Confronting toilet tank woes

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Sep. 5, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Ideas for writing this column come to me in spurts. Sometimes I choose from a “working list.” At other times an idea comes to me just in time. And sometimes I get signs from above that, taken together, tell me what to write about. This is one of those times.

My son called recently to ask me how to diagnose and fix his lavatory toilet. He had the right ideas. I just pointed him toward solutions. Last week I helped my daughter move into her new home, and found the bathroom floor all wet. The humid August air was condensing on the unit, causing the toilet to sweat so profusely that it dampened the bathroom floor.

Added to those two signs was an old magazine article that caught my eye just a couple of days ago, explaining how to fix a running toilet. Obviously, this is what I am ordained to write about this week.

It might not sound like much, but the consistent flow from a leaking toilet is relentless, and with the water waste goes your money. My daughter said the noise didn't bother her, but I bet that in a couple of weeks she would decide that the wet floor has become an annoyance.

There are only a few working parts inside a toilet, and a very limited list of potential problems. Anyone with basic DIY skills can handle these repairs. There is a valve that opens and closes to let water in and shut it off. When you pull the flushing handle, a stopper (flapper) is pulled from the waste water hole, which lets it rush into the bowl. And there is a float mechanism attached to the water intake apparatus that rises with the incoming water level, and closes the valve to finish the cycle.

Somehow the water level can get set too high. The toilet will flush, but water never stops flowing. There might be an adjustment screw you can use to fix it. If not, bending the float arm down should work. If you do not have an oval ball, you will have a tower unit on which the float slides up and down. You will find an adjustment there.

If you hear a trickle of water, after the tank fills, it means the tank is emptying into the bowl. Eventually the float-activated switch will allow more water into the tank. Check the flapper that closes the drain hole in the tank. Reach in and move it around, or hold down the edge. If the trickle sound stops, the flapper is not operating properly.

Sometimes the chain on which the flapper is suspended has a kink, or the chain is too short. The chain has to have enough length to allow the opening to completely close. If it has too much slack, it can sometimes kink. Conversely, without enough slack the flapper will be held up enough for water to trickle into the drain. If there is no kink and there appears to be enough slack, the flapper itself might just be at end-of-life. It is made of soft rubber, and is hinged on the base of the overflow stack. Take it to the store, and purchase (for $8-$12) one exactly like it. Attach the replacement where you removed the old one.

If your unit has neither one of these problems, suspect the fill valve itself has gone bad. Don’t bother trying to fix it. I always just replace the unit. It’s cheap enough ($12-$20) to install a new one.

Replacement is easy. Shut off the water supply first, and then flush the toilet.  You can sponge the remaining water off the tank, or set a large bowl under the connection to the water supply. Use adjustable pliers to remove the retaining nut. From there, just read the installation instructions to install the new unit. Those should include adjustments necessary for correct operation in your tank.

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