Part II

Repairing problems with your toilet

You can fix many of the plumbing problems common to homeowners.

It’s still good to know where to draw the line and bring in professional help. That bothersome trait, experience, does count for a lot. However, with a little instruction, you can fix some of the things you might have thought required a professional’s attention.

Last week, Mike Frentz walked us through a house, discussing the most common plumbing problems in bathrooms and kitchens. Starting this week, we’ll take it a step at a time and walk you through repairing those day-to-day problems.

This week: Toilets.

The main issue here is running water.

Your job is to find out why the water won’t shut off. As Mike points out, running water isn’t just a nuisance. If you haven’t looked at it lately, check your water bill – the rates continue to escalate. A broken valve or flapper, both of which are easy to replace, could push that water bill even higher.

Tools you’ll need:
Food coloring – blue or green will be fine.

Screwdriver, preferably a 6-in-one so you don’t have to keep hunting for the right bit.

Channel lock pliers.

Disposable gloves, just like the ones in the doctor’s office. You can find them at Frentz and Sons in the paint supply section.

The water’s running. What’s broken?

“That’s the main question – do you need a new flapper or a new fill valve (some companies have changed the original name of this part -- a ball cock -- to fill valve).

“The fill valve refills the tank after you flush it. The flapper is the rubber disk that keeps the water in the tank until you flush it out,” Mike says. “Before you do anything, just take the top off the tank and look and see exactly what’s in there. Look at how the parts are mounted. Find the water shut-off.”

Here’s how, if the water’s running, you know what’s broken:

“Flush the toilet and let it refill. Wait, If the water is going over the overflow tube, you need to fix the fill valve. If the water stays below that line, but it’s still running, then the flapper is bad.

“You can check this by putting a little food coloring in the tank. Don’t flush it out, just wait a few minutes. Then look in the bowl. If the water in the bowl is the same color as the water in the tank, then the flapper isn’t sealing and you need a new one.”

Replacing the flapper – 15 minutes without unforeseen problems

Here’s why you bought those disposable gloves. That little rubber disk, the flapper, has been submerged for years, and it has deteriorated. It can be nasty to remove.

You’re going to remove the flapper, put it in a sandwich bag and bring it into Frentz and Sons. “There are many parts. We all have different fixtures in our houses and the parts for them are not necessarily interchangeable – not by a long shot. You need exactly the right one, so we need to match your flapper up with a new one,” Mike says.

a) Shut off the water.
b) Flush the toilet.
c) Put on your gloves and look at the flapper. You’ll see two small rubber arms connecting it to the overflow valve. Disconnect those arms from the valve.
d) Disconnect the chain, grab the flapper and drop it in the sandwich bag.

“Installing a new flapper is exactly the same procedure, in reverse,” Mike says. “If you’re doing this and you run into a problem, call us. We’ll walk you through it.”

Replacing the flush lever – 10 minutes
Take the top off the tank, grab the channel lock pliers and stop.

Mike says flush levers tend to break off easily, which could complicate things. In order to remove the lever correctly, you need to be let in on a little secret:

Usually, you tighten a screw or bolt by turning it to the right (clockwise), and loosen it by turning it to the left (counterclockwise). The reverse is true here. The flush lever nut is a left-handed thread. If it weren’t, you would loosen the handle every time you flushed the toilet.

So in order to remove the flush lever, you’re going to turn the nut to the right. Looking down and into the tank, just put the pliers on the nut and turn clockwise. When the nut is off, disconnect the lever from the chain and remove it.

Mike recommends replacing it with a metal level, if you can (again, the part you need may only be available in plastic). The metal levers are brass or stainless steel, which means they won’t rust. While plastic doesn’t rust either, is isn’t nearly as durable as steel.

Replacing fill valves – 15 minutes
Most people have one of the following two kinds of fill valves – the Mansfield 07-A, which is an older model with a brass top; or the 400 A Fluidmaster, which is newer and more common. Mike notes that unlike most parts, these are interchangeable. That means if you have the Mansfield, you can replace it with the Fluidmaster.

Mike prefers the Fluidmaster because it’s much quieter. He figures his customers prefer the Fluidmaster because it costs about one-fourth of what the Mansfield does.

If you’re going to fix rather than replace a Mansfield, then read this through first because you’ll need to have the parts on hand (15 minutes):

a) Shut off the water.
b) Grab that screwdriver and remove the four screws – they’re on each corner of the top of the brass plate.
c) “Basically you’ll find a plunger with a rubber washer underneath. What you want to do is replace that rubber diaphragm; that’s what wears out,” and that’s the part you’ll need on hand to finish the job, Mike says.
d) Take the old diaphragm off, put the new one on, replace the little plunger, put the brass cap back on and screw it back into place. “Now this is important – put an equal amount of tension, or torque, on each screw. You want them all equally tight, not one tighter than the other because if that happens, it won’t seal correctly. It’s the same principle as tightening the lug nuts when you change a tire.”

If you’re fixing a Fluidmaster (5 minutes):

a) Shut off the water.
b) Grab the top and turn it counterclockwise as you’re looking down at it. Mike notes it won’t turn in the other direction, so don’t try to force it.
c) Once the top is off, you’ll see a rubber washer about the size of a quarter. You’ll need to get a new one of these in advance so the part will be on hand. Either that, or take the old washer off and bring it into Frentz and Sons to match it up with a new one.
d) Pull the washer off, put the new one in, and replace the cap.
e) “You’ll know you did it correctly if there’s no hiss as the tank fills,” Mike says. “These are very quiet valves.”