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Can Over Tightening Toilet Tank Bolts Cause a Leak?


toilet tank boltI get asked this toilet question frequently, and I suspect that those people asking it have already found out the answer. Toilets are made of vitreous china and if the tank bolts are over tightened, the china will crack and can cause a leak.

The leak will come directly from the toilet tank and can be anything from a slow drip to a good flow of water. The big question is how do I know when to stop tightening the bolts?

That is the million dollar question. I think the right answer is probably “experience”, but if you don’t have a lot of experience go slowly. I use the smallest wrench I can find and choke way down on it. That way I am not tempted to continue tightening. When I say “choke down” I mean to place my hand right next to the jaws of the wrench to eliminate any leverage with the wrench. Tighten each bolt equally a little at a time. Then things start to get firm, it is time to be very aware. Get the bolts snug but not tight. Some tanks have built in lugs that will contact the bowl. If yours has these, stop when they contact the bowl.

You can fill the tank and look for leaks at the bolts. If you have a leak at a bolt, you either need to tighten the bolts a little more, or you have already cracked the tank. You are done when the tank doesn’t leak and is firm to the touch.


Why Does My Toilet Leak Rusty Water from the Base?


toilet reinforcement ringA toilet that leaks is bad enough…one that leaks rusty water is worse. If the toilet is leaking between the bowl and the floor, then we it sounds like the wax ring is bad and needs to be replaced. The fact that the water is rusty suggests that the flange that mates with the wax ring is rusted. I would guess that when the flange rusted, it probably broke and the toilet became loose at that point and moved, which broke the wax ring seal and caused the waste to show itself under the base of the toilet.

That's a long winded way of saying the flange needs to be repaired and then a new wax ring installed. It's a lot easier to repair a flange than replace it. Try using a reinforcement ring. These are beefy metal rings that sit right on top of the broken flange. The holes of the reinforcement ring align with the holes of the flange and so the toilet bolts will sit in exactly the same place. You can secure the ring to the subfloor with screws, or if you are on a concrete slab, you can use tapcon screws.

Once the new ring is secured, install a new wax ring and secure the toilet.


Removing a Toilet from The Floor


toilet on floorRemoving a toilet from the floor for the first time can be intimidating. After all, its big and heavy and you certainly don’t want to touch the business end of it. Here’s a couple of tips.

It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves. Don’t wear nice dishwashing gloves, just buy the cheapies at the home center. Turn off the water to the toilet and flush the tank, holding down the lever until the water drains out. You can disconnect the water supply line where it connects to the fill valve at the tank.

The last thing to do is to remove the nuts that hold the bowl to the floor, but before you do that, try to get rid of as much water in the bowl as possible. You can do this by plunging the bowl.

With the nuts removed from the floor bolts, you can lift the toilet. Use a large garbage bag (like a leaf bag) and open it up on the floor. This is where you will place the toilet. Rock the toilet from side-to-side to break the seal and then lift it from the floor. Be careful here…toilets are heavy and awkward, so you have to straddle the seat and just lift it enough to clear the floor. You can also remove the tank to make it lighter, but then the toilet becomes unbalanced. Any water that you didn’t get out of the bowl will be sloshing around with each step, so have the bag close. Set the toilet gently in the bag so that you don’t cut the bag and spill the water left in the bowl.


Can I install a Toilet with 2 wax rings?


toilet wax ringsYou can certainly install a toilet with multiple wax rings, in fact sometimes it is necessary to make sure you don’t have a leak.

The most common case is when a homeowner will install a tile floor (or really any thick floor). This effectively raises the height of the floor and increases the distance from the toilet flange to the base of the toilet. If you use a regular sized wax ring to fill in this space, it may not be large enough and as the waste is flushed, some of it may end up on your floor.

You can buy an extra-thick wax ring, or you can just buy two rings and stack one on top of the other. I would buy the type that has the rubber insert in it as it directs the waste down the hole.

Once you stack the wax rings, line up the bolt holes and push the toilet down towards the floor. The most important part is that you should feel resistance as the wax rings fill the void between the underside of the bowl to the top of the toilet flange in the floor. If you don’t feel this, it may mean that there is still a gap, which could lead to a leak.

Once you feel the resistance, put your full weight on the toilet until it comes to rest on the floor. Then you can tighten the nuts on the bolts.


Toilet Water Hammer Fix


toilet water hammerWater hammer at a toilet is common. Water hammer is caused by a sudden shutting off of the water. This causes a shock wave and can lead to loud noises as the shock wave rumbles around until its energy has dissipated. The shock wave is most commonly caused by an electric valve, such as a washing machine or dishwasher, but someone slamming their hand on a faucet handle can cause it too.

With a toilet, the refilling and shutting off of the water can lead to noises, but not necessarily water hammer. In a lot of cases, people who think they have water hammer, only have a toilet fill valve that is going bad. It can vibrate as water passes and then make a loud “thud” as the water is shut off. Another common source of noise can be the angle valve. As water passes through it, you can get some vibration that sounds like a whine. You can certainly replace this and the noise should stop.

If you have true water hammer, you can install a water hammer arrestor near the offending fixture. They attach to the water supply. For a toilet, you would only have one arrestor, but for a washing machine you would have both hot and cold supply locations.

