Repairing Toilets

Fix a leaking toilet immediately. An unrepaired leak may become more than an annoyance. It can develop into structural damage not only to the floor, but also to the ceiling below the toilet. Both may require hiring a contractor for a repair that can be extensive and expensive. Troubleshooting a toilet to locate a leak is easy. No tools are required, just food coloring (red is recommended) and paper towels. The food coloring added to the tank or bowl will make the leak easily visible so you can see what repairs are needed.

GET THE RIGHT SUPPLY LINE - In earthquake zones, building code requires a flexible supply tube. Elsewhere you can use flex tube, rigid plastic, or rigid metal.

DON’T OVERTIGHTEN! Over tightening the bolts that connect the tank to the toilet base can crack the base, the tank, or both. Tighten gently until snug and alternate from side to side to seat them evenly.

Toilets are heavy and a little awkward to handle but Installation and repair is usually very easy. Before you begin working on the toilet, put on a pair of rubber gloves and dean the base thoroughly with a disinfectant, it will make the job a little more pleasant!

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES - Low-flow toilets using 1.6 gallons of water per flush are required by federal regulations. Older models often needed an extra flush, but new toilet technology allows these environmental friends to do their job efficiently.

Adjusting The Tank Handle And Water Level

TOOLS: Adjustable wrench, screwdriver

The sound of water bubbling from a fountain may be relaxing. But if it’s coming from your toilet, it’s just adding to the water bill. Quick fixes include shortening a chain, bending a wire, or adjusting a float clip. Each solution is easy and requires little time. The tank handle uses what are called left-handed threads to help keep the handle assembly tight. Tighten them counterclockwise.

1 ADJUST THE TANK HANDLE. If the handle has too much play or binds, use an adjustable wrench to tighten the nut inside the toilet. Unlike other nuts and bolts, the threads on a tank handle are left-handed, so you'll tighten counterclockwise.

2 SHORTEN THE CHAIN. This will help if you have to hold the handle down to flush all the water from the toilet tank.

3 BENDTHE UPPER WIRE. If the tank doesn't have a chain, it has a wire you can bend.

4 BEND THE FLOAT ARM. The water level should be just below the overflow. To adjust the water level in the tank, bend it up for a higher water level or down to lower the water level.

5 SLIDE THE FLOAT CYLINDER. Squeeze the float clip to release the float cylinder, which can be raised or lowered to adjust the water level in float-style toilets.

ADJUST THE FLOAT ARM - Before you resort to more complicated measures, first try adjusting the float arm to change the water level. Turn the screw on top to lift or lower the float.

Repairing A Leaking Tank

4 REPLACE THE SPUD WASHER. Take the spud washer to your local home center to find the correct replacement. Place a new spud washer over the flush valve tailpiece. Lower the tank onto the base so the tank bolts go through the holes. Reinstall the tank bolts, gaskets, and nuts. Alternate tightening the nuts so they tighten evenly. Reinstall the supply tube coupling and fill valve. Turn on the water supply and check for leaks.

MATERIALS: Flush valve gasket, fill valve, gaskets, spud washer

TOOLS: Two adjustable wrenches, screwdriver, small wire brush, spud wrench

Sometimes it’s easier to have a friend help lift the tank off the toilet base.

1 IF THE FILL VALVE IS LEAKING turn off the water supply valve. Flush the toilet. Disconnect the supply line from the tank and sponge the inside of the tank until it's dry. Use two adjustable wrenches to remove the fill valve. Remove the old fill gasket. If you're not replacing other parts, install the new fill valve and gasket. Turn on the supply line and check for leaks. If necessary, tighten a quarter-turn. Otherwise, proceed to Step 2.

2 IF THE TANK IS LEAKING: A screwdriver and adjustable wrench will remove most tank bolts. Remove the tank bolt, nut, and gasket. Clean the bolt and nut with white vinegar and a small wire brush. If you aren’t replacing the spud washer, reinstall bolts and nuts with new gaskets. Alternate the tightening of the nuts to evenly draw the tank tight. If you need to replace the spud washer, continue to Step 3.

