Friday, May 8, 2009

The long-running toilet

Ever since I moved into my new apartment, the upstairs toilet has had a habit of running. I'm tired of reminding visitors to "jiggle the handle," so today I got off my duff and did something about it. After dropping my son off at school, I rode his scooter over to the hardware store (needed a new nut for the wheel and... well... it was fun, too).

The problem with my toilet is a common one. The old plastic handle is cracked and that somehow causes it to jam in a depressed position. That is, it keeps the flap open.

Before getting into the step-by-step instructions, let's think about why we're bothering to fix the handle. It's quite simple: A running toilet wastes water. If a toilet flushes with 6 litres and takes 30 seconds to fill up (which is probably slower than in reality), then that's 12 litres per minute. Don't notice for five minutes and you've wasted 60 litres. Don't notice while you nip out to the shops for half an hour and you've just flushed away 360 litres!

Water systems are one of the biggest energy costs for most municipalities. A leak of this size will result in a higher water bill (if you pay bills directly), likely higher rent (if water is included in your rent), higher taxes (again, likely translates into higher rent) and possibly less money for the city to spend on more important things like social housing or public swimming pools.

There are lots of possible repairs to make on a toilet. If there's a shutoff valve at the bottom, they're all pretty easy to make. In my case, it's one of the easiest. You don't even have to turn off the water. Here's what to do.

Take the magazines off the back of the toilet and remove the lid. Put it somewhere safely out of the way and don't drop it on the tile floor. That would be nasty.

Unhook the chain from the end of the rod attached to the handle. If you can, hook it over something nearby so you don't have to fish it out of the water when you're done. Not that it's a big deal, there's nothing to fear from the water in the back of the toilet. It should be pretty clean. There's a great Canadian tradition of using the toilet tank to rapidly chill beer. But that's another story.

The handle is held on with a large nut, probably made of plastic. Using an adjustable wrench (my 10" one did the trick nicely) loosen the nut, then slide it off the end of the rod.

Slide the old handle and rod out of the tank.

If you're like me, you thought of fixing this problem while you were already out, and so didn't know how long of a rod to get with the handle. Thankfully, adjustable ones are quite common and cost $5-7 in Canada right now.

Hold the old one against the new one to figure out how long to cut the new one. Measuring is easy, as there are only three lengths and the adjustable models have marks to help you easily cut them to length. "Easily" is a subjective term. Scissors won't do the job on this thick plastic. Tin snips probably would. I found that, on the Moen model I bought (a dollar cheaper than the other universal one) it was easy to just bend and break the rod at the correct point.

Remove the nut from the new assembly, slide the rod in and then put the new nut on to hold it all in place. Make sure the nut is snug, but don't overtighten it. Don't want to crack it and have to walk all the way back to the hardware store (how can you tell I've made this sort of mistake before?).

Hook the chain into place and give the toilet a test flush. If the handle sticks in the open position, you may have overtightened the nut. If you encounter other problems, bring them up in the comments section and we'll see if the Green Tenant readers can't help you out.

Now put the lid back on the toilet and return your magazines to their proud, newly refurbished home.

For other water-saving repairs, see the following posts:


Dave Barry said...

I don't see a copy of Bitch on top of that toilet!

Tim S said...

Flushing toilets uses a lot of water. A conventional toilet for instance, uses about 13 L of water every time you flush it. As a renter who pays for his hydro bill, I am highly conservative with flushing my toilet.

The water usage from flushing a toilet adds up very fast, one flush at 13L x 10 flushes a week already adds up to 130L. Unfortunately the municipality I am currently living in, Peterborough, does not offer a toilet rebate program like the one in Toronto.

"The City offers Toronto residents a $60 or $75 cash incentive to replace a water-guzzling toilet with a City-selected water-efficient model. Residents must live in detached houses, semis, duplexes (buildings with up to six units), individual condos and townhouses."

Renters need incentives and rebates for water conservation. Something as simple as flushing a toilet can be economically burdensome. I liked the post very much Craig, keep it up. And please check out my blog: