"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Saturday, July 18, 2015

dualing toilets

I've been thinking about converting our toilets to dual-flush ever since I read this post on Young House Love. Also, my office building has dual-flush toilets, and I think it's a great idea. The Petersiks made the conversion sound so easy, I finally got around to giving it a try. I bought the conversion kit they recommended from Amazon, and soon it arrived on my front step. 

It turned out to be perfect timing, too, because we had just gotten our water bill, so now we'll have almost a complete cycle to compare when we get our next bill. We have four toilets in our house, but I decided to just do the one in our master bathroom, which is the one we use the most, and see how it goes. If it really does seem to save a significant amount of water, I'll move forward with more toilets.

I will go ahead and say now, I had a bit of an issue, but it was entirely my fault and lack of toilet knowledge. One of the reviews I read on Amazon was a guy saying that he had not realized that the conversion kit worked only if you didn't have a ballcock fill valve, and that if, like him, you did, then you'd have to replace that too. I didn't know what that meant, but it kind of sounded like older technology, and since our house is only about five years old, I assumed we didn't have that. Turns out, we do! I will get more into that later.

Back to when I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that I had the wrong kind of fill valve for the conversion kit. 

I opened up the conversion kit and read all the directions to get an idea of what I might be getting myself into. They say that turning the water off is optional, but I find sticking my hand in cold toilet tank water to be pretty gross, so for me, it was not optional. At one point, Zach came in to check out what was going on, and we had this little conversation:
Zach: How come there's no water in the tank?
Me: Because I turned the water off.
Zach: You can do that?
Me: Yeah, there's this little knob down here on the floor behind the toilet. Sometimes I know things.

Once I got the water turned off and flushed the toilet a couple of times to empty out as much water from the tank as possible, I got to work following the conversion kit instructions. Just like John Petersik, I needed a wrench to get the handle off. I also needed pliers to take out this huge ball float thing, which John did NOT mention. This was my first inkling that perhaps I had a ballcock fill valve and this wasn't going to work. However, I decided to ignore that little nagging feeling and keep going with the installation. 

Side note about the handle... The conversion kit came in two different handle types, button and lever. The Petersiks had gotten the button kind. I chose the lever kind, so it would look more like our other toilets. The handle has an inside lever for the small flush and an outside lever for the regular flush. When you flush the inside lever, it kind of feels like both levers are going down, and you think, 'this seems like it's still going to do the big flush,' but it doesn't.

I finished up the installation, turned the water back on, and the toilet tank started filling. And it kept filling. And it started going down the overflow tube. And it kept going. Until I turned the water back off. It was at this point that I did a Google image search for ballcock fill valve and found a picture that looked suspiciously like the pieces that were part of my toilet. I turned back to the front page of the conversion kit instructions where I had previously seen this note:
"If you have a ballcock style fill valve, you may need to purchase a HydroClean or HydroWorks fill valve."

It was a little after 2pm, and we had somewhere we needed to be at 4pm. I didn't want to leave our primary toilet in a non-usable state, and I also didn't really want to undo all the work I had just done. So I went to homedepot.com and looked up the HydroClean Fill Valve to verify that they carried it and that it was in stock at my local store. Then I drove over, grabbed my new fill valve, and rushed home with about 45 minutes before we had to leave.

I opened up the instructions for the fill valve, and the first step was less than informative: "Shut water off, flush toilet to empty tank, and remove old toilet fill valve." Not very helpful if you don't know how to remove the old fill valve.

So, I went to Google, which brought me to this YouTube demonstration. I smushed a bucket into the area under the toilet tank and unscrewed the flexible pipe. Then I could just pull the fill valve out and watch the remaining water drain out of the toilet tank into my bucket.

The rest of the fill valve installation just followed the instructions and was pretty straightforward. After installing the fill valve and reconnecting the pipe to the toilet tank, the inside of my toilet now looked like this:

I turned the water back on, and the tank didn't just keep filling forever! Yay! I had to do a bit of adjusting on the fill valve to get it to stop filling at the appropriate place. Then I tried pressing the small flush handle. And the toilet bowl didn't empty. I knew from Young House Love that there was some adjusting to be done to get the dual flushes to work properly. I didn't have time for that right then, but at least we could use the regular flush and still use our toilet!

I came back to the project the next weekend. The fill valve has a lever to adjust the amount of water in the bowl, so you could use it on its own to save water by lowering the water level there. However, I ended up keeping the water level in the bowl about the same, maybe even slightly higher, to get the small flush to work. The dual flush converter has its own adjustments for the amount of water used during the small flush. There was quite a bit of trial and error with that. I felt like all the benefit we might get from saving water with the dual flush was getting overridden by all the flushing I was doing to test each slight adjustment! Finally, though, I got things to a state where the dual flush capabilities work. You do have to hold the small flush handle down a bit longer than with normal handle or even the regular flush part of the dual handle, but you get used to it. With the tank lid off, I could definitely see a significant difference in the amount of water that went out of the tank with the small flush compared to the regular flush. 

