective coating to prevent damage to the porcelain bowl. My regular plumber’s auger is much longer, and does not have a protective surface. I shut off the computer and ventured off to the nearest home improvement store.

In the plumbing section I found several varieties of toilet augers with a wide range of prices. The Cobra Heavy-Duty Industrial auger was $48.93. Since I wasn’t planning to snake but one toilet I thought this was a bit unnecessary. The Cobra “Homeowner” edition auger was more my style – $7.48. I also picked up a wax ring just in case I had to pull up the bowl to snake the main drain in the bathroom floor. Not much selection here – just a good old-fashioned $1.54 wax ring with flange.

harold-the-helicopter.jpgI returned home to test out the new toilet auger when some new evidence was introduced. My son confessed to Mrs. Frugal that he had thrown a toy “down the potty.” Hoping it would be a small toy that would eventually pass, we asked which one he threw in the toilet. He replied, “Harold the Helicopter.” Fans of Thomas the Train will recognize Harold as the helicopter who buzzes around the Island of Sodor. My main concern was that Harold’s blades would snag on the toilet’s exit and create a messy backup. Then again, this would be an ideal situation as opposed to it snagging in the main drain several feet below the house.

As excited as I was to try out my new toy I put away the auger for fear of pushing Harold further down the drain. I proceeded to turn off the water at the wall, flush several times to attempt to drain the tank and bowl, and then unbolt the toilet from the floor. I laid the bowl on its side, and guess who I found clinging to the very bottom of the exit? Yep, it was Harold. I pulled him out, along with some other stuff I won’t mention – just in case you are reading this on your lunch break. I cleaned off the existing wax ring, affixed the new one and reseated the toilet to the floor.

My household repair material costs totaled $9.65 with sales tax. I spent around an hour of actual labor time, not including my trip to the store. I’m not current on the going rate of plumbers around the country, but I imagine it would have cost more than $9.65 for one to the come to our house, diagnose and rescue Harold the Helicopter.

So what is the point of all this? Besides telling you way more than you ever wanted to know about toilet repair, the story serves as a reminder to try to develop some handy skills so you can make your own minor repairs around the house. It will save you a ton of money versus calling in a professional. However, there are times when a professional is needed. For example, I don’t pretend to know anything about electrical circuits or related equipment. Attempting to “wing it” could be hazardous to my health, so I call in an electrician when electrical repairs, or new wiring, is required.

I also consider my time valuable. Besides working full time, writing part time, and being a husband and father all the time, trying to squeeze in household repairs can create a schedule crunch. There is a break even point, financially, where you would be better off to hire someone and continue to work on money-making endeavors. This is especially true of emergency situations that happen in the middle of the week, or the middle of the night. A busted pipe, or a fried electrical panel, could potentially tie up quite a lot of your time to repair, even if you have the know-how. Instead of sacrificing time you could be using to earn money, you may very well be better off hiring someone to give you a hand.

If you are looking to get into DIY home improvement and plumbing work, check out coupons from Lowes and home depot in my coupon directory.



  1. Good Job! I will have to remember this post when the same thing happens to me. I have no doubt that more than one toy will end up in my toilet before my son gets to Kindergarten.

  2. Poor Harold! He was probably so scared down there! Nice job on the thrifty repair! We’re all about thrifty but not so small-scale repairs around here 🙂

  3. One thing about making repairs around the house…the kids think you’re a genius! It’s also a good teaching opportunity as well as an opportunity for one of them to accompany you to the store. Time together is always good.

  4. Home repair is always an adventure for me! I am usually not as successful with my endeavors as you were here. My hat is off to you. For me, calling a pro is usually the right thing to do. I normally wind up spending more money messing with things that I don’t understand.

  5. You are braver than I am, FD! At the very first mention of “plumbing” or especially “toilet” I call the plumber in. Let’s just say there have been some rather smelly misadventures in my past…

  6. Great post. I am the opposite– I won’t do plumbing but I do all my own electric. I even wire the circuit panel. Wiring isn’t hard, and not at all dangerous if you read up on it first and understand the concept of it. Try it, you may like it!

  7. Cool, man, this is the sort of thing that I need to read. Encourages me to try DIY when otherwise I might call a pro.

    So far we’ve been fairly free of plumbing problems, but I also have a few techniques I use to prevent problems.

    -Mr. Stupid

  8. It gives you a considerable feeling of independence to rescue a downed helicopter, he? Kidding aside, many people would probably attempt these repairs themselves if they only had a little home repair training. Plumbing in particular is one of the more expensive contractors to avoid by doing your own repairs.

  9. After reading some of the comments on how to clear a plugged drain line I have used in the past but this time I spent a week putting Clorox , hot water, super vac to no avail then someone suggested using a water hose to flush it. This worked, I turned off the unit, had my grandson at the discharge end, my wife to open the water valve and me to hold the water hose at the inlet. I instructed my grandson to call my wife on the portable hand phones when water started to come out. It didn’t take long and I instructed my wife to count to 10 before she turned it off. I think it worked but will confirm it later in the day. In the meantime I used the super vac to remove the water from the overflow pan to prevent any siphoning effect.