Annoying toilet problems are easily fixed

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jun. 21, 2012
- Contributed Photo

There are many things in our lives that we simply take for granted, and when they suddenly don’t work properly, the disruption can be annoying. The toilet is one of those indispensable conveniences. When it fails, we're sometimes helpless. Sometimes it's not a full-blown disaster, but rather a relentless annoyance. But for most of these failures, the chore of repairing the problem is easy to do, and it requires little expertise.

First, locate the shutoff valve on the floor or the wall beneath the toilet. You will find it at the end of a slender, flexible tube running from the bottom of the tank. If you have to replace some internal parts, you will need to close the valve tight. Opening and closing this valve just might be difficult, and it may leak slightly after you exercise it. That, too, is not difficult to repair.

Removing the top of the tank may seem very simple, but heed these words of caution. Find a flat place to lay it, far out of the way of traffic. Wrapping it in a towel isn't a bad idea either. If, during your repairs, you drop it or step on it, and break it, it may be the most challenging replacement part to find.

There will be water! Get a bucket, and collect a stack of towels and sponges.

Perhaps the easiest problem to fix is a loose handle. The toilet may not operate properly because of it. Inside the tank, you will see a retaining nut that holds the handle in place. It might be backing off. Tightening it is simple. Just remember that the reminder "righty tighty, lefty loosey" does not apply here. If that's your intuition, be advised this nut turns in the opposite direction! This should fix the handle, and may also remedy other symptoms.

The parts of these indispensable units have not changed significantly in decades (maybe longer). The one I look into today looks the same as the first one I peered into and fixed a long, long time ago. So fear not. There are only two basic configurations inside the tank, and they both function in the same way.

Originally, the parts inside a toilet tank were made of brass and copper. Naturally they were subject to corrosion. Plastic has taken the place of most of the internal components. These original configurations had a valve on the top of an inflow stack. This valve was controlled by a float on a long metal arm. These are still in use today. But along with the switch from metal to plastic parts, the float-arm apparatus was replaced by a floating cup that rides up and down along the stack.

Let's say you flush the toilet, and you hear water running long after the tank refills. Chances are the inlet valve is not functioning properly. It could be the washer at the top of the valve needs replacement. But before you tackle that task, be certain the water level is set correctly when the tank is "full." Your tank may actually have a line at the back that says "Fill Line." When the tank is full, water should not be overflowing into the tube. The correct level is about 1 inch below the top of the overflow tube. The float controls that water level, and it may need adjustment. Yours may be the floating cup style or the ball-like device on a long metal arm. If the water level is set too high, bend the arm on the float down, or adjust the spring clip down on the cup style. Flush the toilet, and observe the level of the water on the tube.

If the tank refills with water, and shuts off, but later you hear water running again, the float valve at the very bottom of the tank is not seating. If you watch the flushing mechanism operate, you will see the float valve be pulled up during the flushing motion, and ride down and close again when the tank is very nearly empty. If this does not close tight, water will silently dribble into the bowl. Once the water level in the tank falls, the float does too, causing the inflow valve to open. That's when you hear water running again.

To fix this condition, raise the float valve and clean the opening - the seat - where the float rests when closed. If that does not cure the problem, replace the float valve. They are inexpensive, and easy to remove and replace. Take your old one to the store to be certain the replacement part is identical.

This doesn't make you an expert plumber, but you can feel good about saving the money it would cost to have a plumber do the job.

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