Running Toilet? Fix it!

One of the most common plumbing problems in Boston homes is a running toilet. Running toilets are not hard to fix, but may require a trip to the local home improvement or hardware store. Evidence suggests that flush toilets have been around since about the 26th century BC, but they didn’t much resemble the modern toilet. Strong evidence suggests that flush toilets were used in homes during the Roman Empire but were lost when the empire collapsed.

Flush toilets of one kind or another were also found in a few Colonial homes, but the modern toilet we recognize today came into vogue around the time of the Civil War and the first china toilet was made in 1885. Since that time, homeowners have had to deal with the aggravation of a running toilet!

If you’ve never watched a toilet in action, remove the top of the toilet tank and flush a few times. Chances are good that you’ll see a full or nearly full tank of water before the flush, and a “flapper” valve that opens when you depress the flush handle. The flapper valve is attached to the flush handle by way of a chain, cord or similar connector. The open flapper valve allows clean water from the tank to fill the bowl and drain the bowl’s contents into the waste pipes below the toilet. For the most part, it’s a gravity-based system.

When the water level in the tank drops below a certain level, an inlet valve is triggered and the tank begins to fill again. The weight of the accumulating fresh water is supposed to close the flapper valve at the bottom of the tank. The float – a large balloon-shaped device attached to a lever, rises with the water level in the tank. The water lifts the float lever to a certain point and shuts off the flow of water from the inlet valve when the level has reached a certain point.

So.. naturally there are a few things that can go wrong. The chain that attaches the flush handle to the flapper valve can become disconnected. If this happens, the toilet won’t flush at all and the flush handle will remain in the down position all the time. Simply reconnect the chain to the flush handle or the flapper valve and you’re good to go. If the ring that holds the chain on either end has broken, you’ll need to replace the broken piece with a new one. Easy peasy.

The float could be adjusted too high, meaning that the tank fills with more water than necessary. The extra water is shunted off through an overflow valve right into the drain and produces a running water sound. To repair this, adjust the float lever so that it shuts off the inlet valve sooner. The new fresh water level in the tank should fall below the top of the overflow valve.
The flapper valve at the base of the tank can also leak, allowing the water level in the tank to drop, which will eventually trigger the inlet valve and producing the “classic” running toilet. The flapper valve can have any number of designs (or design flaws) that can cause the valve to stick or misalign with the tank opening. Likewise, the flapper valve itself can deteriorate over time and become unable to form a good strong seal. If you can’t tell why the flapper valve isn’t closing properly after watching it in action a few times, the easiest repair is to replace the valve. Home improvement and hardware stores sell a toilet tank replacement kit. The kit parts are designed to replace the entire mechanical structure of your toilet tank and should repair all water flow issues associated with the operation of your toilet.

If you haven’t ever worked on a toilet, or would like expert assistance with repairing a running or leaking toilet, contact Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911.