Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Monday, June 08, 2009

Toilets !

New French toilet valve mechanism
Perhaps not the most exciting of topics but the subject of toilet flush mechanisms and the inequalities of UK and French plumbing price differences has been vexing me lately.

When we were over in Brittany at Easter I noticed that I could hear the sound of running water coming from the Gite's upstairs toilet.

'Not a problem' I thought, just need to adjust the ballcock which is probably out of alignment and causing the toilet to overfill slightly.

So I took the top off the toilet, found the polystyrene float, and bent down slightly the metal arm that connects the float to the incoming water valve.

Job done.

Or rather job not done. The next day I noticed that the toilet was only half full of water so I bent the arm up a bit and later on found the same problem with the toilet over-filling.

Thereafter I continued playing the same game of adjusting the arm up a bit, down a bit, pushing the polystyrene float up the arm, down the arm, round the arm, and all ultimately to no avail. It was only when the toilet was once again overfilling but yet the polystyrene float was fully submerged under the water level that I concluded that perhaps the problem was not the float at all but rather the valve that had worn inside and now wasn't shutting off properly.

So next day I went off to a big builders merchant in Loudeac that I've used a few times before. It's not the absolutely nearest builders merchant but its got a bigger range than the nearest one in La Trinite Porhoet and I figured the prices would be more reasonable than Mr Bricolage which is a sort of French equivalent to Homebase - i.e. lots of DIY stuff interspersed with pretty scatter cushions and attractive wall prints, and thus not the cheapest option.

I thought the builders merchant would be my most economical option - ha !

They didn't seem to have any ball valve type of float mechanism but instead had a nice range of valves that closed by means of a sort of inverted little cup. The cup is held upside down in the toilet cistern when as the water level rises the air trapped in the cup causes the cup to rise, pushing up a bar that then closes the valve. Looked simple and effective but came with an eye watering €25 price tag. Actually the price on the shelf edge said €24.80 but then they charged me less than that, added tax (TVA) and 'English DIYer supplement' (or whatever, I couldn't understand the printed invoice), and so I ended up paying slightly over €25.

Well at the time it seemed a bit steep, 25 quid or near enough for a toilet valve, but I needed one and I couldn't think that it would be all that much cheaper elsewhere so I stumped up, paid me money and took my new gadget back to the Gite.

10 minutes and a bit of PTFE tape around the toilet inlet pipe later the job was done. Water back on, no floods, and the toilet works a treat. The inverted cup mechanism seems to work beautifully and the new toilet flushes, fills and shuts off really silently.

When I got back to the UK I thought I'd investigate prices a bit further as I was sure £25 was a bit too high for what was a simple bit of plastic plumbing.

Looking on Screwfix's website who I've used quite a bit in the past for DIY materials (they started off as a trade mail order company with free P&P if you spend over £45 and now have a number of retail outlets across the UK), and a quick search of their website turned up a Torbeck side entry toilet cistern valve which looks identical to my French purchase except it costs just £5.77 including VAT.
Or for less than half the price of the Torbeck if could go for the 'old fashioned' side entry toilet cistern ball valve then this is just £2.28 plus 68p for the ball float that goes on the end of the arm.

As I thought at the time, my French plumbing purchase was expensive, but I hadn't figured on it being over 4 times the price of an equivalent British part! And of course the irony is that both toilet valves are probably made on some production line in China or the far East.

So next time you go to the toilet and flush, especially if you do stay in our Brittany Holiday Home, spare a thought to the expense that goes into running and renovating a French house!

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