Recognizing sinking feeling of needing to give toilet a lift

August 28, 2004|By ROB KASPER

TOILET-LIFTING is one of the ways we do-it-yourselfers fill up our leisure time.

It is what we do when our wax gasket goes bad. The wax gasket is a gooey circle that seals the bottom, or bowl, of the toilet to the drain pipe. It is a part of the netherworld of plumbing that few choose to explore.

However, when a puddle of water shows up repeatedly at the base of your toilet, chances are good that your toilet needs to be lifted and your gasket replaced.

It is not a joyful task. As a matter of fact, the first time a puddle appeared on the bathroom floor, I ignored it. I wrote it off as a spill, a splash of water that escaped from the shower, the sink or the toilet.

The second time the moisture appeared, I thought, what a coincidence, and began to look for human suspects I could pin the puddle on.

But by the third time the same-size puddle had appeared at the same spot near the base of the toilet - and nobody had been home for several hours - I got a sinking feeling that an afternoon of toilet-lifting was in my future.

In addition to being unsightly, a puddle on the bathroom floor can soak and weaken the sub-flooring. You don't want to have to replace your sub-flooring. It is "infrastructure" and any time you end up messing with things that fall under the category of the "I-word," you are talking big bucks.

Most people consign their toilet-lifting needs to a plumber. There were several reasons that I chose to take on this task myself. A primary one was that the parts were cheap and so I am. A new wax gasket cost only a couple of bucks at the hardware store. Another factor was that I planned to enlist some free labor to do most of the heavy lifting, namely one of my sons. They may ravage the refrigerator and sleep until noon, but boys do provide cheap muscle power. The trick is, corral them for an hour or two, before their busy social schedule intervenes.

A few weeks ago, I was able to find an hour of a day when our younger son was available for toilet-lifting. I had done a little toilet-lifting in my younger days and had all the needed materials.

I had a screwdriver to pop the white plastic covers off the top of the bolts holding the base of the toilet to the floor. I had the wrenches to loosen the nuts on those bolts and to disconnect the water supply line at the back of the toilet tank. I also had a new wax gasket, a putty knife to scrape the remains of spent gasket off the bottom of the toilet and a rag to stuff down the drain and prevent the arrival of foul-smelling sewer gases. Finally, to prevent damage to the floor, I had covered it with old newspapers. (Let's hear it for newspapers - what other form of media can you put on the bottom of a bird cage and underneath a temporarily displaced toilet?)

Before you hoist a toilet in the air, you want it to be empty of water. You do this by turning off water supply, flushing repeatedly and finally using a sponge to remove the dregs. You also want the toilet to be light. This cannot be accomplished.

Toilets weigh a ton. That is one of the reasons plumbers have big forearms. I have learned that there is a device in the market called a Toilet Truck that uses clamps and leverage to lift a commode and wheel it into place. I am sure any plumber with forearms like Popeye's would scoff at the Toilet Truck. A toilet is really two parts, the water tank and the bowl, joined with tank bolts. One of the goals of our operation was to keep the toilet whole. This was accomplished by having the kid gently lift the toilet off its moorings and gingerly rest it on a cushion of newspapers.

Meanwhile, I scraped the old wax off the bottom of the toilet, a nasty business. I had some trouble with the plastic cover of the new gasket. It stuck to the wax, and distorted the gasket's once-perfect circular form. There was only one thing I could do: sculpt the wax globs with my gloved hands. My handiwork held, as the kid and I eased the toilet back onto the floor bolts. Holding the heavy toilet and positioning it over two bolts was not easy. It was hard to see. I longed for a Toilet Truck. I forgot to use the trick of placing soda straws over the bolts to make them easier to find. But I did remember to remove the rag that I stuffed in the drain pipe. If you forget to remove the rag, you've blocked your toilet drain, a bad idea.

My son and I gave the upright toilet a twist on the gasket, to seal the deal, then tightened the nuts securing the toilet to the floor.

Most repair projects harbor an unpleasant surprise. When I turned the water back on, I found the one lurking in this project. Water was dripping from the water supply pipe, a thin metal tube that fed water to the toilet tank.

During the toilet-lifting operation, the pipe had cracked. Fortunately this was a pretty easy problem to fix. It required only another trip to the hardware store to buy a new water supply line, one made of flexible material.

I put the new piece on, tightened every connection, turned the water back on and put the toilet through several test runs. After 10 minutes, I beamed with pride. No puddle meant no problems - and no more toilet-lifting.

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