3 IF THE SPUD WASHER IS LEAKING REMOVE THE BOLTS AND LIFT THE TANK STRAIGHT UP AND OFF THE TOILET BASE TO REMOVE IT. Make sure you have a helper; toilet tanks are usually in an awkward place and are heavier than they appear to be. Set the tank upside down on the floor. It's best to set it on an old towel or rug because it may contain some water.

TRACKING LEAKS - If there is a leak along the supply valve, tighten the fittings an additional quarter-turn. If the leak is around the base of the tank, check the washers in the tank to make sure they’re seated properly. If the washers appear to be properly seated, tighten the tank nuts another quarter-turn.

Replacing A Toilet Fill Valve

MATERIALS: Fill valve, fill valve gasket

TOOLS: Adjustable wrench

Old toilet fill valves can develop leaks. If water continues to run after you have made the adjustments, you may need to remove and replace the fill valve. You may also have to replace the supply line so that the new valve fits. Know the locations of the main water shut off valve or the supply valves for each fixture

1 SHUT OFF THE WATER and drain the tank. Disconnect the fill valve nut and remove the old fill valve.

2 ADJUST THE HEIGHT OF THE VALVE so that the marking on the top of the valve is at least 1 inch above the overflow tube.

3 POSITION THE VALVE IN THE TANK. Push down on the valve shank and tighten the locknut a half-turn beyond hand-tight. Connect the supply.

4 ATTACH THE REFILL TUBE AND ANGLE THE ADAPTER TO THE OVERFLOW. Trim the tube if necessary to get rid of any kinks.

5 FLUSH THE SYSTEM. Remove the top valve. Hold a cup over the uncapped valve and turn on the water supply to flush the system of rust and debris. Turn off the water.

6 REPLACE THE TOP VALVE by engaging the lugs and rotating one eighth-turn clockwise. Make sure it's firmly locked into position.

7 ADJUST THE WATER LEVEL by squeezing the adjustment clip and moving the float cup up or down.

THREE VALVE TYPES—ONE WAY TO REPLACE - Three basic types of fill valves exist: the plunger valve, the diaphragm, and the float cup. Replace all three the same way. It may not be necessary to replace the fill valve with the exact same type that you remove, but it may be easier for you because the installation process is the opposite of the removal sequence.

Replacing A Flapper

MATERIALS: Flapper or tank ball

TOOLS: Bucket, sponge, scrub pad

If you have hard water, you will probably need to change the toilet flapper occasionally. Minerals in hard water build up around the base of the flapper and the opening of the toilet. The sediment will eventually destroy the flapper, causing the toilet to leak.

CHEMICAL REACTION - I was replacing toilet flappers and washers on a regular basis until my plumber friend told me those tablets I was putting in the tank contained chlorine and were eating away at the rubber. Just when you think you know everything, you learn something new.

FLAPPER TIPS - Have about a half inch of slack in the chain that connects the flush lever to the flapper. Most replacements have side tabs or a ring that slides over the overflow tube so that they can work with any system. Make sure the flapper moves up and down freely.

SQUARE PEGS, ROUND HOLES - While universal replacement flappers are available, they still may not fit exactly. Take the old flapper with you to get an exact replacement.

1 TURN OFF THE WATER SUPPLY SHUTOFF VALVE AND FLUSH THE TANK. If there isn’t a shutoff valve, turn off the water at the main valve; this is also a good time to install a shutoff valve for future use.

2 REMOVE THE OLD FLAPPER. Pull the flapper from the pivot arm. For ball-style toilets, grip a loop of lift wire and unscrew the old tank ball. Clean the surface area of the opening with a scrub pad to remove sediment.

3 INSTALL A NEW FLAPPER. Line up the flap or ball with the valve seat by straightening the lift wire or adjusting the guide arm. This will provide a sufficient seat and keep the tank from leaking.

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