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Toilet Problems
TOILETS ARE MADE UP OF TWO COMPONENTS: the flush tank, which holds water and a flushing assembly, and the toilet bowl, which handles the waste.
Although mechanically simple, toilets are subject to malfunctions from time to time-just like anything mechanical. Most problems will concern the flush tank. This page addresses toilet bowl breakdowns and what you can do about them.
Before you buy any tools or materials, read this booklet first. By so doing, you may be able to save money and hours of time. The only "unsolvable" problem with a toilet bowl is a cracked or broken bowl. A cracked or broken bowl cannot be satisfactorily repaired. It must be replaced. This is a job most do-it-yourselfers can do, as explained elsewhere in this booklet.

UNCLOGGING TOILET BOWLS The situation is this: Your toilet is clogged. The best approach is to use a plunger made for toilets. Toilet plungers differ from sink plungers in that they have an extended collar, which fits into a toilet bowl's outlet, sealing against pressure loss. The plunger needs standing water to work, so if there is little in the bowl, add water to cover the plunger. Then place the collar into the bowl, and push down forcefully several times. This should force the clog through the toilet's trap. If the water in the bowl is high, you should see it quickly drop, mimicking the end of a normal flush. If the water level is low, add water and watch for siphoning. Test your work by removing the tank lid and flushing the toilet. If the water swirls away, you're in luck. If the water starts to rise to the rim again, reach into the tank and close the flapper; then repeat the plunger sequence. If the trap is still clogged after three attempts, move on to a closet auger.

Augering the Toilet. Here are two useful facts: Closet augers only work on toilets, and other cables or augers seldom do. These very specialized tools are available at home centers and they're not expensive, often less than $25. If your toilets clog several times a year, it's a good idea to have closet auger on hand. In fact, because they don't cause splashing, and you don't need to empty the bowl, they're often less messy then a plunger.
A closet auger's cable is exactly the length of a toilet's outlet piping. The spring head stops at floor level, so these augers aren't meant for line clogs. But only a tiny percentage of toilet backups are caused by downstream problems, and those are more likely to back up into bathtubs. A toilet clog is almost always positioned at the very top of the trap weir, and that's within easy reach.
• Begin by pulling the cable out by the handle; then place its spring head into the toilet outlet and crank clockwise while pushing forward. You'll feel resistance at the top of the trap, but try to crank on

through it until you run out of cable; then retrieve the cable and start the process over (Fig. 1).
• Run the cable through at least three times, aiming the head left, right, and center. Repeat this process several times if needed. If this fails clear the trap, take up the toilet and approach the trap from underneath.
Blocked Drain Pipes. A completely clogged bowl will not respond to the suction cup treatment. Do not attempt to keep flushing the toilet to remove the blockage. Do not under any circumstances pour chemical drain cleaner into the bowl.
The problem that exists here is probably a blocked drain pipe below the trap of the toilet (Fig. 2). You have three options:
• Remove the toilet bowl, and auger the drain pipe.
• Find the clean-out port at the bottom of the vent stack to this drain; open the port; and auger the pipe.
• Our suggestion: Call the pro. The blockage could be in the pipe that runs from your home to the sewer or septic tank. The equipment necessary to clear this blockage is very costly to buy.

LEAKING TOILET BOWLS. A leaking bowl can be caused by one of several problems.

Go down this checklist for symptoms and repairs:
• Is the water on the floor caused by moisture condensation (sweating) of the flush tank or, sometimes, the toilet bowl?
If so, you can line the inside of the tank with insulation panels. You can buy kits of material to install in the tank. But it is less expensive to use sheets of foam rubber or foam plastic and glue them inside the tank. First, drain the tank (after shutting off the water); then mop the inside of the tank completely dry with a sponge. To attach the liner, use one of the rubber-based exterior construction adhesives that is compatible with the rigid plastic or foam rubber. These glues are sold in cartridges to fit caulking guns. Tank kits usually contain an adhesive for affixing the material to the side of the tank.
• Is the small water-supply pipe to the flush tank leaking either at the shutoff valve or at the bottom of the ballcock assembly on the bottom (outside) of the tank?
If so, try tightening this connection with an adjustable wrench. Be careful; don't apply too much turning pressure with the wrench. If this pipe has to be replaced, consider using a flexible braided water supply line and compression fittings rather than a rigid length of pipe. It doesn't have to be bent as does a solid pipe. Furthermore, once tightened the fittings are virtually leakproof.

