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Replacing a Toilet
When do you need a new toilet?
There are times when repairs may not be enough, and your best option is to replace your old toilet with a new one:
- Cracks: Even tiny cracks can suddenly break enough to flood your bathroom. Yuck. Even small leaks can collect under your flooring and cause costly water damage.
- Too much water usage: Older toilets use around five gallons of water per flush, but newer models are efficient, using far less water.
- Plunging too frequently: If your sewer line has been cleared from the toilet onward, yet there there are repeating back-ups, a replacement may be your solution.
- You are remodeling, or simply want a newer, more attractive model with better efficiency, convenience or comfort.
Toilet Installation Cost
The cost of installing a new toilet is not only the selected toilet, but the tools required to make a good job of it, plus some hours of your time. If you aren’t sure you want the bother, contact us for a FREE estimate.
Do-it-yourself Toilet Installation Tips
To replace your old toilet with a new one, follow all the same steps you would for replacing the wax ring above under “How to replace a leaking wax ring seal.” But instead of placing your old toilet over the new wax ring, place a new toilet over it and tighten down as per the steps given. There’s even a video there showing you how to install a toilet step-by-step.
Most Common Toilet Problems
and their solutions…
- A backed-up or slow-flushing toilet
- Water continues to run after the flush
- The toilet won’t flush
- Only partial flushing
- Improper water level
- Noisy or slow-filling toilet
- Unpleasant sewage odors
- Waste water on the floor
- Toilet rocking & moving
- A leak from under the tank
- A leak from the water supply line
How to unclog backed-up or slow-flushing toilets
Backed-up or slow-flushing toilets are most often easily fixed with a plunger. About 9 out of 10 times, a good plunger is all you need to unclog a toilet. Toilet plungers have an extension flange to fit the drain hole better.
Do not use store-bought chemicals to try and unblock a toilet. They most likely won’t reach the clog, so all that happens is the toilet bowl then contains a caustic chemical that may splash back on you when you try to use the plunger. Also, the caustic chemical stuck in the pipes may begin damaging them.
Put the plunger head with the extended flange into the toilet bowl under the water. Don’t start plunging vigorously yet because the plunger’s head contains air, which will blow out and can splash back on you. So make the first push slowly just to get the air out of it.
(image source: handyman.com)
Then, seat the plunger’s extension flange against the drain hole at the back of the bottom of the toilet-bowl.
You want as good a seal around the hole as you can manage.
Give it about fifteen good plunges to move the water in the S-trap back and forth around the clog.
(The S-trap is molded into the porcelain base. It’s function is to hold a pool of water in the bowl that seals off sewer gases and harmful microorganisms from down in the sewer pipes. Because of its shape, the S-trap is where clogs are most likely to occur.)
If after 15 to 20 good plunges, if water doesn’t begin to drain, and a test flush is still backing up, you can repeat the process. But if the clog is stubborn, you can try the next step.
If a plunger isn’t loosening the clog, try a simple 3′ to 6′ toilet augur (a.k.a. “plumbing snake”).
Simple, hand-cranked toilet augurs are inexpensive and available at home supply stores and hardware stores. They typically come in 3′, 4′ and 6′ lengths and are cranked by hand instead of machine.
If the clog is in the toilet’s S-trap, it can be reached with a 3′ toilet augur.
Insert the augur end into the drain hole and begin cranking as you push it into the S-trap. If you hit an obstruction, that’s good luck.
Keep pushing and cranking until you see clog debris floating back into the bowl. It’s a sign of success.
Crank away until the water begins draining from the bowl properly.
If auguring out the S-trap didn’t work, the clog is in the sewer line and you should likely turn the work over to us.
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Water continues to run after flush
If you hear water continuing to run long after a flush, there is likely a leaking flapper valve or tank seal. These are at the bottom of the toilet’s water holding tank. Or, the fill tube has become disconnected.
After a flush, water has to refill the tank for the next flush. As the water refills the tank, it lifts a float-valve that shuts off the water when it reaches the correct level.
