You’re hosting a party in a few hours.
You flush the toilet, and the water doesn’t go down.
You flush again, and the water starts rising.
You know the rest of the story.
There is never a good time to repair a broken toilet, but often a plumbing issue occurs at the worst possible moment.
How do you know when you can tackle toilet problems yourself or when it’s time to call in the pros?
Here are 7 common toilet problems and how to decide if you have what it takes to get the job done.
This Ain’t Rocket Science
A toilet is a pretty simple machine.
Here are the 4 steps to how a toilet works.
- Flushing the handle lifts the stopper inside the tank
- The tank water pushes the toilet water and waste into your drain pipe
- The stopper falls, and water refills the tank
- A floating mechanism shuts off the filling valve when the tank is full
Now that you know how a toilet works, it’s evident that most of us can handle basic toilet repairs.
Except for your main drain, you can see all of the inner workings of your toilet from above your tank and do so without fear of dealing with anything too dirty. But you will have to start by taking the tank lid off for toilet troubleshooting.
If you have more than one toilet in your house, start by taking a look at the toilet that works.
While watching the exposed tank, give your good friend a flush.
Notice how the stopper lifts and water escapes.
As the flapper falls, it creates a tight seal as the water fills over its top. Now, watch the floating ball or fill valve assembly move up freely and turn the water off.
With your newly found knowledge, you can now move to your troubled toilet and diagnose your toilet flushing problems.
You’d Better Go Catch It
Is your toilet running constantly?
Besides the high pitched sound of running water keeping you up all night, a running toilet will hit your pocketbook hard.
An inefficient or leaking toilet can use 6 gallons of water per flush. One leaky toilet could cost a homeowner up to $2,000 a year in excess water bills.
That is horrible news for your finances and even worse news for the environment.
So, let’s keep the water in the tank and money in your wallet.
With the lid off, start your flushing and watching. Often a lousy stopper if the culprit. If the stopper isn’t creating a seal, water will continue to leak into the bowl. Your stopper could be old and worn out either at the seat or at its hinge. Or the chain that attaches the stopper to your handle could be kinked.
A new stopper costs around $5 and replaces in a minute. If the stopper is functional, look to the floating mechanism or ball. If you still have a ball in your tank, you might want to go ahead and update to a newer valve.
But in terms of diagnosing the problem, you should that the float or ball raises without impediment.
An easy way to do this is to raise it by hand and make sure it’s not rubbing or bumping into something else in the tank. If the float is hitting anything, it may never reach the level that switches the water off, and your tank will continuously run in this scenario as well.
Unless you can correct this issue, a new float valve can be less than $20, and this is also a relatively easy repair.
Water on the Floor
If you are getting water on the floor around your toilet, the first thing to do is to check the tank and bowl for cracks.
Porcelain is sturdy, but if a fitting is over tightened or if a toilet has wobbled around for years, cracking is a possibility.
Any crack in your toilet probably means it’s time to replace the whole thing. Replacing a toilet is a basic procedure, but it requires lifting a good deal of weight and dealing with some pretty dirty pipes. If you have any issues with your physical ability to install a toilet or your emotional capacity to deal with filth, you can reach out to some of the best plumbers around to handle the job.
If your tank looks fine from the outside, you may have to replace some worn out washers and bolts to stop the leak. This is a very inexpensive fix but will require turning off your water supply and draining your tank.
Your tank is being held onto the bowl by two bolts that sit in a rubber washer inside the tank. If you bolt hasn’t rusted out, you should be able to loosen it with a screwdriver while holding the nut below the tank with an open-ended wrench. Sometimes the rust is so bad that it may require a grinder to remove.
Grinding metal may be above your pay grade or possibly your tool collection so it’s possible you might want to reach out to a professional. But if you can remove the bolts, simply replacing them and using new rubber washers (they should be sold together) should stop your leak.
If the water is not coming from the tank bolts, there are a couple of other possibilities.
If your bathroom is very hot or humid, the water could be condensation dripping off the cold water tank onto the ground. Or, the leak could be coming from underneath the bowl itself. If this is the case, you will need to remove the entire toilet and check your wax ring.
Again, this may be a job for the pros.
Refilling at a Glacial Pace
A toilet should refill in time for the next person even if your bathroom is being used back to back.
If your tank is not ready to be flushed again within 2-3 minutes, there are a few issues that you should check out yourself.
The easiest would be turning your water supply line all the way to the left. There is no reason that a properly working toilet shouldn’t have its water supply completely open. Once you have confirmed that your supply pressure is maxed out, it is time to check the fill valve for any blockage. Sediment from your water line or a home filter could be blocking the hose.
If cleaning out the hose or opening the supply line doesn’t solve your problem, its time to disconnect your supply line from the toilet and test your water pressure into a small bucket.
If your water is dribbling out, its time to pick up the phone as you may have a bigger issue than your toilet.
Ghost in the Bathroom
From time to time a toilet will flush all by itself.
Talk about scary.
This solution for this could be as simple as making sure your flapper creates a seal as we discussed above.
The tube running from the fill valve may be running directly into the overflow tube. If this is the case, detach the tube and reconnect to the outside of the overflow.
When neither of those solutions exorcizes your toilet demon, you will have to replace your flush valve assembly. This process is doable but does involve turning off your supply line, draining and removing your tank from the bowl.
Should any of those steps intimidate you, an expert plumber will have you up and running in no time.
A new flush valve assembly is less than $20, so this fix shouldn’t break the bank.
You Can Handle this One
If your handle is especially jiggly or perhaps stuck or hard to flush, you can certainly fix this issue on your own.
Most toilet handles connect with a simple housing attached by a nut inside the tank. Probably the strangest thing about replacing your toilet handle is that the nut is reverse threaded, So as you remove your old handle’s nut, you will be turning your wrench to the right. As with all toilet fasteners, take care not to tighten to the point of cracking the porcelain.
When connecting your new handle to the chain that connects it to the flapper, there should be enough slack that the flapper easily sits in the seating. And when you lift the handle, the flapper should fully open and allow a solid flush to occur.
The connection between your toilet and your plumbing is also surprisingly simple.
A wax ring adheres to the bottom of your toilet and with the weight of your toilet over the drain it smashes itself and creates a watertight seal.
Over time this seal can stop working.
Common causes are a toilet that wobbles on the floor or pressure building up from a clogged line. If your toilet moves when you sit down, try tightening the screws that hold the bowl in place but don’t overtighten.
If water is creeping out from under your toilet bowl, you or a professional plumber need to lift your toilet and check the condition of your wax ring and drain.
While replacing this ring is easy, it is pretty disgusting, so please consider your yuck-tolerance.
Time to Go
There comes a time in every toilet’s life when it needs replacing.
If your toilet is cracked, stained or just out of style, it’s not a huge investment to get a whole new unit.
New toilets including all of the “guts” commonly sell for $150 or less and can bring a fresh feeling to your bathroom.
As we discussed before, this will involve lifting a heavy bowl from the floor and having to clean up some pretty disgusting remnants of your old wax ring.
It’s not difficult, but it can be cumbersome.
Having your toilet replaced by a licensed plumber is quick and painless and best of all clean.
Flush Your Toilet Problems Away
Plumbing issues can do lasting damage to your home and your health. Whether motivated by saving money, saving water or getting your toilet back up and running, the time to act is now.
Either open the lid and use your newfound knowledge or call an expert to fix your toilet problems and let your stress go down the drain.
For more tips on how and when to hire the pros, click here.