What are the most common toilet repairs?
Calling a plumber out to repair a running or leaking toilet can be expensive and it’s easy to just accept the bill – even if it seems too high – because the problem usually needs fixed fast.
We’ve heard lots of stories at Angie’s List from homeowners who called out a plumber for what they thought was a simple – and relatively inexpensive – toilet repair, only to be told that they need to spend several hundred and even thousands of dollars. Unless the toilet is a vintage model that requires special parts – or unless it needs to be replaced – most toilet repairs are simple enough fixes that should cost less than $200.
“The most common problems we find deal with bad flappers, fill valves, and wax seals that have caused leakage around the base of the toilet,” says Bob Starks of Starks Plumbing Service, Inc. in Indianapolis. “We get a lot of calls stating ‘the toilet flushes on its own in the middle of the night. In most instances, this is due to a bad flapper. This happens when the water level in the tank drops low enough to make the fill valve kick on to refill it to the proper level.”
Related: The Angie's List Guide to Toilets
The flapper is the rubber piece that seals the toilet tank. Cleaning chemicals or minerals in the water can cause the flapper to deteriorate over time, causing the toilet to continuously “run.”
“If water is running into the bowl, you can waste hundreds of gallons of water a week,” says Brad Roby of Roby’s Plumbing, Inc. in Indianapolis.
You can determine if you have a bad flapper by putting a couple of drops of food coloring into the tank.
“If the colored water starts to show up in the bowl, it's probably the flapper,” Starks says.
A bad fill valve – the piece in the tank that lets in water from the pipe – can also cause a toilet to run continuously, or to leak. A new fill valve can be purchased and installed by most homeowners themselves for around $10.
If your toilet overflows or is leaking, it’s important to turn off the water supply line to prevent further water damage that could lead to wood rot, mold and other pricey repairs. The supply line is usually located on the wall behind the toilet.
“If you’ve got an overflowing toilet, try a plunger to see if you can plunge it out,” Roby says. “If that doesn’t work, you’ll probably want to call a professional. If it’s a leak from the supply line, for most homeowners, you would call a professional for that as well.”
If the toilet doesn't have as much "flushing action" as it once had, try cleaning the jets around the inside rim of the bowl, Starks says.
“Those can get a lot of calcium build-up after a period of years,” Starks says. “The looped end of a wire coat hanger usually works great (to clean it out).”
Most toilets need to be replaced approximately every 15 years, Roby says, however adding a water softener can double its life expectancy by reducing that mineral buildup.
Knowing and hiring a reputable plumber is the best way to be sure you’re getting a good repair at a fair price, of course. Indiana law requires plumbers to earn and hold a valid license at the state level and to display their license number on any advertising. Trying to save money by hiring an unlicensed repair person is just asking for trouble.
If you feel your plumber is trying to charge you too much for a toilet repair, don’t just give in because you want the job done right away. Get a second or third opinion. There are plenty of great plumbers in town. Find one you trust and keep him or her.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in November of 2011.