A couple of days earlier, I had successfully replaced our toilet’s flapper assembly. However, something was still not quite right. The flush handle was bumping into the tank lid, and it clearly needed a small adjustment. So on Thursday afternoon, I grabbed an adjustable wrench from my toolbox, removed the tank lid, closed the wrench around the nut on the inside, and applied some gentle torque.
The metal nut would not budge. Remembering that such nuts might be backward-threaded, I tried turning the wrench in the other direction. That’s when I heard a sharp, pinging pop — and noticed that a miraculous miniature waterfall was suddenly spilling from the side of the toilet tank onto the floor. I quickly flushed the toilet to empty the freshly cracked tank.
This sort of thing always happens when there’s already too much to do. Since this toilet is the only one in our house, it was a repair which could not be put off. Whatever else I may have thought I was going to accomplish, I was also going to learn about installing a toilet, and then actually install one. We could get by for a day or two by keeping a plastic bucket of water in the bathtub for manual flushing.
Here is where I want to recognize and recommend the valuable expertise of Lou Manfredini, WGN’s Radio’s Mr. Fix-It, who is often seen on the Today show, as well as his own HouseSmarts TV show syndicated all around the country.
Although I own several home repair reference books, none of them covers toilet installation. However, I remembered that HouseSmarts did. Sure enough, both toilet installation video tutorials were easily found at the HouseSmarts website:
How to replace a toilet, via HouseSmarts:
It was also nice to go to our local Home Depot and have the guy manning their plumbing department say, “Well, as a licensed plumber, what I generally do when I’m installing a toilet is …” On many occasions when I have needed some DIY know-how, the people at Home Depot have been exceptionally helpful.
And so, on Saturday afternoon, Amy and I cushioned our floors and laid out the new toilet parts. We turned off the water supply to the old toilet, and also our home’s main water supply for good measure. We sponged the old tank dry and removed it, then went to work on the toilet bowl. The closet bolts (or Johnny bolts) holding it to the floor were completely rusted — which doesn’t happen in instructional videos, but always happens in real life. I hacksawed away at them and sent Amy out for silicone plumber’s grease, so our new bolts don’t end up in the same condition.
Rather than damage the flange underneath the old toilet, I ended up chiseling some porcelain away to make the bolt holes bigger. Then the old toilet removed easily, as we tried to be careful about lifting it with our legs and not our backs.
The hole which was then revealed is the most disgusting place in anyone’s house, but it was not horrific. I removed the old sealing wax with a putty knife, vacuumed up the rust dust, and our site was ready to go. New, silicone-greased brass Johnny bolts were positioned in the old flange — and a brand new wax ring was pressed to the underside of the new toilet, which was then carefully lowered over the Johnny bolts. Firm pressure and some slight rocking squeezed the wax seal tightly into place.
I tightened down our new toilet bowl very carefully, being freshly aware of how fragile porcelain can be. Following Lou Manfredini’s advice, I alternated between the two bolts, tightening each a little at a time until they felt secure, but not so tight as to be brittle. They can always be tightened a little more later, but porcelain cannot be uncracked.
Having extra silicone plumber’s grease on hand, we applied it also to the rubber gasket which seals the toilet tank to the bowl. Where a petroleum-based lubricant like Vaseline will damage rubber, the silicone stuff just keeps it nicely sealed.
A new water-supply hose replaced the old one, with some Teflon tape wrapped around the threads at each end, and then it was time to turn the water back on.
The moment of truth was almost anticlimactic. The tank filled quietly. We flushed and checked for leaks, but there were none. Our work here was done. We now have a new toilet and new skills.
Several times over the rest of the weekend, Amy actually thanked me for breaking the old toilet, because she likes the new one much better.
You’re welcome, honey!