When that level is set too low the flush is not forceful enough (it doesn’t have a strong enough siphon) to carry away waste adequately. Sometimes the toilet keeps running, and sometimes the bowl doesn’t refill.
Below are solutions to a running toilet. These are things to check in the order given. Most repairs can be done with pliers (or channel locks) and a screw driver. New parts are not expensive.
Check the setting of the water level
If the water level is set too high, water will spill over the top of the overflow pipe. When this is happening, the toilet is bypassing the mechanism to shut off the water refill, and doesn’t stop running.
From Fluidmaster’s diagram above, you can see which is the overflow pipe.
How do you adjust the water level?
There are two types of mechanisms which shut off water refill at the correct level.
a) Float arm shut-offs: A large hollow ball (plastic or copper) at the end of an “arm” connected to the fill valve assembly at the top of the refill pipe.
b) Float cup shut-offs: A hollow cup that rises and falls along the refill pipe itself.
If you have the type a (the float arm shut-off) you can gently bend the float-ball’s metal pipe downward so it is raised by the water level sooner.
Better yet is to adjust the float adjustment screw at the top of the fill-valve assembly.
Experiment with the height of the ball until it shuts off BEFORE water spills into the overflow pipe. There should be a water-level line marked on the tube.
If you have the second type b (a float-cup shut-off, as in Fluidmaster’s diagram), there is a water-level adjustment screw near the top of the assembly.
If the water level is already set correctly and is not spilling into the top of the overflow pipe, follow these steps:
Check the flapper
If the toilet runs when the water level is set correctly, the flapper at the bottom of the tank is not sealing or seating properly and will let water drain into the bowl continually.
First, check the chain running down to the flapper valve. If there is no slack in it, it may be holding the flapper up just a little bit so it doesn’t seat all the way down, and let’s water run into the bowl. You can give it more slack by moving the hook up the chain a link or two.
If the chain length is fine, check the flapper itself by pressing it down more firmly against the bottom of the tank. You can use a stick, such as a yardstick. Listen for whether the sound of running water stops. If it does, the rubber flapper is leaking and needs either cleaning or to be replaced.
If you feel mineral deposits on the flapper, clean it and its flush valve seat with an abrasive sponge. Be careful not to roughen it.
If cleaning the flapper and its seat doesn’t solve the problem, you need to replace the flapper. It may have cracks, hard-water build-up, or be decomposing.
Replacing the flapper:
First shut off the water supply to the toilet tank (at the wall, next to the toilet).
Then flush the toilet to empty the water-holding tank. There may still be about an inch of water at the bottom of the tank. So, put a bucket under the connection of the water supply line to the bottom of the tank. Disconnect the water supply line here and let the tank drain into the bucket.
The old rubber flapper should disconnect easily. It might screw onto a threaded rod, have a ring that slips over the overflow tube, or rubber eyelets that snap over fittings on the tube. Take the old flapper with you to the home supply store or hardware store to get a perfect match.
Clean the surface that the new flapper will seat against to make sure no hard-water deposits or debris will prevent the new flapper from seating properly. The new one will fit on the same way the old one came off.
Replacing the fill-valve. If the water level is correct and the flapper seats properly, but water still runs after a flush, the problem is with the fill-valve. It is damaged or partially blocked. Don’t bother trying to repair it; it’s not worth the effort. Just buy a new one to replace it. Fill valves are usually less than $15, and almost all brands are interchangeable.
There is a nut on the underside of the tank that holds the old fill-valve in place. Simply undo it with the pliers, remove the old fill-valve, and install the new one. Read the directions that come with your new valve for its own proper set-up and adjustments. Set the water level again for the new fill-valve.
There are two other common flushing problems.
1) The toilet won’t flush when the flush-lever or button is pushed:
If the toilet doesn’t begin flushing at all, the chain that lifts the flapper probably got disconnected. Take the lid off the tank, reach in and reconnect it.
2) Only partial flushing when the flush-lever or button is pushed:
If there is only partial, or weak, flushing, the chain likely has too much slack to lift the flapper enough for a full flushing to happen.
Move the hook that connects the chain to the flush lever-arm down a link or two until it lifts the flapper completely when the handle is depressed.
Also, make sure that the new chain length allows the flapper to seat all the way down again when the handle is released, or else your toilet will run after flushes!
Noisy or slow-filling toilets
A noisy or slow-filling toilet may mean your water-supply shut-off valve (at the wall) is becoming obstructed.
There are two solutions:
- Use a regulated fill valve to stop noise by slowing down the incoming water. Reducing the speed by the incoming water can stop the resonance noise you hear in the water supply line.
- Replace the shut-off valve. If a regulated fill-valve doesn’t help, there is too much debris build-up (mineral deposits) in the shut-off valve. It should be replaced with a new one.
Unpleasant Sewage Odors, or Waste Water on the Floor
Sewage odors are likely being emitted from a damaged wax ring seal.
Waste water seeping from under your toilet is a sure sign of a problem with the wax ring.
This is the seal between your toilet’s base and the sewage pipe flange under the floor.
Sometimes, the pressures from excessive plunging can deform the wax ring until it no longer seals properly.
Replacing the wax ring involves completely removing the toilet, and may be a job you would prefer left to your plumber. This is especially true if you don’t already own a “shop-vac” with wet-vacuuming capabilities. This will be explained below.
The damaged wax ring can be inexpensively replaced with a new wax ring. Or it can be replaced with a plastic seal, such as a Fluidmaster “Better Than Wax” seal.
The advantages to a non-wax seal are that it leaves no messy wax residue to clean from under a toilet’s base, and unlike wax, it doesn’t deform (even with excessive plunging), and it can be repositioned. It can also be reused whenever a toilet is removed or changed out.
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How to replace a leaking wax ring seal for toilet:
1) Turn the water off at the water supply shut-off at the wall.
2) Flush the toilet to mostly empty the tank. Remove the tank lid.
3) Place a bucket under the tank to receive any water remaining in the tank. Then remove the water supply-line connector from the bottom of the tank. Most of the emaining water will drain into the bucket.
4) Also, the short supply line will have water in it, so have something to drain it into.
5) Use a “shop-vac” or “wet-vac” to suck up any water that remains in the toilet bowl and tank. Otherwise, when you remove the toilet, that water will slosh out and it’s a sloppy mess to clean up.
6) Remove the bolt caps at each side of the toilet base. Use a wrench to remove the two nuts anchoring the toilet base to the floor.
7) Lift the water-emptied toilet off the floor. This may require a helper. Set the toilet on a plastic sheet or disposable towel. Place another rag over the open sewer flange to prevent gasses from coming up.
8) Remove the old flange bolts from the flange in the floor. They slide out to the sides. Scrape all the old wax off the flange. A putty knife is good for this. Also clean old wax from the underside of the toilet (unless you are replacing it with a new toilet).
9) New wax rings are available as a more complete kit with new flange bolts, washers, and nuts. If your old bolts are gunky or rusty, get a complete new kit with shiny new nuts, washers, and bolts to anchor your toilet properly. Insert the new bolts into the flange, one at each side. They should be 6″ apart.
10) The new set comes with plastic retaining washers that friction-fit down the bolts to hold them in place when you are ready to place to toilet over them. Push these retaining washers down firmly.
11) Set the new wax ring onto the underside of the toilet base. It will stick in place. Wax rings come in two different thicknesses, depending on how far below the flooring surface the sewer line flange is. Set it or a new plastic “Better Than Wax” type seal onto the sewer pipe’s flange.*
12) Replace the toilet over the flange and new seal, carefully aligning the bolt-holes with the anchor bolts before you set it down. A helper may be appreciated here.
13) Slide the plastic bolt cap base over the nut, then the metal washer, then spin the nut over them. Use a wrench to tighten the nuts down on each side. DO NOT OVER-TIGHTEN THE BOLT NUTS. You should tighten them CAREFULLY to prevent cracking or breaking the base of the bowl. Tighten them just enough to make sure the toilet feels sturdily mounted and does not rock. This also compresses the seal enough to prevent leakage.
