Noisy and leaky plumbing isn't something that you have to live with. Any homeowner with basic mechanical skills and tools can easily replace a toilet and upgrade to a new water-saving design. Installing a new toilet takes a couple of hours, but the rewards last for years.
Measuring for a New Toilet
Make sure that your new toilet will fit in place of the old one. Measure from the wall behind the toilet to the center of one of the closet bolts (the bolts that hold the toilet down). