Dear James: We have three toilets in our house, and each one seems to have a different problem. It costs a fortune to hire a plumber, so I want to try to fix them myself. What are the most common toilet problems? — Tracy L.
Dear Tracy: Experienced plumbers are highly skilled and generally worth the high fees they charge, but many toilet problems can be repaired by the typical homeowner. Most toilet repair parts and kits include detailed instructions. You will just need some tools and some free time.
It helps to understand how a toilet works before you attempt to diagnose problems. Toilets flush by a suction created when the water from the tank runs down inside the base of the toilet. Only a small portion of the water used actually goes into the bowl. This water is used to wash down the sides of the bowl and fill it for the next flush.
When someone pushes the flush handle, a flush jet at the bottom of the bowl fills the water passage so the suction is connected to the bowl. Simultaneously, water comes out of the many holes under the rim and flows down the sides of the bowl.
The most common problem is a toilet that does not flush well and sometimes requires double flushing. This wastes water and time. This can be caused by a partial clog in the drain line. Run a hand auger down through the drain in the bottom of the bowl to clear any clogs. It may be difficult to get it started, but you will eventually get it in there.
If this does not solve the problem, the flush jet may be clogged. If this happens, the toilet will seem to flush properly. Because the suction force is not getting connected to the bowl, the wastes will not be sucked out.
The flush jet on most toilets — but not all of them — can be seen at the bottom of the bowl. Inspect it carefully. You may find it is closed or nearly closed from hard water deposits. These can be scraped away so the jet is open.
Pour some white vinegar in the empty bowl and let it stand until any remaining hard water deposits are dissolved. Also pour some white vinegar down the overflow tube inside the tank. This will dissolve any deposits that are up in the passages inside the toilet.
Another common problem is a noisy toilet that whistles just before the tank is totally full. This happens most often on old toilets with an old ballcock valve design. As the valve is just beginning to shut off the water, it will whistle through the valve. Replace the valve with a newer design that quickly goes from full flow to totally off when the tank is full.
Self-flushing can be annoying at night and also wastes water. The most common cause of this is a leaky flapper valve in the bottom of the toilet tank. Water slowly leaks out down the back of the toilet.
Once the tank level drops enough, the ballcock valve opens to fill the tank again. Although it does not actually flush, it sounds as if it has. Install a new flapper valve to stop the leak. They are made of a rubber material and just slide off the overflow tube.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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