• Is the flush tank leaking where it joins the top of the toilet bowl?
There is usually a rubber gasket at this junction. Sometimes pressure on the flush tank from leaning backward against it causes the hold-down bolts and this gasket to loosen and leak. Try tightening the bolts from within the tank. If the rubber washer is the trouble, you will have to remove the flush tank from the toilet bowl to replace it. This procedure is detailed later.
• Is the bowl leaking around its bottom rim, which sets on the floor?
First, try tightening the bolts that hold the bowl to the floor. You will probably have to remove the porcelain caps that cover the bolts (Fig. 6). Just pry them up and off with the tip of a screwdriver. You must be careful. Caps can be easily damaged. Then, using an adjustable wrench or screwdriver, turn down the bolts one or two complete turns. Give each bolt the same number of turns.
• Is the wax ring seal between the drain pipe and the toilet bowl leaking?
If the hold-down bolts are tight and the leak is still there, chances are the wax ring seal is worn and needs replacement.
In most cases, you don't need to remove the tank from the bowl. You do have to remove the tank and the bowl from the floor and then replace it again. You must be careful; we recommend that you enlist the aid of a helper.
• Turn off the water at the tank supply valve ov the main shutoff valve to the house. Flush the toilet so the tank is emptied. It will be necessary to hold open the ballcock to drain as much water as possible from the tank. There will be some water in the tank which will have to be cleaned out with a sponge. A sponge will also be required to mop any water in the toilet bowl. Remove as much as possible.
• Use a small adjustable wrench to back the nuts from the closet bolts at the base of the toilet. These bolts seldom spin in place, but if one does, grip the nut with pliers and saw through it with a hacksaw.

• Floor-mounted bowls use hold-down bolts and wall-mounted bowls use hanger or mounting bolts. With your helper, lift the toilet up off the hanger or hold-down bolts and place it on a stack of newspapers or an old blanket or a rug to protect the floor. Stuff a rag in the closet bend to stop sewer gases from entering the room. Remember that both the toilet bowl and tank are porcelain, a form of glass, and are fragile. The toilet can chip or crack if not handled gently. If you have any doubt about handling the unit, remove the tank first from the bowl and then the bowl itself. It makes a less bulky package with which to work.
• Turn the bowl so you can remove the old wax ring or plumber's putty. Then install a new wax ring. The ring is available at most home center stores;
one size fits all. Use the wax ring instead of plumber's putty.
• Position the toilet tank over the hanger or hold-down, or closet, bolts (new ones because you had to cut the old ones) and gently lower the bowl down on the bolts. This is critical: The toilet bowl must be set absolutely straight down on the bolts and wax ring. You have to get over the center of the bowl to control its downward angle.

Have your helper guide the bowl onto the bolts. If the wax ring is not crushed straight down, it will have to be replaced with a new one. But guiding the toilet onto the bolts usually avoids this problem.
• Press the bowl down on the hanger or hold-down bolts so the bowl is about level. Then replace the nuts on the bolts, and turn them gently but firmly, so the toilet bowl is pulled down flush with the floor.
Whether you have plastic or cast-iron drain lines, the toilet will be fastened with bolts that fit into slots in the closet flange at the top of the drain. The flange is fastened to the floor (wooden) with wood screws (Fig. 7).
The square-headed bolts fit in curved slots in the flange and thus are prevented from turning when you install or remove the nuts that hold down the bowl. The same wax ring is used for a toilet set on plastic pipe as for one on cast-iron or copper pipe. The hold-down nuts are turned gently but firmly to pull the bowl flush with the floor. However, do not turn the bolts too much because you can crack the porcelain of the bowl.
While you have the toilet bowl off the floor, check for water stains between the tank and toilet that would indicate a water leak. If there are such stains, unbolt the tank, and replace the gaskets between the tank and the toilet as explained above. It is much easier to do this while the toilet is inverted since the nuts that hold the tank to the toilet are under the back flange of the toilet.
Detached Tanks. If the toilet tank connects to the wall instead of to the bowl, it will fasten to the wall and be connected to the bowl by a curved section of pipe. To take the bowl off the floor, you must first disconnect the curved section of pipe between the tank and bowl.
If badly corroded, which usually is the case, cut it free with a hacksaw and plan to replace it. Have a pan or bucket handy to catch any water left in the pipe. Buy a new section of pipe to replace the one you cut; then carefully remove the pipe sections from the tank and bowl. If you are placing a toilet bowl and/or tank, simply discard the units and use a new curved section of pipe. You might also decide to install a new toilet with the tank fastened to the bowl. All gaskets and parts are usually provided with the new units.
If you decide to replace an old toilet with a new one, the mechanics for doing so are explained above. What you need to know at the store is the measurement from the wall out to the hold-down bolts or the center of the closet bend. Water-saving toilets are necessities.
Water-Saving Toilets. The National Energy Policy Act mandates that toilets now sold use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. You have a choice of two types: gravity-flush and pressure-assisted toilets. Mechanically, gravity-flush toilets are similar to older toilets that use from 3.5 to as many as 7 gallons of water per flush. The slimmer design of the tank and the steepness of the bowl create a more forceful flow of water. The advantages of gravity-flush toilets are that they cost less than pressure-assisted toilets, and are not difficult or expensive to repair. The disadvantage is that they sometimes require more than one flush to clear the bowl.
Pressure-assisted toilets are equipped with a cylinder that produces compressed air that exerts pressure on the water for a powerful flow. The advantage of pressure-assisted toilets is that seldom, if ever, is more than one flush needed. Disadvantages are that they cost 1 1/2, to 2 times more than gravity-flush toilets, are more expensive and difficult to repair, and are generally more noisy than gravity-flush toilets.
For most products, installation is the same as putting in a matching replacement toilet or resetting a toilet on a new wax ring. An exception might be an up-flush type toilet for use in a new basement space. Special piping is needed for this type of installation because the flush is under pressure instead of gravity.

Prices subject to change.
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