Now I just wait three months for our next water bill to see how much this saves us. However, even if it's a good amount of savings, I may not convert all of our other toilets. Since they'll all need a new fill valve, I may just change that out and use the adjustment feature to lower the water level in the bowl and see if that's a comparable savings on its own.

blacking out the bedroom

In my continuing efforts to sleep better (someday I'll write about post or two or three about this great saga), I decided our bedroom needed to be darker. I generally had thought of it as pretty dark, but one morning, as I again woke up long before the alarm, I realized that there really was a significant amount of light seeping in through the Roman shades. As a test, I took some leftover blackout lining from the basement curtains I had made and pinned it over the existing shades. I was amazed at how much darker the room got, which sold me on the idea that adding blackout lining to our shades was definitely something I should do.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough leftover fabric from the basement curtains to cover all, or even most, of the bedroom shades. Luckily, I have this blog, where I document my projects, so I just looked at my previous post to find what blackout lining I had used. JoannFabric.com claimed they had it in stock, but when I went there, it didn't look exactly the same (I took a piece of my existing fabric with me), but it was close enough. The width of the fabric, 54", was going to be just about right for the height of the shades. I estimated the shade width at 3' for the narrow windows (measured at about 31", but I like to over-estimate a bit for buying fabric) and about twice that for the wide window. I figured I had enough leftover fabric for one of the narrow windows, so I got 3 yds (9') of new blackout lining.

Then I had to figure out how to attach it to my existing Roman shades. At first, I thought I would sew the lining on, but the shades were too thick to fit in my sewing machine, and I certainly wasn't going to hand sew all of that. Also, Roman shades are kind of tricky because there are all these different sections with cords running through them. I decided to try two different methods to see which would hold better. In the end, I used a combination of the two methods. 

The first was glue, specifically FabricFuse Quick Bond Fabric Adhesive. The second was Heat n Bond Ultrahold, which is an iron-on, and sort of looks like double-sided tape. I got it in the 5/8" width. I tried each of these adhesives on some scraps of the blackout lining. Initially, it seemed like neither was going to hold. I waited and waited for the glue to dry, and the fabric pieces kept peeling apart. The same thing happened with the iron-on adhesive. I was growing extremely frustrated and decided to give up for the day. The next day, when I took another look at my test pieces, both the glue and iron-on were holding fast. Apparently, they just needed a really long time to cure. With that decided, I got started on the first shade. 

I was afraid that if I disassembled the cords along the back, I wouldn't be able to get them just right again. So instead of covering the back of the shade with one big piece of blackout lining, I decided to do a small piece for each of the 8 sections between where the cords attach in. Each of these pieces was about 31" wide and 8" tall. I cut out all my pieces for the first shade and started gluing. It took a really long time and a lot of glue. I let it dry on the floor for a few hours before hanging the shade back up. 

For the second narrow shade, I mostly used the iron-on Heat n Bond. I thought maybe this would be less time-consuming than the glue, but no. I think it actually took more time, though they were probably close. Ironing on the sides was pretty easy, but trying to do the tops and bottoms, where the fabric gets wrapped around some sort of stiff stabilizer that keeps the shade looking nice when you pull it up, was tricky. I ended up doing some gluing in some areas to be sure of a good hold. Plus, it used a lot of the Heat n Bond. 

So for the final window, I used a combination of the two methods. Spoiler alert, this way also took a really long time. It turned out, there was no way around that. I used the Heat n Bond to attach the sides of each panel, then glued along the top and bottom. Since this shade was twice as wide as the others, I also put a couple of strips of Heat n Bond in the middle of the shade too, for a little extra support. Below are pictures of the fabric after ironing on the sides, but before, and then after, gluing the tops and bottoms. You can see how floppy it is before the gluing, but then the fabric gets all nice and tucked in after.

Each shade took a few hours, and I found the whole process annoying and not fun. However, it was very easy, so if you have existing Roman shades, this is a totally doable DIY. But if we hadn't already had these nice shades that I really like and were pretty expensive, I would totally have sprung for shades that already came with blackout lining. 

Here are the before and after. 

Obviously, a lot less light is getting through the shades now. Unfortunately, there's still some light sneaking around the sides of the shades. I'm debating doing a valence with side curtains to cover that up. Or maybe I'll just try a sleep mask.