Leaking Toilets 2 (or "Grouchy Homeowner, Hidden Water Damage")

In my last post, I tackled the subject of leaking toilets. No one, including plumbers, likes a leaking toilet. The “good” leaks are ones that involve the tank. Making adjustments or replacing simple hardware can often repair them. Best of all, you’re dealing with clean water.

Now for the messy leaks:
A leak can also occur if the tank cracks or if the connection between the tank and the stool is broken, cracked or not sealed properly. On a two-piece toilet, you can replace just the cracked tank, however many people choose to replace the entire toilet. If the bowl is cracked, you’ll need to replace it, even if it isn’t apparently leaking. A cracked toilet stool is unsanitary, unsafe to sit on, and poses a health hazard. New toilets range in price from about $100 to thousands of dollars, so choose a toilet that fits both your budget and your bathroom.

If the toilet isn’t cracked, but seeps water from underneath it when you flush, the wax ring on your toilet may be deteriorated, broken or dislodged. The wax ring may also need to be replaced if your toilet constantly emits a sewerish, foul odor. Wax rings are inexpensive and can be found at hardware and home improvement stores. The wax ring, which may include a neoprene “funnel”, seals the toilet fixture to the soil pipe. It’s an integral part of most residential toilet designs. You can’t get by without one, and you can’t reuse an existing ring.

To replace the wax ring, you’ll need to shut off the water and flush the toilet to drain it. You may need to use a plunger to get the rest of the water out of the bowl. Disconnect the supply lines from the toilet. Unbolt the toilet from the floor. If the flange bolts (sometimes called “Johnny bolts”) are rusted, that may be a telltale sign of hidden water damage. If you can’t get the toilet unbolted due to rust, you may need to use a hacksaw to cut the bolts apart. Lift the stool off the pipe. You can “cap” the soil pipe with a rag or overturned bucket while you have the toilet fixture removed.

Remove the old wax/neoprene ring on the bottom with a putty knife or something similar. You’ll need to remove all of the old wax to ensure a good seal. Likewise, remove any old wax from the soil pipe.

Examine the floor around the toilet. Use the tip of a screwdriver or your putty knife to check for softened wood. If the leak has caused a lot of water damage, or has been active for a long period of time, you’ll need to repair the floor before you re-install the toilet. Depending upon the extent of the damage, you may need to replace the surface flooring, the underlayment or even the subfloor! Check the integrity of the floor joists around the damaged area to determine whether they’re still sound. Complete any floor repairs before trying to reset the toilet. Be sure to extend your flooring right up to the soil pipe.
In my next post, I’ll discuss replacing the wax ring and repositioning the toilet on the soil pipe.