Saturday, June 4, 2011

Weekend DIY at Chateau Papillon: Toilet Replacement

Channel-lock pliers. Bolt cutters. Hacksaw. Brake cleaner. WD-40. 9/16 box end wrench. Chisel. Screwdriver. Socket wrench. Hammer. Putty knife. These are some of the tools needed to remove the old toilet in my bathroom at Chateau Papillon, thanks to the heavily-rusted flange bolts holding it to the floor. After all that, I wonder if a sledgehammer might not have done the job of all of them together and with more satisfying fun to boot.

Replacing a toilet isn't really that hard of a job--I've tackled far more challenging DIY projects at Chateau Papillon in the past.  Still, like so many home improvement jobs, it ended up taking a lot longer than I'd expected; I had figured on about an hour total to remove the old toilet and install the new one, and it took closer to three.

Why the new toilet?  It was an "impulse buy" at Costco, I have to admit.  Beth and I had gone specifically to check out a laundry sink--something I spied at a Costco in Richmond last summer but which until now our local one had never had in stock--and right next to the sink were several high-efficiency, dual-flush toilets for under $90.  That's a pretty good buy; I'd looked at similar units at Lowe's and Home Depot before, typically for upwards of $150 with several brand-name models over $280.  Couple with that the fact we'd just gotten back from Spain, where like so much of Europe the toilets are similar to the one in the store, and we were sold.

Not to mention that my bathroom's old toilet was wearing out--I'd had to replace several parts on it over the past couple of years.  Nor that it was a water-hog, slurping down around 5 gallons per flush.  I don't think it dated back to the original home construction (mid-'60s), but the toilet wasn't much newer than that, either.

First, the old toilet (pictured above) had to come out.  Turn off the water, flush, pour a bucket of hot water through to empty the bowl, and remove.  You'd think that wasn't going to be a very difficult task, but you'd be wrong.  Two flange bolts hold the toilet to the floor, and the problem with older toilets is that the nuts on those bolts are typically rusted solidly in place.  Worse, the flange bolts heads simply fit into a slot on the flange beneath the toilet, so there's very little leverage to be had: the entire bolts will just spin in place.  Enter the list of tools and materials leading off this post...

I tried penetrating oil, WD40, and even brake cleaner (which consists mostly of very light, very volatile hydrocarbon solvents), and though I did thus manage to dislodge quite a bit of rust, that was it.  I had the most success gripping the tops of the bolts with some really big channel-lock pilers and using a box-end wrench to twist the nut in the opposite direction--though this really crushed the threads on the ends of the bolts.  Unfortunately, one bolt was so rusted that the end simply snapped off when torqued--and of course it wasn't the end between the toilet and the floor that broke.

Next came a chisel; I figured if the bolts were that fragile, I might be able to snap them off beneath the nuts.  This meant some rather awkward hammering, as I didn't want to slip and shatter the toilet itself into a million tiny fragments of porcelain.  That didn't get me very far, and next up was a hacksaw.  The problem there was that my toilet was crammed back into a nook, giving me all of a couple of inches of space and a completely useless angle to use the saw.  I gave up on the saw, but perseverance paid off in the end when I managed to get a pair of bolt cutters onto one of the two.  This gave me enough leverage to twist the entire toilet free without further work on the second bolt, as I was able to rotate the toilet around the flange enough that the bolt head aligned with the slot used to originally install it (sort of like the wide part of an old-fashioned keyhole).


A wax gasket serves to seal the bottom of the toilet to the floor flange and sewer pipe, preventing leaks.  The old gasket has to go so that the new one will seal properly.  I discovered in removing the sticky, gunky old mess that whoever had installed the current toilet hadn't taken out the original gasket--there were two, nested sets of rubber seals and wax gaskets!  (You can see one of those in the photo to the left.)  A putty knife, several pairs of gloves, and some rags took care of that phase of prep, all the while with a rag stuffed into the pipe to prevent icky sewer gas from filling the room while I worked.


Notice, too, that the old toilet tank had leaned right against the wall and collected a nice bit of moisture, as well as some mildew where the original wallboard had apparently never been painted at all.  Taking care of that required a scrub brush, some bleach, and a couple of hours of drying time followed by several coats of paint--thankfully, we still had part of a gallon of the "Miami Mist" color on hand.

Everything finally prepped meant it was time at last to install the new toilet.  New flange bolts into the flange: check.  New rubber seal and wax gasket: check.  Remove the rag in the sewer pipe: check.  With Beth's help, I got the new toilet in place, gave it a little twist (to seat the wax gasket properly), and secured it to the floor.  Note that I absolutely slathered the new flange bolts with WD-40, as I expect I'll need to move the toilet at least once when I get around to a total bathroom remodel in a couple of years and retile the floor and walls.  Hook up the water, fill, and flush: nice.  No leaks.


The dual-flush on the new toilet uses only 1 gallon of water for the "light" flush (and though it may be a bit grotesque of me to say so, I do typically follow the Southern California dicta of letting yellow mellow to save water, too) and 1.6 for the "heavy" flush.  While some high-efficiency models are prone to clogs and otherwise problematic, this one seems to work like a charm so far.  (We'll see if the dual-flush mechanism on top of the tank confuses anyone the next time we have guests over...)

The old toilet, thoroughly cleaned, ended up on the cub for Habitat for Humanity to pick up, bound for a new home no doubt.  A little disappointing, I must say, not to take drag it out into the woods for a consultation with a shotgun, but, like the new toilet upgrade, a more environmentally-friendly choice.

1 comment:

Joseph Russo said...

The siphon in the illustrations appears to be a complete sealed unit. I have what appears to be a more modern type, which means that instead of having to dismantle the cistern tank, you can instead simply dismantle the siphon from inside the tank. Near the top part of the siphon (the side of the siphon which leads down into the pan) there is a plastic pin which you can take out allowing you to take out the part of the siphon containing the diaphragm. Once the diaphragm had been replaced you can simply put it back in place and put the plastic pin through. So before you take off the cistern tank first check the siphon to see whether you can dismantle it from within the tank.
Kirkland Plumbing