Recently, I filled you guys in on a few ways to save water around the house. Many were quick and simple tips and repairs that anyone could make. However, an eagle-eyed reader noted a blinding omission on my part, a leaky toilet. Ironically, at the time I had a leaky toilet. How I forgot to add that to my list escapes me, but I’ve forgotten much more obvious things in my life (just ask my wife). Anyway, I finally got around to fixing that leaky toilet, much to happiness of my oft-reminding wife, and thought you would be interested in my tale of the throne.
While there are a couple of places that a toilet can leak from; like the flange or the hose connection, the most common place for a leak is the flapper valve. Luckily, of all the places that the toilet can leak from, this is the least disastrous. When the flapper valve fails or doesn’t seal properly, water slowly trickles into the toilet. If you have a septic tank, this slow and steady leak can still cause some problems (think Meet the Parents). But, it’s not as bad as water leaking out onto the floor, often unnoticed until your feet push through the floor during a bout with Uncle Ed’s Chili Con Carne. For some of us, a slow leak just means that you don’t actually have to attend to it until you’re reminded of the problem several (hundred) times by a loving family member.
In case you’re not sure what the flapper valve is, let’s cover some basic toilet anatomy. First, lift the lid off of the tank. When you look down into your tank there should be a couple of separate items you seen. First, is the ball cock (teheehee), which is where the water comes in. There is a valve in there that opens when the toilet flushes to fill the tank up and closes when the ball float, that giant ball on the other side of the tank, gets to the appropriate level. Some newer mechanisms use a float that looks more like a donut than a ball. You should also notice the flush valve or filler tube where the water from the ball cock flows into. Then at the bottom of the flush valve or filler tube you’ll see the flapper valve. It’s attached to the handle by a chain. It’s pretty aptly named since once you lift handle it just kind of flaps up until the water flows out of the tank into the bowl and then flaps down covering the hole.
There are a couple of ways to test if your flapper valve is leaking. First, you can just reach down into the tank and push the flapper valve down. After a couple of minutes (waiting for the water to settle), the water should stop leaking. Don’t get grossed out, the tank is clean fresh water coming down from the tap. You could also place some food dye drops or tablets into the tank, coloring the water that goes directly into the toilet. After a few hours, recheck the tank. If the water in the toilet is slightly blue it’s a good indication that the water is slowly leaking through the flapper valve.
If it is the flapper valve, you’re in luck, it is one of the easiest fixes on a toilet. Before you get started, all you have to do is look into the tank and make sure you get the right replacement flapper valve. There are several makes for different models, some include an actuator and some have a special attachment that goes on to the filler tube. Checking the toilet first (or even taking the old one with you if you can) will save you three or four trips to the local hardware store before you get the right one. For mine, it was just a simple flapper valve that has two holes that hook onto two ears on the filler tube. Mine also came with a new chain. The fix is three minutes and the cost is about $5 USD.
First, shut off the water to the tank and then flush the toilet. This will evacuate the water out of the tank. Make sure to hold the handle down to clear as much water out of the tank as you can.
Next, remove the old flapper valve. For mine it simply popped off. On other models it may be a little more involved. For example, in some American Standard models, the actuator comes with the flapper valve and the whole unit slides down the filler tube. Next, attach the new flapper valve just like you removed the old flapper valve (I know, rocket science). Then turn the water valve back on and let the tank fill up. Double check to make sure that there is no more leak and put the top back on and enjoy?! Don’t forget to point out your hard work to your significant other, if applicable. You’ll definitely score a few points, especially if they have been reminding you to fix the toilet for months/years.