Let’s start our story with toilets. Used to be, I didn’t give them a whole lot of thought. Once in a blue moon they stopped up, and even more rarely you’d need to replace a flapper if it started to fail. But in general, they were low maintenance devices that, although they provided an invaluable service, didn’t get too much of my daily attention.
Then I had kids.
I won’t go into details to protect the innocent (though I guess their innocence is open for debate), but having two boys has required me to pay a lot more attention to toilets. Now, they’re not some handy device that always does what it’s told; there’s an ever-present risk of an overflow, causing water damage and biohazards galore. All in all, I guess I’m still a fan of the toilet and the valuable service it provides, but it’s no longer a wonderful object of purely benevolent goodness – it’s a capricious and dangerous beast to be treated with caution.
Toilets are designed with some nifty safety features in mind, so you do have to have multiple concurrent failures for things to get exciting, but producing multiple concurrent failures are what young boys are all about. A blocked toilet and multiple flushes is all it takes to get around the safety features, and seeing my boys in action, I’ve always been worried that the first sign something was wrong was a creeping tide of water (let’s hope “water” is the best way to describe it…) heading into the den.
Frogs to the Rescue
A while back, I purchased several boxes of Leak Frog™ detectors on a daily deal website. I had never heard of this type of product, but I immediately saw its value. They’re fairly low tech – they just have two metal parts that sit on the floor, and if water closes the circuit between the two metal parts, they start beeping. Loudly:
I figured these leak detectors would be great under sinks, behind the washer, and any other place where an unseen leak might start. Initially, I didn’t think putting them behind a toilet would be important, but after seeing my boys in action, I put them there too.
Just a few weeks ago, that insane screeching started from a downstairs bathroom, and there was no doubt what was up. Somehow “someone” had forced the handle on the commode down, so it was stuck and just kept filling with water. Normally not a problem (other than a waste of water), but the commode was also blocked up. On running into the bathroom, the frightening image of a circular waterfall cascading down the toilet was in full display, and the floor of the bathroom was already half covered in water.
But thanks to the early warning, the overflow was stopped quickly, the blockage plunged away, and the water quickly mopped up. No damage to drywall, carpet, or anything else, and after a full hazmat-quality cleaning with bleach, everything was back to normal.
Most people wouldn’t be happy about a toilet overflowing and needing to do a thorough cleanup, but I was pretty stoked. My leak detector actually worked like it was supposed to, and the mess we faced was far less than it could have been.
Victory = The Toilet Overflowed Just a Little
And perhaps that’s the key to home maintenance. It’s not about having things go perfectly. That’s a pipe dream. Successful home maintenance is about looking at all of the worst-case scenarios and figuring out ways to mitigate them, at least some of the time. Bad things will happen. All you can do is try to improve your odds and outcomes, and my little leak detector does exactly that.
Could it fail? Could the batteries run low and I miss its warning beeps? Could it go off when we’re not at home? Yes, yes, and yes. But one thing I know for certain: my risk of water damage has gone down by me having leak detectors scattered throughout my house. How much it’s gone down, I’m not sure, but I know it’s lower. And this specific event, where the leak detector cleary averted a disaster, gave me a resounding confirmation of its value.
My leak detectors are fairly low tech. There are far more advanced products out there – some of them can even control the water supply and shut it off if needed. But I’m not here to lay out my comprehensive leak detection arsenal and strategy.
I’m here to celebrate a victory. Something – anything – actually went right with my home maintenance plan. With so many things that can and do go wrong in a house, it’s nice to cherish a little win.
I love my Leak Frog™ detectors, but I can’t find them right now close to the price I paid for them on the daily deal website. I’ll do some research and see if I can find similar products at a reasonable cost.