No matter what you call it – loo, throne, potty, or John – your toilet isn’t quite as indestructible as you may think. The National Association of Homebuilders says that “toilets have an unlimited lifespan,” but that’s only if the components inside the tank are properly maintained and leaks are attended to right away.
But if you let the maintenance slide, plan on spending about $200 for repairs, according to HomeAdvisor.com. Need to replace the whole thing? You’re looking at a bill of about $375, but it could be as high as nearly $900.
Add a “potty check” to you list of routine home maintenance chores – and then be nice to your toilet. It will save you money in the long run.
Check Your Toilet for Leaks
Replacing the wax ring is one of the most common toilet repairs, says Ted O’Brien of O’Brien Plumbing in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. “The wax ring is a gasket that seals the connection of the toilet bowl to the floor,” he explains. As the ring ages – the life span is typically five to 10 years – it deteriorates and allows water to seep from the toilet bowl.
The wax ring is inexpensive – about $3.50 – and the plumber will charge you to install it. But paying for that service is less than what you’ll pay if the leak goes unnoticed, rotting the subfloor beneath and around the toilet.
So, how can you tell when the ring is starting to go? One of the first signs of a leaking wax ring is a nasty odor. Smells can also come from clogged drains, so do some inspecting to find the true cause of the odor. During your maintenance check, inspect the caulking at the base of the toilet to make sure it is in good condition. Look for stains on the floor, and if the bathroom is upstairs, check the ceiling in the room below for signs of water damage. If the floor around the toilet feels “spongy,” you may have a leak.
Check the Tank’s Components
One of the most common complaint that plumbers hear is that the toilet won’t stop running. Truthfully, this is an easy problem to diagnose, say the experts at FamilyHandyman.com. “There are really only two main parts: the flush valve, which lets water gush into the bowl during the flush; and the fill valve, which lets water refill the tank after the flush,” the website says. “When a toilet runs constantly or intermittently, one of these valves is usually at fault.”
It’s easy to figure out which valve is the culprit, they say, offering a photo tutorial on the website. Water going into the overflow tube? Suspect a defective fill valve. Alternately, if “the water level is below the top of the tube, the flush valve is leaking, allowing water to trickle into the bowl … preventing the fill valve from closing completely.”
Plumber O’Brien recommends doing a quick visual inspection of the inside of your toilet tank every six months. Remove the lid, and flush the toilet. Watch each component, making sure that the flapper seals adequately and that the fill valve fills to the appropriate water level.
Don’t Use the Toilet as Trash Can
Plumbers can tell you stories about the things that have entered the pipes via the toilet, from kids’ toys to flushable kitty litter, which really isn’t flushable after all. You can avoid a visit from the plumber by throwing out things that shouldn’t be flushed, including:
- Flushable wipes
- Feminine hygiene products
- Paper towels
- Cigarette butts
Keep toddlers and small children out of the bathroom, too. They have a habit of throwing things into the potty just to see them disappear.
What can go down the toilet? Plumbers recommend that only human waste and toilet paper be flushed down the toilet. “If it doesn’t break down in water, it’s not going to break down in the toilet,” warns Eric Corbett, owner of Larry and Sons Plumbing in Hagerstown, MD.
Feed the Drainage System
Enzyme-based drain cleaners help dissolve soap scum, wads of hair, and other substances that can build up and cause clogging. You can find a selection of these products online and at large home improvement stores.
“Consumer Reports says biological drain cleaners are useful at keeping drains free of organic material as long as pipes aren’t clogged,” according to Karen Gardener of The Frederick News-Post.
No one wants to spend time maintaining the toilet, but ignoring it can lead to obscene repair or replacement bills. Do the maintenance now to spare yourself the headache later.
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