Replacing a plumbing fixture like faucets and toilets is something most homeowners will get to do at some point in owning their home, but chances are they have no idea what to do.
In this post we look at installing toilets. The information is presented to give homeowners a basic understanding of what’s involved and what they can do working alongside a plumber.
Assuming the old toilet is removed, it’s time to install the replacement.
The first thing you want to do — if you have not done it already — is prep the new toilet by pulling the pieces out of the shipping box and separating the tank from the bowl. It’s best if you rest the ceramic bowl and tank on something soft like a carpet or a thick towel because you don’t want to drop either and risk a hairline fracture, which could leak.
You do not want to install the new toilet with the tank and bowl already assembled because . . .
Together, the tank and bowl are heavy, awkward to carry, and cumbersome to work with. You may think it’s a step-saving idea, but it’s not. You want to install the bowl first, then the tank.
Install new floor bolts in the toilet flange and apply wax ring.
The base of a toilet is attached to a flange. When the bowl is removed, two bolts will be protruding upward.
The existing bolts can be rotated and lifted out. They should be thrown away and NOT reused. Chances are high you will never, ever need them again.
Use a putty knife or similar tool to scrape away all the old wax from the flange. If there is any putty or caulking on the floor, remove that too. If any stains on the floor near the base of the toilet will be visible after installation, clean them now.
(At this point take note of the existing flange. If you live in an older home or if there has been water damage at that toilet location in the past, the flange itself may be rusted and compromised, making installation tricky. If this is the case, most homeowners will want to call a plumber rather than installing a new flange. This can be very difficult, depending on circumstances.)
Wax seals and a set of flange bolts come with a new toilet. If your wax seal does not include flange bolts, purchase a set of bolts at a home improvement center, hardware store, or plumbing supply. Oddly, flange bolts can be a pain to work with.
Slide the head of each bolt into the toilet flange and position so that they are both the same distance from the back wall. A great piece of advice: The bolts never stand up straight. Use a pinch of wax from the old seal to help hold them in place.
On the underside of the toilet bowl is the outlet horn. The horn lines up with the toilet flange in the floor. In order to make a tight seal between the horn and the flange, a wax seal is installed between them.
There are two types of wax seals, those with a plastic sleeve and those without. When you buy a new toilet, a wax seal comes with it. These are often the cheapest available. It’s not a bad idea to buy a slightly better (fuller, waxier) wax seal (they are cheap) because you don’t want to take chances that a cheap seal will fail after a year of use.
Press the wax side of the seal firmly against the the toilet, around the outlet horn. The sleeve, if any, will slip into the drain opening in the floor.
At this point, there is a difference of opinion among plumbers and plumbing contractors on what to do next.
Some use a plumber’s putty around the foot of the bowl to create a seal between the floor and the bowl. This has the benefit protecting the floor and the bowl surfaces from being marred. It is also an additional seal against sewer gas or water leaking out. It also creates a more aesthetically pleasing seal around the bottom of the toilet.
However, some plumbers prefer using tub and tile caulk around the footprint of the toilet after it is installed. Do note that if you use a putty or caulk around the base of the toilet it will eventually get dirty and will need to be cleaned or replaced.
Still other plumbers prefer to use nothing because if there is a break in the wax seal or water is leaking under the toilet you would want to know about it so that the problem can be corrected.
Set the toilet in place
- Remove the rag from the toilet flange in the floor.
- Lift the bowl and carefully align it over the bolts, which you hope remain in place. Ninety nine times out of 100 they lean to one side, wobble, and generally make installing a toilet base much harder and frustrating than it needs to be. This may be the most frustrating aspect of installing a toilet. There’s usually no room for anybody to hold the bolts in place for you. It’s nearly impossible to see the bolts through the holes in the base of the toilet to properly align them. The bowl is probably heavy, making it difficult to hold in position for a long period of time — not to mention the stress it puts on your lower back.
- Avoid lifting or moving the toilet once the wax seal has been crushed between the bowl and floor. Doing so may cause a gap to open in the seal and allow sewer gas enter the room.
Level and securing the toilet to the floor
This is something that is easy to forget.
The toilet needs to be leveled. Failure to properly level the toilet can result in low water level in the bowl and poor flushing results.
- Place a level along the front to back axis of the bowl. Use plastic toilet shims (yes, these actually exist), if necessary, to level the bowl. Wood shims will deteriorate and metal may cause rust stains.
- Next, level the bowl from left to right. Resist the temptation to use plumber’s putty to level. Putty will not withstand movement when the toilet is used.
- Once the bowl has been leveled, secure the bowl to the floor.
- Install the plastic washer, the metal washer and the nut, in that order (unless directed otherwise by the manufacturer).
- Tightening the nut must be done carefully. Secure the toilet from movement but do not over-tighten as it will lead to breakage of the bowl, rendering it useless. No home improvement center will take back a damaged toilet bowl.
- You will receive no warning or forgiveness – so resist the urge to cinch the nut down super tight. Hand tighten plus a turn or two with a wrench is a good rule of the thumb. If the washer starts to bend or deflect, stop.
Install the valve, fill tube and flapper into the tank
The toilet you purchased, may or may not have the operating components installed in the tank. If it does, skip this step.
If there is nothing installed in the tank, make sure you purchase a tank kit when you buy the toilet and install the parts before going any further. It’s easier to do it now. (Most toilets include the operating components inside the tank, but just in case . . . )
Installation is easy and will take only a few minutes.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation; but here are the general steps.
- Install the supplied washer or gaskets onto the fill valve and insert the fill valve through the smaller hole in the tank.
- Install the outer washer and nut and tighten the nut snug. The seals must be tight to avoid leaks but avoid over-tightening or you risk cracking the tank.
- Next find the flush valve, slip on the washer and place the valve through the large hole in the tank.
- Install the outer washer and tighten the nut.
- Place the large gasket over the nut, this will cushion and seal the connection between the tank and the bowl.
- A tube connects the fill valve to the overflow tube. This is important because it supplies the water to refill the bowl after a flush.
- The flapper can install in various ways, depending upon the style used. The flapper seals the water into the tank, until the flush handle lifts it. Adjust it so that it is centered over the flush valve opening and can drop smoothly and tightly into position.
- Next, insert the flush handle through the opening near the top of the tank. Fasten the washer and nut and attach the handle.
- Install the linkage from the handle to the flapper. The linkage should be long enough to allow the flapper to seal tightly but short enough to lift it up 90 degrees to the drain opening.
- After completing the entire toilet installation, you should come back and adjust the float on the fill valve to set the proper water level in the tank. Otherwise, water may be wasted, the toilet may run continuously or insufficient water may be used to thoroughly flush the bowl.
Attach the tank to the bowl
- Place the supplied washers over the tank bolts and insert the bolts through the holes in the tank.
- Some installations have a second washer and nut on the outside of the tank to seal the tank.
- Lift the tank and align it over the connections in the bowl. This is much easier than lowering the toilet bowl onto the flange.
- Lower the tank gently onto the bowl.
- Place the washers and nuts onto the tank bolts under the bowl and hand tighten them. The two (or three) bolts should be tightened in balance. Do NOT tighten one all the way and then tighten the other. Do not over-tighten the bolts or you risk cracking the tank. The tank bolts should be tightened enough to pull the tank snugly to the bowl, but it should still be able to move somewhat.
Connect and turn on the water supply
- Connect the water supply line to fill valve under the tank. Remember not to over tighten the connections here, either.
- Turn on the water.
- The tank should immediately begin to fill.
- Inspect the water supply connection for leaks.
- After the tank has filled, inspect the tank bolts and fill valve underneath for leaks.
- Flush the toilet and inspect for leaks between the tank and the bowl.
Test operation and inspect for leaks
- Go back and adjust the water level in the tank.
- Raising or lowering the position of the float will adjust the point at which the water stops refilling.
- Adjust the water to a height below the top of the overflow tube.
- Over time you can experiment with the amount of water required for complete flushing.
- Gradually adjusting the water level downward will allow to use less water reducing expense and waste.
If anything unexpected happens along the way, it’s best to call a plumber.
We will examine the operation of a toilet next.