14) The bold cap should fit neatly over the bolt. If the bolts are too long, use a hacksaw to cut them low enough for the cap to close over them.
15) Reconnect the water-supply line to the bottom of the tank. Turn the shut-off valve back on.
*If you opt for a “Better Than Wax” type plastic flange, it will come with additional parts and instructions for conditions where the flange is above the floor, even with the floor, or lower than the floor.
How to Install a New Toilet
It’s the same instructions above on how to replace the wax seal only now you’d be placing a new toilet down instead of the original one.
Watch the video here from This Old House on how to install a new toilet.
Rocking – Toilet Moves
Nobody feels okay sitting on a toilet that rocks unsteadily while they are mounted on it. It could be just a damaged toilet seat, easily replaced with a new one.
But if the base of the toilet is rocking, the mounting bolts may be worn, rusted out, or loose. This is a more serious problem.
It is important to keep the toilet properly secured to the flooring to prevent leaks or create damage to the flange seal. Attend to it before your flooring or the floor’s substructure is damaged!
Remove the two bolt caps from each side of the toilet base. Look for loosened nuts or rusty, stripped threading on the bolts. If the nuts and bolts need to be replaced, you will need to follow all the steps above for replacing the wax seal, anchor bolts, and nuts.
In cases of uneven flooring, the toilet base may need also to be shimmed so that it sits evenly over the floor. Use plastic shims, as moisture will compromise or ruin wood shims.
Repairing a Leak From Under the Tank
The possible places for a leak from underneath the tank are:
- the water supply line connection
- the gasket between the tank and the bowl
- the tank mounting bolts
For any of these leaks under the tank, you will need to empty the tank of water before beginning repairs. Follow steps 1 through 5 from “How to replace a leaking wax ring seal” above.
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Replacing the Water Supply Line
- an open-end wrench sized to fit the metal nut at the shut-off valve, or an adjustable wrench.
- Channel-lock pliers. These are only to be used if you need to tighten the plastic tank connector SLIGHTLY AND GENTLY after hand-tightening it.
The water supply line is the short flexible pipe connecting the shut-off valve at the wall to the bottom of the toilet tank. At the tank is a hand-tightened compression nut.
Even though hand-tightened, they often need a partial extra turn with pliers.Be careful not to force it or you may crack the plastic nut or ruin the gasket inside.
One of the main problems is low-quality supply lines. So, if the leak doesn’t stop by tightening the connections, buy a new toilet water supply line that has a metal nut or a reinforced, ribbed plastic nut for the tank connection.
There are more than one type and size of connectors for each end, so take your old supply line with you to the home-supply store, and match it with the best quality supply tube you can find.
When you connect the new line, tighten the plastic nut in two stages. First, tighten it enough to stop the water from leaking.
Then come back a few hours later, as the rubber gasket will have compressed a bit by then.
Gently tighten the nut a little more.
You can do the same with the metal nut connection at the shut-off.
Tightening the Tank’s Connector Bolts to Stop a Leak
Tools: Adjustable wrench, and a large flat-blade screwdriver
Inspect under the back of the toilet to see if the main gasket between the tank and bowl has water around it.
You can also feel with your fingers around the gasket area for water.
It may be that you need only tighten the connector bolts that pull the tank to the bowl, and give compression to the gasket-seal.
If the seal is in good condition, you can simply tighten the bolts to stop the leak. So, try tightening them first.
From inside the tank, you will see two or three around the flush valve (flapper) area. They will have large slotted bolt-heads with rubber washers under them. These bolts are secured from the underside of the tank with nuts and additional rubber washers.
To simply tighten the seal you will need a large flat-blade screwdriver and possibly an adjustable wrench. (Some connector bolt kits use wing-nuts instead of wrench-fitting nuts.)
