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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Toilet Repairs: How to fix a troublesome toilet

by Jim Bessey

Troubleshooting common toilet problems

Not a single fixture or appliance in our homes is more crucial to our sanity than the lowly toilet. We expect our commodes to work every time, and we cringe with foul distaste when one fails in its humble mission. Yet a malfunctioning toilet must be fixed post-haste! If the kitchen sink is clogged, that can wait. Not so the potty. And it's all so distasteful: it's damp, perhaps a bit moldy inside, fouled by unspeakable germs and vile gunk no human should touch. The thought of calling a plumber, however, conjures visions of an exorbitant and illegible bill for emergency service.

Here are three secrets, revealed: First, you probably can repair that mis-behaving toilet yourself. Second, toilets aren't nearly as complicated as you fear. And last, except in the case of a truly disturbing overflow of the bowl, your toilet is much cleaner than you might expect. On the other hand, your fears of a pricey service call are well-founded. It's not at all unusual to pay almost $200 for a plumber's visit. For about $50 more than that, you could have a new toilet installed. It's worth your time, worth overcoming your reluctance, to at least give it a look.

Anatomy of the common toilet (U.S. design, residential):

Bird's-eye toilet view
Starting at the top: THE TANK. Although there are endless variations in shape and size, every commode has a water reservoir, usually a separate tank that holds ordinary tap-water used for flushing. A pipe emerges from the wall or floor nearby; most often you'll find a shut-off valve (with a small handle of some sort), which leads fresh water through a supply tube up to the tank. [Some tanks are cast as a unit with the bowl. This is a designer trick which makes repairs and replacement deliberately more expensive.]

Below the tank: THE BOWL. This part of the commode holds a second reservoir of water, necessary for effective flushing and for sealing off the sewer line from the air in your home. Most of us believe the toilet bowl to be hopelessly contaminated with exotic microbes. Unless you never clean it, that simply isn't true. Your kitchen sink almost certainly harbors more hazardous germs, especially if you have a garbage disposal.

The bowl covers the critical DRAIN. This is an two- to four-inch opening in the floor, leading directly to your main sewer or septic line. A clogged drain line doesn't even involve the toilet fixture itself; the problem's in the pipes. If your trouble lies in the drain line beneath the floor, that's the right time to call a plumber.

Things that can go wrong, and can be fixed:

Your shut-off valve can become clogged over time. If the tank seems to take an eternity to fill, the valve may need replacement. There's a second shut-off inside the tank, too: the one that sometimes doesn't stop running after you flush. For most toilets, that part costs less than $20 to replace. A typical brand of tank-filler is "Fluid-Master," sold in every hardware store. If you can shut-down either your water main or the valve with the handle below the tank, then you can do this job yourself. Cures most slow-fill or won't-stop-running issues.

Sometimes the "flapper" fails to function. In this case, water continually seeps or gurgles into the bowl (possibly wasting hundreds of gallons a week). Jiggling the handle is a common short-term solution. However, while the flapper's design varies from brand to brand, most home-owners can handle replacing that part themselves. Turn off the toilet's water supply for this chore, too.

The most humbling and distasteful problems come when the drain becomes clogged. If your handy plunger fails to clear the clog, go ahead and call a plumber. You could try "snaking" the drain yourself, but that's not a job for the faint-of-heart. Clogged drains can usually be blamed on some variation of "too much toilet paper." Prevention, and education of blissfully ignorant family members, is the only way to avoid recurrence.

The critical point: try not to be afraid. It's only a toilet. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to show the commode who's boss.

  Reprinted from the original on   copyright 2010 - Jim Bessey 
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

New How-To Guides page added to Kitchens & Baths by D'Zyne blog

Added today: How to build a storage shed and How to install a GFCI receptacle.

Helium's How-To Guides zones page system offers pics, articles, and more!
Earlier this year, Blogger added a nice little Pages system that allows us to display stand-alone web pages within our blogs. I've wanted to add my recent How-To Guides to the blog, but didn't want to clutter things up with clunky posts. Now all I have to do is post screen-shots from the guides for easy reader clicking. Nice and simple, huh?

Please notice that you are welcome to leave comments and questions whenever you visit a zone-based Guide. I do pay attention, and always answer questions within a day or two. Hope to see you there!


During the coming weeks, I'll add more Guides for helpful how-to information. Got a topic you'd like to see covered? If so, please leave a Comment here and I'll see what I can do.

You can see all of my current zones and guides on by visiting my Zones home page.