Basic DIY Plumbing: Toilet Trouble?

Filed Under: Home repair, Plumbing    by: ITC

I’ve been a plumber for several years and cannot tell you how many times I have walked into home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot only to find a customer, despondent about a leak that their toilet has sprung. As a plumber I would always suggest hiring a professional rather than doing it yourself, but in tough economic times, sometimes homeowners have to take matters into their own hands. Let me provide you with some insight into why your toilet might be malfunctioning.

Most toilet leaks come from a few common causes. Your toilet may suffer from one or it may have a combination of problems. One of the most common sources of leaks for toilets is the wax seal. The wax seal is a gasket made of wax that is on the bottom of a toilet, where it rests on the floor. Often, water on the floor or on the ceiling below the toilet is a sure sign that you have a problem with the wax seal. To fix this problem you need a new wax ring and T-bolts which you can find at your local hardware store.

First, turn off the water supply to the toilet. Next, flush the toilet and soak up as much of the water as possible from the toilet bowl itself. After you do that, loosen the T-bolts, disconnect the supply tubes, and lift the toilet off the floor. Position the toilet so that it is upside down and proceed to scrape off the wax seal from the bottom of the toilet as well as from the floor. After you have done this, place in the new wax seal and connect everything back up the way it was and install the new T-bolts. Turn the T-bolts 5 and 1/4 turns being careful not to over tighten the bolts. Turn the water on and flush the toilet.

Inspect the toilet, the floor, and the ceiling below for leaks. While labor intensive, performing this repair yourself would save you a couple of hundred dollars easily on plumber costs. The second most common leak source is caused by flowing over the overflow tube. If you have this problem, you will need a new fill valve. There are two types of fill valves. One has a big floating ball and arm, and the other has a float on the valve itself. Bother are interchangeable. You will need to buy a new fill valve at your local plumbing supply store.

Begin by turning off the water and disconnecting the splash tube. Flush the toilet and soak up all the water from the tank. Unscrew the nut under the fill valve on the outside of the toilet tank and remove the old fill valve. Install the new valve, making sure the height is correct. Put the valve into the hole in the bottom of the tank, tightening the nut on the outside as you go. Replace the supply tube and turn the water back on. Flush the toilet and check for leaks. Finally, take the tube that comes with the new valve and connect it from the valve to the overflow tube.

Another problem that frequently makes a toilet leak is a leak from the connection between the tank and the toilet bowl. In this case, you will need to purchase a new spud washer and new tank bolts. Occasionally, this problem arises from a cracked toilet bowl in which case you will need a new toilet. In order to determine this, the first thing that you need to do is to find out where the leak originates. Ask yourself if it leaks all the time or only when someone flushes the toilet. If it leaks all the time rather than only when someone flushes it, this is a sure sign that the tank or the bowl is cracked.

Examine each closely looking for hairline cracks where water may seep from. If you do find a crack, you are out of luck and will have to replace the toilet completely. Otherwise, this is probably a problem with the spud washer. To change this, you will once again need to shut off the water supply and flush the toilet. Next, loosen the bolts that connect the tank to the bowl. There are usually two or three of these depending on the model.

After that, remove the supply tube. Pick up the tank and remove it and the washer that is at the bottom of the tank. It is usually made of rubber and will have a spongy feel to it. Replace this washer with the spud washer you bought and place the tank back onto the bowl. Place the new bolts in and tighten gently, but do not over tighten. Replace the supply tube and turn the water back on. Again, check for leaks. Occasionally leaks originate from the supply tube. To fix this, you simply need to purchase a new supply tube and switch it out with the old one.

Another source of leaks in toilets is leaking inside the toilet from the tank to the bowl. The problem stems from the seal inside the tank called a flapper. To diagnose this problem, place a few drops of food coloring into the tank and wait for a couple of hours. After a couple of hours, check the bowl. If you see any of the food coloring in your toilet bowl, you can be assured that you have a leaky flapper.

To fix this, you will need to purchase a universal flapper. Most flappers are the same, although American Standard has their own design. Step one is to turn off the water to the toilet. Next, remove the old flapper by taking the chain off the lever and removing the flapper from two hooks at the bottom of the overflow tube that are attached to the flapper.

Install the new flapper and turn on the water. Try flushing the toilet. If it does not flush or does not flush with enough volume, adjust the chain length from the lever to the flapper. Test flush again. Hopefully with these tips, I have armed you with the knowledge to tackle the most common cause of toilet leaking and have hopefully saved you hundred of dollars in plumber fees.


Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Of all the sections of the staircase likely to suffer damage, the handrails come top of the list. Yet they play an important safety role by preventing people from falling down the stairs and so must be kept in good repair.

The balusters are the most vulnerable part of the assembly and may become loose or broken.

A loose toe-nailed baluster can be tapped free with a mallet and block of wood, the nails removed and the holes opened out with a drill to accept countersunk screws. Then glue and screw it in place.

If the ends of the baluster are held by mortise joints, you can stop the baluster rattling about by driving narrow wedges into the gaps around the ends, having first smeared them with glue. Cut the ends of the wedges flush with the surface of the string or handrail as appropriate. Sometimes, the balusters are held by thin strips of wood nailed in place between the ends of adjacent balusters. In this case, carefully prise off the strips on each side of the loose baluster and replace them with slightly longer ones.

If the baluster is actually broken, you can either replace it with a new one (assuming you can get one to match) or glue it back together, reinforcing the joint with dowels or screws. Toe-nailed balusters are easily removed as described above, as are those held by nailed-on capping pieces. However, if they are mortised into the string and handrail, you may have to saw through the ends to remove the baluster. Then glue blocks of wood into the mortise, plane them flush, cut the new baluster to fit and glue and screw it in place as you would a skewnailed version.

If a section of handrail is broken, you can make a simple repair by screwing a metal plate underneath across the break. Alternatively, you- can cut out a section and fit a new piece, using special handrail bolts or screws.

These need matching holes in the ends of the old and new rail, and the easiest way of marking them is with a paper template that matches the profile of the rail with the hole center marked on it. Hold the template over the end of each piece and mark the hole center by punching through with a nail. Additional holes must be drilled or cut with a chisel into the underside of the rail so that the nuts securing the bolt can be tightened.

Newel posts are unlikely to break, but if they do, they must be replaced completely. To remove it, you will have to lift the adjacent floorboards and unbolt the base from the joists. Then drive out the dowels holding the handrail and string to it. Finally, tap the newel post free — it may help to cut it into sections with a saw.

Use the old post as a guide for marking out the new one, making sure the mortises and dowel holes are all positioned correctly. Treat the base of the post with preservative and refit it, gluing the string and handrail in place and reinforcing the joints with fresh dowels.

Whether you are installing a new staircase or simply repairing an existing one, the range of components available in kit form makes the task much easier.

The stairs may be ready-assembled and consist of 12 or 14 treads for a full flight or six treads for a half-flight; they are available with or without risers (for closed or open tread styles) and bullnose steps allow extra versatility at floor-level.

The newels, baluster spindles, rails and fittings are manufactured in a wide variety of styles, from traditional to contemporary. The timber, which includes mahogany and hemlock, is usually sanded ready for varnishing or staining.