Avoid this home repair paradox

We had a mysterious toilet leak for a couple of weeks. It was intermittent, so it was difficult to tell where it was coming from. One day, there’d be a little puddle of water on the floor around the base of the toilet. That can happen when the wax ring that seals the toilet to the floor drain fails. But other times, the little puddle would be behind the toilet, and it seemed like there was a small intermittent drip from under the tank. That can happen because there are several seals in the tank: one big one where the tank fits onto the bowl/base, and several smaller ones around the bolts that go through the tank and hold it to the bowl/base.

Since it would cost less than $10 to replace all of the parts involved and I wasn’t sure whether the leak was caused by the wax ring, a tank seal, or perhaps a combination, I decided to pull both the tank and the bowl/base and replace it all. I’ve done it before; it’s not fun, but it’s not a particularly nasty job and actually pretty low on the difficulty scale.

So, I when I had the tank separated from the bowl and the the bowl separated from the floor, revealing the floor drain, my wife happened to walk by and ask, “Is our floor rotted out?” “Of course not,” I said, somewhat defensively. I was a little put out that she thought I had let the leak go long enough to cause permanent damage.

And that, at last, brings me to the subject at hand. Jenny’s fear represented a common one among homeowners: a small problem, left unchecked, can become a big expensive problem, leading to all sorts of cost and inconvenience. The paradox is that many homeowners, upon discovering evidence of a small problem, assume grave damage has already been done. So they ignore the leak, or whatever it is, because they don’t want to know how badly their homes are already damaged. But eventually, the day of reckoning will come—they know this. They know that one day they’ll have to deal with it and find out exactly home much serious damage has been done. And not only will they have to pay to repair the original problem, they’ll have to pay to fix the damage that has been caused.

The reason this is a paradox is because the damage probably occurred NOT before the original problem was discovered, but AFTER, while the homeowners were burying their head in the sand.

From my experience living in old houses, it takes a lot of time before water can seriously damage structural wood. Getting wood a little wet does not destroy it or send it to a long perilous decline. Wood that gets wet can dry out and be just fine. It’s when it STAYS wet day after day, week after week, month after month, and, yes, year after year that it starts breaking down. And when that happens, many times it’s because someone knew about a problem long ago, but was afraid to deal with it. If they had dealt with it when it was first discovered, the damage would never have occurred.

Don’t let small stuff become big stuff; deal with it.