Learning from my mistakes (some of the time)

The toilet isn’t flushing again.  And the leak is not fixed on the holding tank.  But it’s OK because I have a plan (and a resolute determination to fix this myself).

One of my neighbours said that the flushing problem happens when the pressure release valve on the holding tank gets blocked by a stray piece of toilet paper.  He advised I use poor quality toilet paper that breaks up more easily.  Which I was absolutely going to do as soon as this pack of toilet paper was finished.  I still had one roll to go when the blockage became apparent again.

The same neighbour also said the easiest way to unblock it is to spray the hose into the valve outlet to unblock it.  This worked last time I tried it, so I was confident this would be an easy fix.  But spraying the hose alone did not seem to provide enough pressure, so I bought a hose gun attachment.  This also failed to get the toilet flushing properly, so I thought I would fashion my own attachment to the gun to get it spraying at a higher pressure.  Using a Formcard (which I’ve also used to make a washing up brush holder) I made this attachment, which still didn’t get the job done.  Argh.

In the meantime I had got brave enough to check the top of the holding tank, and was disappointed with the result.  It was still leaking.  My current theory is that it only leaks when the pressure release valve gets blocked, and under normal unpressurised situations is just fine.  But as the chances of this situation never arising again are pretty slim, I thought I should try to come up with a better sealant solution.  As I foolishly checked on the leak situation about 10 minutes before I had to go to work, all I could do was throw half a dozen silica gel packs on the leak, cover that with a couple of nappies and then top it all off with a towel before I left. I spent a good deal of the night wondering whether the floor would be covered in sewage when I got back, and how I would go about sorting that out in my sleep-deprived state.  (Fortune was smiling on me, and the leak remained small and contained by the eclectic mix of materials covering it.)

Back on the outside of the boat, I had managed to get my hands on a pressure hose and the help of my parents.  But the pressure hose fared no better than previous attempts, and so a brave decision had to be made.  It was time to go to the pump out.

Long-term readers may recall an unfortunate incident about a year ago in which I went to the pump out and ended up covered in the contents of the tank.  There was an excellent possibility I was about to repeat this, and everyone in the boat knew it.  Armed with waterproof outerclothes, rubber gloves and a plethora of nappies (they really are very useful) I was ready to take my chances.  Dad was at the ready several feet away; I like to think this time he would have been armed with a camera just in case.

I began to unscrew the cap to the tank slowly.  Instantly fluid began to seep out, and was quickly mopped up with a nappy.  I continued unscrewing, and frantically swapping the nappies over as the fluid flowed ever faster (try that out as a tongue twister) until the cap came out along with a gurgle of tank contents.  (I don’t like to brag, but I’m pretty sure that my nappy skills were such that barely anything reached the river.)  The hard bit over, we started pumping out.

In my unending wisdom, I decided to rinse the tank out a little by running water from the shower down the toilet.  This was all going great until I knocked a box of disposable gloves into the toilet.  Imagine my dismay as I saw a dozen pink gloves disappear down the toilet.  There’s a blog post to look forward to in a few months when they chose to rear their ugly fingers again.

So the toilet is now flushing normally, and it is time to fix the tank.  I thought I would splash out on specialist bonding gel instead of using whatever I could find on the boat (though had I decided to ‘be creative’ with the products at my immediate disposal, the mouldy cream cheese was looking like the front runner).  The silica gel packs had exploded and so the top of the tank was covered by unpleasant smelling jelly (I could describe it in greater detail, but no one wants to read that).  Slime cleared away, area sanded, and £6 sealant applied.  Will I live to regret not splashing out on the £8 sealant?   Tune in to find out in another thrilling episode of Tank Wars.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Hold back the river‘ by James Bay.

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The pitfalls of consulting experts

Never get a professional to do work on your narrowboat.  Patch up the problem.  Continue living your life in blissful ignorance.  You will be richer (at least in the short term).

Looking back, you would have thought I could have this lesson a few times over the last year.  There was the hole in the engine that I never noticed, and the leaking calorifier.  I’m still ignoring the leaking radiator, with a vague plan to investigate that in the indeterminate future.  I shed a metaphorical tear to think how much holiday money I might have if these problems had not been identified.  I could be halfway to Antartica by now (or be living on a boat with no ability to move itself or store hot water).

The stove collar (the bit attaching the flue to the main stove) had been patched up a couple of times since I moved in, but a stumble into the flue completely dislodged it from the top of the stove.  And so (much to my parents’ relief I’m sure) I decided I had come to the end of the road with my ability to patch it up, and got a professional boat person in.

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It started off so promisingly.  The old collar was ripped off with ease by Rob, and the flue underneath the collar was found to be in surprisingly good condition (one reason for my reluctance to replace the collar was that several people had expressed a concern that the flue might be so rusted underneath the collar it might just flake to pieces once the collar was removed).  No new flue would be required – hooray.

Next job was to lift the flue up so that the new collar could be slipped on the bottom.  This was problem number one – the people who had installed the whole thing appear to have used a shedload of clay to cement the flue into the roof, and no rope when usually a combination would have been used.  Rob tried to chip out the clay from the top, but came up with a new plan when  he realised just how much clay was stuffed down the sides.  So instead the legs came off the stove, and the room to fit the collar under the flue was created that way.

We were on course for a boat milestone – work being done in less time than the initial quote, and potentially under budget.  And then I heard it.  The sound you never want to hear from anyone who will be sending you an invoice.  It’s not so much what is being said, it’s the tone that makes my heart sink.  Rob could just as easily said ‘ah’, or ‘hmm’ or ‘er’ – the fact he chose ‘oh’ wasn’t as significant as the way he drew it out, with the air of someone about to tell a child that Fluffy had hopped off to that rabbit hutch in the sky.

What had happened is this: in moving the stove around to get the collar on, the lid of the stove (which should be bolted onto the sides, but in this case the bolts were nowhere to be seen) had become dislodged.  The lid of the stove is important for many reasons, and one of those reasons is that it is the thing that keeps the sides together along with a bit of rope.  But try as he might, Rob could not get the lid back on.  This was because there was a crack in the back panel of the stove that had seemingly been there a while, and in all the disturbance had maybe got bigger or maybe just got more awkward, and it would not allow the back panel to be compressed back into place under the lid.  The upshot was that the lid and the back panel were stuffed.

The options:

  1.  Get a replacement back panel and lid.  This option involves the most labour as the stove would need to be rebuilt with the new parts.  But, somewhat surprisingly, the parts were readily available as it transpires this is not an uncommon problem with Morso stoves.   Estimated cost £450.
  2. Get a replacement stove. A like for like replacement would be £800.  I winced at this.
  3. Get a replacment stove but get a non-branded one.  A slightly smaller stove that fit the space and was the right height for the flue would cost about £450.

So I’m getting a new stove that has no decorative squirrel on the side.  While he was there, I considered asking Rob to have a quick look at the holding tank for the toilet to see what he thought of the patch up job I’d done on the leak, but then thought better of it.  I’m finally learning.

This blogpost was brought to you by the amazing Newton Faulkner and the lovely, lovely live version of ‘Dream Catch Me‘.  Go see him in concert – he is awesome.  Or at least watch another live video.