Guide to Home Toilet Repair

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Toilets are easy to fix: All the working parts are right under the lid.

Toilet trouble on the home front?

Most of us would agree that sanitary facilities are best unseen and unheard. So, when your once-faithful toilet breaks down, it’s no wonder if you call in a professional.

Guide to Home Toilet Repair

Before you do, though, consider tackling your home toilet repair job yourself. After all, the residential toilet consists of just two main parts: the water tank and the bowl. Any mechanical problems you’ll meet will be in the tank, because that’s where the plumbing is. The bowl has no moving parts and succumbs only to stoppage or seal failure at the closet flange, where it’s bolted to the floor.

Begin by removing the tank lid and setting it in a safe place (it’s probably made of vitreous china and may crack if dropped). If sluggishness or clogging isn’t a problem, flush the commode and watch what happens. Ideally, the stopper or flap ball will lift, releasing flush water to the bowl; simultaneously, as the water level in the tank drops, the float will drop, opening the ballcock valve to let fresh household water flow into the now-empty tank through a filler tube. At the same time, a refilltube refills the bowl’s reservoir through an overflow pipe.

Once you’ve released the flush handle, the stopper ball falls back into its seat . . . and the water level in the tank rises, raising the float and closing the ballcock valve. Should the ballcock malfunction, the overflow pipe will drain excess water into the bowl and eventually out the plumbing waste pipe.

Now for the problems. If water keeps running after a flush, either the ballcock valve is damaged, the float is set too high (or has a leak), the float mechanism is hanging up on another part, or the stopper ball isn’t seated properly. You can determine what’s wrong without draining the tank simply by examining the float arm or the stopper rod or chain. Adjust or bend the arm so the maximum water level is about one inch below the top of the overflow pipe and so the float can rise and fall freely. If possible, remove the float and shake it; if there’s water inside, replace the float.

Lift the stopper rod and watch the rubber ball: It should bob open for a few moments, then drop back into place when the tank is nearly empty. If it doesn’t, its guide or hinge may be corroded, or it may not be centered over its seat . . . the stopper rod may be hooked in the wrong lever hole . . . or the flap may be interfering with the float mechanism. If the ball falls into place but allows water past it, it has decomposed or the seat is corroded. You can sand a metal seat with emory cloth, but it’s better to replace the entire assembly. If the ball lifts and falls immediately, it has lost its buoyancy. Replace it or the toilet won’t flush.

Generally, if the ballcock valve is damaged, replace it. Sometimes, though, the problem is simply a worn washer. Shut the water supply off at the valve where it enters the tank and flush the toilet. Remove the lever assembly and the valve plunger, and check the washer and seat. If the seat is rough, sponge the remaining water from the tank and unscrew — then replace — the ballcock valve assembly. Some models have a diaphragm valve, so if you’re in doubt, bring the old components with you when buying parts. You might also consider replacing older assemblies with modern kits, such as those made by Fluidmaster Inc., Anaheim, CA.

It’s possible, then, by observing the symptoms, to isolate the problems and choose those you have the competence — or desire — to deal with home toilet repair. In home maintenance, that’s usually half the battle.