Some Things you Might Not Know About Replacing Toilet Guts

Vernon E.

I’m fairly notorious for learning things the hard way: relationships, managing money, handling snakes, and do-it-yourself plumbing. Allow my mistakes to be your cautionary tale. When it comes to replacing your toilet’s leaky flapper and malfunctioning valve, I urge you to learn from my misadventures.

Replacing your toilet fill valve and flapper with a modern system that has an adjustable flow rate is a great way to start saving water with every flush. The toilet fill valve and flapper, or “guts,” are relatively easy mechanisms to replace. These replacement parts are often bundled together and include instructions printed right on the box that are simple and straightforward. If you can read and use basic hand tools, you can install them yourself.

There are some precautions you’d be wise to take before starting this project—precautions I wish I’d taken before starting my own that fateful September morning.

First though, a word about toilets: Older, inefficient toilets can use as much as three to six gallons per flush. (A newer efficient toilet, by comparison, uses only about 1.6 gallons per flush.) That’s a lot of wasted water, especially when you consider that Texas is in a near perpetual state of drought. Plus, a leaky flapper or a malfunctioning valve could be making your toilet fill over and over throughout the day.

1. Locate your main water shut-off valve.Water main cutoff

The main valve is different than your toilet’s fixture valve. A fixture valve can go bad over time and may break while being turned, resulting in gushing water that won’t stop flowing all over your bathroom floor. If this valve fails, you’ll need to turn off your main valve. And you’ll need to turn it off quickly, because that gushing water is filling up your bathroom, warping your wooden floor trim, soaking your carpet, and ruining your day. Trust me when I tell you that this disastrous moment is not the time to go wandering around your yard in a panic to find your main water valve. If your neighbors already think you’re suspect, running around in your front yard is a good way to raise some eyebrows. It’s also a great way to look silly in front of your spouse, who may also think you’re suspect.

2. Make sure you’re able to turn off your main valve.

If this valve doesn’t get a lot of use it can get stuck over time, so you’ll probably need a tool to turn it. You may be able to use pliers or a wrench to do the job, but it’s best to use a tool created specifically for the job, like a curb valve key. Your local hardware store may carry these, which help you easily turn your main valve off and on. It’s a good investment if you don’t already own one.

Plumber3. Identify a good plumber… just in case.

Sometimes no matter how well you plan or how careful you are, things can go south quickly. Again, a little thoughtful preparation can save you a headache later. Have the phone number handy for a good plumber you trust. You don’t want to be standing in your bathroom in an expanding puddle of water searching through a list of plumbers and making desperate phone calls.

If you do need a plumber, it’s best to get on their schedule as soon as possible. I recommend starting your project early in the day. That way if you do need a plumber, the earlier you can get on their work schedule, the earlier you can get your issue resolved. Otherwise you may find yourself waiting until the next day—or even longer—before professional help becomes available.

Lastly, I’d recommend avoiding weekend work when possible. Plumbers often charge more for weekend, night, or holiday hours. A little planning on your part can save you money if you end up needing a plumber.

Learn more about conserving water in the bathroom on our website.

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