Toilet Bolts Rusted and I Can’t Remove Them


toilet hacksaw resized 600So your toilet is leaking between the tank and the bowl and you have tried to turn the bolts but they are rusted shut. What do you do?

The answer is simple: cut them in half.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the struggle to wrestle with the bolts and corroded nuts. Cutting them off is fast and relatively easy, but it really depends on how the toilet tank and bowl come together and what your access is to the bolts.

Some toilets have a small gap that you can slide a hacksaw blade into, but others you will only be able to access from underneath. In some cases you will only have access to the nuts as they will be snug against the underside of the bowl. If you don’t have good access to cut the bolt, you can always cut through the nut (or use a nut splitter tool).

A regular hack saw is usually too big to get into the small space. For these tight spaces you can use a close quarter hacksaw. This is basically just a handle that holds the blade from one side leaving half the blade exposed with no support to get in the way. Using this, you can slide the blade into very small spaces.


Sealing a Toilet Base to the Floor


toilet ringI got a call the other day from a homeowner asking how to seal a toilet base to the floor. I think people believe that if the perimeter of the toilet isn’t sealed to the floor with something, then it will leak from under the base. That’s not true.

What seals the toilet base is the wax ring. The wax ring is soft enough to compress into any nook and cranny between the bottom of the bowl and the drain flange, yet firm enough to hold once it has been compressed. If the toilet leaks, it is likely that the bowl has moved and broken the bond.

I think a lot of “sealing” the bowl to the floor comes from appearance. People think if there is a gap then waste can leak out…and it can if there is a breach in the wax ring. If there is a breach in the wax ring, either the bolts weren’t tight enough, or one or both of them have corroded and broken, allowing the bowl to move.

If you are planning on filling this gap between the bowl and floor, most people simply caulk the gap. You can also use plaster of paris for this.


Loose Toilet Tank


toilet tank boltsFlushing the toilet shouldn’t cause the tank to move. If it does, you need to check the bolts that hold the tank to the bowl. Tightening tank bolts is an easy job…unless you overtighten them.

It may also be that one of the bolts has corroded and broken off. If that has happened, consider yourself lucky that you don’t have water all over your floor.

You want to tighten the bolts just enough, but not so tight that they crack the tank. If you look into the tank and see globs of rust and corrosion, I would replace them anyway.

Hold a standard screwdriver in the slot and use a small wrench to turn the nut below. The idea of a small wrench is because you will not be able to apply a lot of torque on it and it will cause you to consider whether or not you should continue to turn it. Believe me, the last thing you want is to end up replacing the entire tank because you overtightened the bolts and cracked the tank.

You will be able to snug the tank down enough so that it doesn’t leak and won’t move (unless you really push or pull on it). If it moves easily, tighten it up a little more. If the toilet tank doesn’t move, then its tight enough.


Why is My Toilet Bowl Empty?


toilet dryIt is strange to look into a toilet bowl and find it totally dry. Where did the water go? A couple of possibilities come to mind. Imagine when you go to bed the toilet bowl looks normal with water in the bottom of it. You wake up to use the bathroom and now it is dry.

One possibility is that you may have a crack in the bottom of the bowl. These are very hard to see. The way the toilet trap is laid out is that it runs under the bowl. So if the bowl is cracked, the water would drip into the trap and you would never have any evidence of a leak on the floor around the toilet. Some people would say that if this was the case, the toilet would be running. That’s not true as there is no water demand from the tank until the toilet is flushed.

Another possibility is that you have a clogged vent. The vent runs to the exterior out of the roof. In order for the drain to work correctly there must be an air supply, and the vent provides this. It is simply a pipe that is connected to the plumbing system that rises up to the roof, or connects laterally to a pipe that runs to the roof. If this is blocked, a flushing action will suck water out of the trap (sink traps too) to satisfy the demand for air.

You can use a flashlight and look down the vent from the roof and look for a bird’s nest, or rodents, etc.  If you have another toilet on the opposite side of the wall, have someone flush it while watching the water level of the first toilet. Look for the water to move when the first toilet is flushed. If it does, you probably need to clear the vent.

Food Coloring in Your Toilet


toilet food coloringSure, adding food coloring into your toilet tank will help you determine that you have a leak. But didn’t you already know that anyway? I mean, when the toilet suddenly refills (starts running) you probably figured out that water was leaking out of the tank and into the bowl.

Here’s how it’s done…flush the toilet and as the tank refills, add a few drops of food coloring into the tank. The refilling action will help distribute the color throughout the tank. Now, DON’T FLUSH THE TOILET! If you start seeing the food coloring in the bowl, then water is somehow getting from the tank into the bowl when it shouldn’t be. The only time it should is when you are flushing the toilet, but since you haven’t flushed the toilet, all of the color should remain in the tank. I suspect if you are adding food coloring into the tank, then the toilet is refilling when it shouldn’t be.  The ideal time to do this is right before you go to bed. If you don’t have food coloring, you can also turn the water off to the toilet and then check the level in the tank the next morning to see if it has dropped since the previous night.

This all means that water is getting past the flapper or flush valve and leaking into the toilet bowl. It could also mean that you have a crack in the tank, but generally instead of leaking into the bowl, the water will leak onto the floor. The fix here is to replace the flapper, the flush valve, or the tank, in that order.

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