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Running Toilet Repair, Simplified

by Gabby Hyman
Repair-Home Columnist

Even though there are an estimated 2.6 billion people in the world who have no toilets, you're only concerned about the commode you have that runs constantly. It quiets for a little while, then starts up again, just when you're trying to get to sleep. It's an ugly form of water torture when you're tossing and turning at night.

Leaky toilets can pump up to five gallons of clean water out the drain every minute, potentially increasing your water bill by more than $1,000 a year. When you consider that, it's far cheaper to fix toilets than to let them run.

Fluidmaster, a company that makes toilet replacement parts and fittings, attributes most toilet leaks to aging parts (more than five years old), overexposure to bleach cleaners in the tank (that degrade rubber fittings), warping or leaky valves, and rust. Depending on the cause, repairing a leaky toilet can be a simple home improvement project that you can handle yourself.

In most cases, the toilet is either leaking from the tank refill valve, or the flush valve down below. You'll need to check both, unless the cause is readily apparent. An easy way to determine if the tank valve is leaking is to drain the tank, put food coloring in the tank as it refills, and wait a half hour to see if the color turns up in the bowl. If it does, the valve isn't sealed tightly.

To check the flush valve, turn the water supply off by hand below the toilet and mark the current water level in the bowl using a water-soluble marker. If the water level drops below the mark in a half hour or so, the flush valve is the culprit.

Repairing Toilet Fill Valves

Check the ball or, if you have a modern system, the flapper. If you have a conventional ballcock refill valve, you can adjust the play by bending the metal arm that holds the float in place. You may have to make several adjustments to ensure that the ball seats properly and has sufficient clearance to allow the tank to fill.

The arm, ball, and entire valve mechanism can be replaced with parts at your local home improvement store. If you need to replace the flapper, it lifts right up over the overflow pipe once you disconnect it from the arm. Piece of cake.

If the problem is not with the refill system but the flush valve, it's a much more difficult project. In many cases, you'll need to remove the tank entirely. If that's the case, it's probably a great idea to call a plumbing contractor.


About the Author
Gabby Hyman has created online strategies and written content for Fortune 500 companies including eToys, GoTo.com, Siebel Systems, Microsoft Encarta, Avaya, and Nissan UK.