Allow me to set the scene:

The Place: A stylish home of the older, partially-remodelled variety
The Time: A Saturday evening in late January
The Event: A soiree thrown by four lovely young women in said home
The Crisis: A cataclysmic structural failure of the toilet
The Twist: A lack of other bathrooms or nearby friendly neighbors

As a guest at the aforementioned party, I was summoned to the uppermost floor of aforementioned house approximately thirty minutes after the bulk of the guests began to arrive. The summoner (S) related that there was a problem with the single toilet in the house. A serious problem. A very serious problem.

With some trepidation, I advanced toward the imperiled bathroom. As I looked within from the hallway, I noted one of S's housemates (we'll call her 'R') draped almost casually atop the counter next to the toilet. She was lying thusly so as to avoid being deluged by the river of clean (thank God) water which was pouring out of the toilet tank.

My confusion was manifold, and as I approached, R explained in a worried tone that the tank had suddenly broken and that she had tried to put it back together but to no avail. Closer examination (after removing my socks and rolling up the cuffs of my slacks to keep them as non-wet as possible in the rapidly-moistening swamp of a bathroom) revealed that the front bottom corner of the tank had, in fact, broken away from the body of the tank, leaving a huge space through which the clean refill water was escaping.

R was attempting to stem the tide by holding the corner in place, but her efforts were not as effective as she hoped, as the water, seeing a brighter future than being used as a transportation mechanism for urine and fecal matter, was making a run for it. S was understandably upset, especially when she discovered that the pond forming on the vinyl floor was being absorbed by the carpeting of the adjoining hallway. Badness all around, to be certain.

Should you be in a similar situation, here's what to do:

  • Shut off the water to the toilet
    1. The toilet tank fills through a connection to the cold water pipe near the floor (YMMV). Look for a shiny metal knob shaped like a rounded football or any other valve-like controls hiding under the tank and connected to piping that disappears into the wall.
    2. Turn the knob clockwise until it tightens and water stops flowing. Remember: Righty tighty, lefty loosey.
  • Assess damage
    1. The worst damage will probably be water-related, but (let's all hope and pray this never happens) should the breakage occur to the toilet bowl and should said bowl be "full" at the time, keep in mind that you will need to disinfect anything that the spillage has touched or risk lingering disease and/or horrible death.
    2. Move anything as-yet-undamaged that will not survive being soaked in water. Such things include: packages of toilet paper, reading material, and collections of cotton candy. Also, moving towels, clothing, bathmats, etcetera out of the wet environment is a good idea.
  • Begin water removal activities
    1. Your first inclination will be to throw every absorbent object you can lay your hands on into the spreading lake before it engulfs the rest of your house.
    2. Stop. Consider your options. Unless you keep your bathroom floor very clean, water that's been lapping around the base of the toilet probably isn't something you want on your handtowels and washcloths, never mind that pair of PJs you left on the counter this morning after your shower.
    3. Think newspaper. It's cheap, absorbent, and disposable; all the hallmarks of a good water-sopping agent.
    4. Resist the urge to use a mop unless you have a lot of patience and want to do a little cleaning while you're at it. If you've got enough water on the floor to get the top of your socks wet, a mop is only going to push it around. Look for more effective means.
    5. Turn on the heat lamps (if you have them) and the fan. Procure any other fans and heaters, safely (e.g. not in a pool of water) place them near the bathroom floor and turn them on. Conditions may become sauna-like, but a quick drying process means less rotting of the bathroom floor and less mold later. Ewwww. Mold.
  • Assess bathroom needs
    1. In the case cited above, there was just the one bathroom and a house full of guests...most of whom were drinking alcoholic beverages and would probably appreciate the use of a toilet at some point during the evening.
    2. If you have small children in the house, keep in mind that their bathroom needs may be different than those of adults. For example, asking a child to "hold it" for several hours is an exercise in futility. You'd be better using the yard, or better yet, someone else's yard.
    3. If your bathroom does double-duty as a human and pet lavatory, keep an eye out for signs of ailimentary distress in your four-legged friends. Nothing freaks out a cat more than discovering their litterbox is now an island surrounded by a freshwater lagoon.
  • Provide alternate facilities
    1. In the case above, the damage was severe but limited to the tank. As a result, the toilet still functioned but could not be flushed. How, then, to make the toilet useable to a house full of guests?
    2. The first plan was to use the shower for liquid eliminatory needs, running the tap after each use to rinse out the tub. Not the most sanitary option, but better than the sink or a chamberpot. Nothing could be done for the less aqueous wastes other than offering the use of the backyard. Double yuk.
    3. What, then, to do? Well, you need to:
  • Know your toilet
    1. The bowl holds an amount of water which serves to dampen the smell and splashback of wastes being added.
    2. The tank holds a reserve of water which pours into the bowl when the toilet is flushed.
    3. The siphon hides quietly behind the bowl and does the real magic. Because of its shape and curve, the water in the bowl fills the siphon partway and prevents sewer gas from making its way up through the toilet. When water is added to the bowl, the water level rises and spills over the curve in the siphon, maintaining a "full" bowl but allowing extra water to escape.
    4. When a large quantity of water is added to the bowl (like when the toilet is flushed) the siphon is completely filled and it acts as a vacuum to draw the contents of the bowl with it down to the sewer. Usually this action is brought about by pushing the handle and releasing the contents of the tank into the bowl. FLUSH! When the flushing mechanism is disabled (either broken or unusable), you can replicate the effect by swiftly pouring about two gallons of water into the bowl.
    5. Some caveats:
      1. Don't throw the water into the bowl. That will simply splash water (and whatever's in the bowl) all over the bathroom. Grody.
      2. Don't do this with a clogged toilet. A toilet that's plugged up (overflowing, not leaking) will not do its magic for fairly obvious reasons and pouring more water in will only make things worse.
      3. Don't do this with a garden hose, at least not directly (with the hose pouring into the bowl). It won't add enough water to trigger the siphon and will waste water. You can, obviously, use a hose to fill the bucket or basin, however.
  • Explain the procedure to users
    1. Making the process clear to everyone will reduce the amount of tears, screaming, hysterics, and increased water everywhere.
    2. Stress the points covered in the caveats above. Touch on important new etiquette (flush every time, leave the bucket full for the next user, etcetera)
  • Oh, and get that toilet fixed ASAP.

Fortunately, the manual flushing method we instituted worked fine, and the carpet was dry in a matter of days.

In a multi-floor house, be particularly careful to track any leakage through the ceiling. I noted, for example, that the water did not seep straight through the ceiling below, but ran over some distance before descending to the basement via a broom closet. Keep an eye out for any danger to valuables and carpeting as gravity shows you who's boss.

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