As a property owner, it’s important that you are familiar with common home maintenance issues that you will encounter.
If you know how to do the repairs yourself, then you can avoid the expense of a professional. On the other hand, there are many times that paying for a professional is well worth it - either to allow you to spend your time on more important things OR to avoid doing something wrong that might cause more problems.
Even if you do prefer to hire someone to do your repairs, it’s a good idea to know what’s involved so that when you see the bill you can quickly assess if it is within the realm of what should be charged.
Personally, if I think that I can do it, I like try a repair myself so I can gain that first hand experience. Then the next time I can choose to hire someone else because I can, not because I have to.
Last week I wrote about diagnosing a running toilet. This week I’m going to explain in detail how to replace the parts that go bad so that this issue can be corrected.
Before you go to the store to buy replacement parts, you’ll want to take a look inside your toilet tank. There are some variations of the internal parts, so it’s a good idea to take pictures from a few different angles. That way when you’re at the store you can compare and avoid extra trips back to the store.
You could even take the old parts to the store and match them up that way. However, the downside to that option is that you would need to have the water off for a longer period of time. If this is your only bathroom and there are other people in the home that might need to use it, then you’ll want to limit the time that you have the water off.
Your ability to turn off the water is one other thing that you should test before going to the store. Water shut-off valves are not used very often, so they have a tendency to stick in the on position. You should have a local shut-off valve at the toilet. If that one is not functioning (as was the case for me when I did this project), then you’ll need to use the shut-off valve at the water meter. Doing this will turn the water off for your entire house and then it is even more important to expedite this repair.
So in my situation, I needed the following replacement parts:
Water Supply Line
Finally, before you go to the store, you should do a quick inventory of your tools to make sure you have what you need to get the job done. For this job you’ll need a
1) A small bucket – or old tuppaware
2) A basic crescent wrench
3) A hand pump siphon
4) A channel-lock pliers
Once you are back at the property with your supplies and tools, follow these steps
Changing The Shut-Off Valve
• Take the lid off of the toilet tank.
• Turn off the water supply. Usually you can shut off the water just to the toilet, but in my situation I had to shut the water off for the whole house.
• After the water is off, you’ll want to flush the toilet. You will need to hold the flush handle down and wait for the water to drain all way to the bottom. Even after this has been done, there is usually a little more water left at the bottom. I find it helpful to use a hand pump siphon in order to get the rest of the water that doesn’t flush out. If you don’t have a siphon, you can still proceed. You should just be aware that once you remove the fill valve, that water will leak onto the floor. Be prepared with your small bucket to catch that water.
• After you’ve removed the water from the tank, then you can switch out the water shut-off valve. You’ll want to use two tools – a channel lock pliers and an adjustable crescent wrench. There are two nuts to loosen – one on either end. When you are loosening each nut, you want to apply pressure on the pipe in the opposing direction that you are turning the nut. That way you can prevent bending the pipe. In my situation, the supply line that goes from the shut-off valve to the fill valve was a hard pipe (instead of a flexible pipe). This made it difficult to move until I also loosened the nut at the top of the pipe.
• Once the old shut-off valve is removed, you can install the new one. When tightening the nut – again use both tools so that you don’t bend the pipe. Once this part of the job is done, you can turn the main-water for the house back on. I recommend doing this with two people – one at the water shut-off valve in the basement and one in the bathroom. Be ready to talk to eachother via your cell phone – or in my case, the kids walky-talkies. That way if the shut-off valve in the bathroom doesn’t have a tight seal, you can quickly shut-off the water in the basement to prevent a large water leak.
Changing The Fill Valve
• Moving on to the fill-valve, this is held in with a plastic nut at the bottom, outside of the toilet tank. You’ll initially loosen this with your channel-lock pliers and then you should be able to turn it with your hands. Once the nut is off, the fill valve should slide right out. There will be a rubber tube at the top that connects it to the overflow tube. This should be able to be removed easily. Now that the shut-off valve is off, you can discard it.
• Installing the new fill-valve should be pretty easy. There is a rubber gasket that slides on the bottom before you place it into the tank.
• Once the fill valve is in place, then screw on the new plastic nut. This only needs to be hand tight. If you use a pliers, you run the risk of breaking the plastic.
• Next, install the small rubber tube from the top of the fill valve to the overflow tube.
• Then you can connect the supply line to the shut-off valve and to the fill valve. On the fill-valve side, you’ll be tightening a plastic nut – again to hand tight. On the shut-off valve side, you’ll be tightening a metal nut and this should be done with your two tools – again to prevent bending the pipe.
Changing The Toilet Flapper
• The next part of this job is changing the toilet flapper. Many times when you are fixing a running toilet, this is the only part of the job that needs to be done. In my situation, this part wasn’t actually bad, but since I know these go bad easily and I already had the tank drained, I decided to change it at this time.
• The flapper is held on loosely with two ends that just snap into place. There is also a chain that is connected to the top of the flapper and goes up to the bar at the end of the flush handle. Remove the old chain and flapper and replace it with the new one. When connecting the chain, make sure that there is not too much slack. If there is then there is a chance that the chain can get stuck underneath the flapper and prevent it from creating the necessary seal.
Once all the parts have been replaced, double check that the connections are tight and then turn on the water. It’s a good idea to do a test flush as well. Finally watch the connections for a few minutes to make sure that you don’t have any water leaking onto the floor.
This whole process should take approximately 1-2 hours. If you are paying someone by the hour, the time it takes for them to complete the project should be somewhere close to this:
30 Minutes - Travel to your home and diagnose the problem
45 Minutes – Travel to and from the hardware store to pick up supplies
45 Minutes – Replace the defective parts and clean up workspace
120 minutes – Total job time.
Whether you enjoy doing these type of repairs yourself or not, as a homeowner it is important to be familiar with what is involved so you can quickly resolve the problem and not overpay if you decide to hire someone else to do it.