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Unless it’s cracked or ugly: don’t replace that old toilet, fix it!

by on Dec 6, 2006

A white toilet is sitting bare.Just because your toilet runs a little doesn’t mean you need a new one. Of course, if it’s cracked or ugly, have at it. But if your water bill’s high and you’re sure the culprit is your toilet, more than likely it just needs some new mechanical parts inside, all of which are easy to install. Why pay a plumber a minimum $100 for something you can fix on your own for $20?

That is, if you have a simple toilet with a separate tank and bowl. None of this fancy stuff like power-assisted flushing. If you have that kind of toilet, paying a plumber the going rate probably won’t make you flinch anyway. But if your toilet looks like the one above, this post is for you.

There are mainly two parts inside your toilet tank that are likely the problem. The first is the flapper:

The second is the fill valve:A door handle and lock mechanism.

Why not take the lid off your tank and flush a few times to see what they look like at work?

Replacing these parts is really very simple, and the new parts will come with detailed installation instructions. The only tool you really need to get started is a medium-sized pair of pliers. I won’t walk you through the process, (where’s the fun in that?) but here are a few tips to make things go as smooth as can be, if you’re willing to get your hands a little wet.

1. Turn off the water supply to the toilet before doing anything. Even professionals occasionally forget to turn off the water once in a while. You can do this by turning the valve coming out of the wall behind the toilet clockwise until it stops. Water is still in the supply line, so don’t get surprised if some comes pouring out when you remove it.

2. Leave just a little slack in the chain to the new flapper. You may need to experiment with just how much it needs to flush properly.

3. If you’re going to replace a fill valve, have a SMALL bucket nearby. Water will drain from the tank when you remove the old fill valve, and a large bucket won’t fit under to catch it. Also, keep some old towels close at hand.  

4. Get a new toilet supply line with your new fill valve. Old ones often fail when you hook them back up.

5. When you re-attach a toilet supply line, tighten the plastic nut to the fill valve with only your hand. For the nut connecting to the shut-off valve, tighten it with a wrench only a quarter turn past finger tight. Anything much less will give you a leak. Anything much more will…give you a leak.

6. If you have a leak when you turn everything back on, don’t freak out. Shut the water off to the toilet and check to make sure the rubber gasket for the fill valve is in place and try again. Check also to make sure the rubber gaskets in the supply line aren’t warped from overtightening. If everything is fine and there’s still a leak, tighten the leaky spot little by little until it stops.

7. Wash your hands good and thorough when you’re done. Theoretically, the water in your toilet’s tank is just as clean as the water coming out of your faucet. But I’ve been working with toilets for a little while and I still don’t feel right until I wash my hands after, even if I only mess with the tank on a brand new one.


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