Call it what you will – toilet, loo, bathroom, WC or restroom – the fact is that the smallest room in the house can often create some of the biggest DIY problems. It’s the combination of mechanics, water and frequent use that do it.
Even if you don’t fancy yourself as much of a plumber there are a number of simple things you can do to minimise problems when they do occur and effect some basic repairs.
1. Check the cistern
Get familiar with the business end of your loo. No, not the bowl, but the cistern. A lot of common problems are located in the cistern. A typical problem is when the water continues to trickle (or pour) into the toilet bowl long after it’s been flushed. All this clean water is making its way into the sewers. Depending on where you live and if your water is metered, this problem comes with a financial cost as well as a environmental one.
2. How to unblock a toilet
3. Don’t be afraid to have a tiny tinker
Often the water keeps on running because of a problem with the float arm or valve. When you take the top off your cistern you’ll see an arm with a small, hollow plastic ball on one end. This ball floats upwards as water enters the cistern after it’s flushed.
One way to check for the source of the problem is to wait until the cistern has finished filling and then, gently, raise the ball manually. If you pull it up slightly, does the water stop flowing? If the answer is ‘yes’ then adjusting the valve or the pitch of the arm may correct the problem. If the answer is ‘no’ then the washer or diaphragm may need replacing.
Depending on the type of arm, there may be a screw to adjust or you simply bend the arm (gently) down so that the water stops flowing. If you need to adjust the entry valve, look for a screw mechanism on the valve which is located where the ball arm enters the cistern. The water level should be about an inch below the overflow outlet.
If your cistern won’t flush or needs to be ‘pumped’ it may well be the big valve that sits at the base of the cistern. Relacing this flap (sometimes called ‘flapper’) valve is slightly more complicated, but the real key is to make sure the water is turned off, that the cistern is drained and that you pay very careful attention as you dismantle the internal workings to get at the flap valve, so you can put it all back together again once it is replace or repaired.
Top tip: It’s always worth taking the broken piece with you to the plumbing suppliers to ensure you get the correct size and shape. These stores tend to close early so it’s best not to dismantle the toilet late in the afternoon or on weekends. A typical home DIY superstore just doesn’t stock the range.
Useful information on replacing a washer
More cistern repair advice
Nice and easy does it: The other point to make about bathroom DIY is that success is a thin dividing line away from disaster. Over-tighten something and it may snap or break. Be patient and take the slow and gentle approach. Never attempt any bathroom DIY without turning off the water or, in the case of minor adjustments where you may need to see the water flow, knowing exactly where your stop cock is an how to close it. And check the stop cock works – for example that it hasn’t become rusted, before you begin. If you do need to turn off the water, remember to run the taps and empty the cistern before you start work or, in the case of a leak, to minimise water damage. It also pays to have a pile of old towels to hand in case you need to do some mopping up.
4. Making it easy to carry out repairs
If you’re building a bathroom or replacing a old bathroom suite it’s worth thinking about repairs right from the start. Most modern cisterns are situated directly behind the seat, so they’re easy to get at. Older cisterns and some ‘quaint’ modern ones are raised up nearer to the ceiling. You need a ladder for these and sometimes they’re so near the ceiling you can’t really get a good look at what’s going on.
Troubleshooting: The Toilet Won’t Flush
The modern trend is for built-in cisterns and concealed piping. In some cases, the toilet doesn’t even sit on the visible floor but juts straight out of the wall. Before you get your builder to box everything in, think about how you’re going to gain access if you need to. Ideally you want a removable top and front section, held in place by screws.
5. Reducing the amount of water your toilet uses
Some people put a brick in the cistern – but make sure you’re not going to interfere with the mechanism if you do this. Alternatively, you can buy a Hippo, which is a small bag that fills with water, which then can’t flush away. These are really cheap to buy and easy to install.
An old fashioned toilet with a handle mechanism can use up to 12 litres of water every flush. A more modern dual flush toilet uses just 3 litres for liquid waste and 6 litres for solid waste. Over a year, every person using an old style toilet can waste 10,950 litres of water.
You can buy converter kits that allow existing toilets to be upgraded into a water efficient, dual flush system for under £15. The simple to fit device replaces the handle on the front of the toilet with a twin button arrangement. This allows the user to select either a light or a more powerful flush. Inside the cistern the buttons connect to a flush regulator that restricts the water used to 3 or 6 litres as would be the case with a modern toilet.
Where to buy…
Toilet converter kits
Toilet repair spares