How to Replace a Toilet
TOM: You might be shocked to learn that 10 percent of all homes have leaks that waste up to 90 gallons of water a day. And one of the most common is the leaking toilet. Here with tips to help stop those leaks for good is Richard Trethewey, the heating-and-plumbing contractor for TV’s This Old House.
RICHARD: Hey, guys.
TOM: So, Richard, toilet leaks are something that I think we tend to tolerate. They can go on for a long time. And sometimes, we don’t even know it’s happening until, perhaps, you see the water bill. Are they difficult to fix?
RICHARD: Well, it depends on what the leak is caused by. You know, a lot of times, there are leaks inside of a toilet that never show themselves. But they waste water in a crazy way; they just run and run and run.
And so, if you hear, in the middle of the night, water running and you just don’t know where it’s from, look inside the toilet tank. That requires lifting the lid on the back of the toilet tank and looking down. And most often, it is this flapper – the device that sits inside that tank – that when you hit the tank lever, it lifts. And that flapper doesn’t always seat.
Now, if it doesn’t seat, that means water doesn’t run on the floor but it runs down the drain and you’ll hear it, you’ll hear it, you’ll hear it. Now, sometimes, it runs so much that all that cold water coming into that toilet tank, particularly in the summer, makes that toilet tank sweat so much that the water then leaks from the outside of the tank down onto the floor, down under the toilet, down to the ceiling below. And you think you have a plumbing leak but it isn’t really the case; you’ve got an internal issue inside the toilet tank.
And that’s an easy fix. Replacing a flapper or the flush mechanism inside is pretty straightforward.
TOM: You mentioned condensation. And I saw you install a very interesting fix to a toilet that that happened to on one of your – I think it was one of your Ask episodes. And what you did is you installed a valve that actually spilled just a little bit of warm water into the toilet bowl to reduce toilet condensation.
RICHARD: Ingenious little device. In places of high, high humidity, you just blend a little bit of hot water into the toilet tank to just make sure that you don’t get above the dew point on the outside of the toilet tank.
And that worked perfectly. That homeowner was so thrilled and it was fun to show that story, actually.
LESLIE: You know, I think it’s interesting. We have a bowl in our house that just tends to – the chain disconnects from the flusher handle.
LESLIE: And so I’m constantly opening it up just to reconnect it. And recently, I heard porcelain jangling after my five-year-old was in the bathroom. And I guess he’s seen me do it so many times that he thought he could do it.
LESLIE: And I heard, “Clang, clang, clang. Help! I’m going to drop it!” I came running in and there’s Henry holding the porcelain lid to the tank. I’m like, “Don’t do that yourself.” But it’s true: they need work and it’s an easy project that you can tackle confidently, so much so that a five-year-old wants to attempt it.
RICHARD: Now, Leslie, I think you need to enable Henry to become a plumber in the future. Let him go with that now.
TOM: Yeah, he’s showing some skills – some early skill.
LESLIE: Can he be a Trethewey?
RICHARD: He doesn’t want to be a Trethewey. He wouldn’t want that but …
LESLIE: Do you need an apprentice?
TOM: Now, Richard, it seems – it sounds like when a toilet does leak, that virtually all the parts are replaceable. Is there ever a reason to replace the toilet or does that pretty much never wore out – never wear out and just the guts have to be updated?
RICHARD: Well, to your point, Tom, you can always completely rebuild a toilet tank. But if that tank originally was designed for 7 gallons per flush, that was the – in the oldest toilets, they were always 7 gallons per flush. Then we got it down to 3½ gallons per flush. And these were designed in.
Nowadays, you could rebuild some of these older toilets with modern guts inside to get it down to a lower level. But if you really want to get as low as 1.1 gallons of water per flush, you really should change the entire toilet. Because they have been engineered, when they were built, to be able to take that less water and still effectively flush.
So, you can try to play around with adding parts to an existing toilet. But the most comfortable way to make sure it’s completely water-saving is to put a new toilet in.
LESLIE: Do you think it’s a do-it-yourself project?
RICHARD: Well, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. I mean you’ve got to turn the water off, you’ve got to get the water out of the toilet, remove the bowl cover. Sometimes, they don’t come off; they’ve been rusted on. You’ve got to be careful not to chip the china on the toilet.
So, if you’re comfortable and handy, you can do it but it might be more than some homeowners want to do. People are still worried about water. They’re still worried about breaking china and stuff like that. So, if you’re brave and semi-stupid, do it.
LESLIE: I like it.
TOM: Great advice. Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House, with tips on how to rebuild or replace a toilet.
RICHARD: Great to be here.