Fixing or Replacing a Toilet

By Bob Tedeschi

A toilet may be easier to fix or install yourself than you think.


For help with understanding the inner workings of the throne, I called on Lou Manfredini, a Chicago-based contractor and hardware store owner who hosts the “HouseSmarts” television program; Lorren Schlotfeldt, master plumber and instructor of plumbing technology at Montana State University, Northern; and Rex Cauldwell, an author of several home-maintenance books, including “Plumbing Complete” (Taunton, 2009).

Their counsel on toilet maintenance and replacement would sound eerily familiar to any parents easing their own child toward the commode. Relax, they said. Nothing bad is going to happen. “Toilets are the easiest project in plumbing,” Mr. Schlotfeldt said. “I’d have anyone do it.”It turns out he’s right. Even swapping out a toilet is fairly easy, I found, especially if you have a partner. But with some well-informed troubleshooting and a few replacement parts, you can spare yourself that expense, and perhaps even upgrade to a more efficient system in the process.Of course, replacement parts aren’t always necessary. Ahem.

“Ninety percent of the time, the reason your toilet doesn’t flush correctly is because the holes beneath the rim are clogged,” Mr. Manfredini said. “One of the first things a plumber will do is scrape open all those holes.” He suggested using a wire coat hanger.“Then pour in some calcium-lime cleaner, flush the toilet halfway so it gets into your system and leave it overnight,” he added.

Other issues, my panelists said, typically involve the so-called “flapper valve” that sits at the bottom of the tank and can warp with age. This leads to situations where you must hold down the toilet handle to fully drain the tank, or you might hear water leaking into the tank after flushing.

Replacement valves cost around $5, and typically a universal model will work, but note your toilet’s brand and bring a photo of the inside of the tank when you shop. The replacement process takes all of two minutes, Mr. Manfredini said, and requires no tools.If you hear water filling in the tank incessantly, the problem is most likely your “fill valve,” which is known as the “big mystery tube” among people who make plumbers giddy. To find it, look for the open pipe attached to the water line, and be sure the water actually flows into it.

Floats, the big round bulbs in older toilets that are being phased out by smaller plastic pieces, include a water-level adjustment mechanism. If that slips out of place, readjust it so that the water remains roughly a half inch below the fill valve.You can replace toilet parts separately or, for around $20, you can buy a full kit. Old five-gallon toilets can be upgraded to more efficient units this way. An even better option, the panelists said, is a dual-flush kit system that lets users choose a high-volume or low-volume flush. (Look for brands like Danco and HydroKit, which don’t require tank removal.)

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Originally Published in The New York Times

01/17/2014