You will need to use both hands and a have a decent reach to do this. With the wrench holding the nut in place under the tank (or holding the wingnut firmly by hand), use the large flat-blade screwdriver tighten the tank bolts.
Tighten all the bolts evenly, since this also levels the tank. Use a half turn or so of the screwdriver for each bolt in turn until they feel uniformly snug.
Important: porcelain can crack if you use excessive force when tightening bolts.
Fill the tank up and check for leaks. If repeated tightening does not solve the problem, it is possible that the main large gasket likely needs to be replaced.
Repairing the Gasket Between the Tank and the Bowl
Tools: large flat-blade screwdriver, spud wrench or large slip-joint pliers, white vinegar and an abrasive sponge or small wire brush for cleaning, a large sponge for mopping out water from the bottom of the tank, rags, and a complete tank-to-bowl connector kit.
If you are replacing either the tank gasket or the tank bolts, you have already gone through all the steps of getting the tank emptied, and have to remove the old tank bolts in either case.
So you may as well replace tank bolts and the tank gasket at the same time, so you won’t have to repeat the process later to fix a new issue.
A tank-to-bowl connector kit will contain what you need to get both jobs done at once.
Empty the Tank of Water:
- Turn the water off at the water supply shut-off at the wall. Flush the toilet to mostly empty the tank.
- Place a bucket under the tank’s water supply-line connector and disconnect it from the bottom of the tank. Remaining water will drain into the bucket. Also, the short supply line will have water in it, so have something to drain it into.
- Remove the tank lid. Use a large sponge to or shop-vac to remove any remaining water from the bottom of the tank.
Remove the Old Tank Bolts and Nuts:
Hold each nut under the tank with the wrench so they won’t turn. Use the Screwdriver to unscrew each bolt. They shouldn’t be too tight, as they were supposed to be just hand-tightened to avoid breaking the porcelain tank or bowl.
If a bolt is rusty or stubborn, spray it with a little WD-40 around the nut, let set a moment, and try again.
If the bolt’s head inside the tank is too rusted for the slotted screwdriver to grab, you may need an extra set of pliers to hold the bolt head while you try to turn the nut.
Remove all the tank bolts and nuts.
Then move the tank to any convenient place to work on it.
Remove the large rubber gasket:
If it is stubborn or stuck you can use pliers to grab it and break it loose. The large nut you see under it is called a spud-nut. It holds the flush valve in place, but you don’t need to worry about that if you’re not replacing the flush valve.
Stretch the new gasket over the spud nut and make sure it is seated fully on all sides. It should completely cover the spud-nut.
Clean the tank and bowl surfaces around the bolt holes:
Use the white vinegar and abrasive sponge (or a small wire brush) to scrub the surfaces where the new tank bolt washers will seat.
This is to remove any mineral deposits or debris that would compromise the seals. Wipe clean with a rag.
Install the new bolts, washers, and nuts:
You need a rubber washer at all contact points with the porcelain of the tank and bowl.
The first point of contact is inside the tank, so first slide the metal washer over the bolt, then follow it with the rubber washer.
Do this for each bolt.
Now you can insert the bolts into the tank’s holes (from the interior side).
Re-mount the tank to the bowl:
With the new large gasket and tank bolts in place, align the tank bolts with the bowl’s mounting holes, and carefully set the tank back in place.
You still have another nut and washer set for each bolt.
Start with the rubber washer (for the bowl’s porcelain surface contact), followed by the metal washer, and finally the nut.
Hand tighten all these evenly so the tank stays level on the bowl.
DO NOT OVER-TIGHTEN: the tank or bowl can crack with over-tightening.
After hand-tightening as much as possible, you might manage a quarter to half turn more with the wrench to give good compression to the new large gasket.
Reconnect the water supply line:
When you connect the new line, tighten the plastic nut in two stages.
First, tighten it enough to stop the water from leaking.
Turn the water supply valve back on.
Then come back a few hours later, as the rubber gasket will have compressed a bit by then. Gently tighten the nut a little more.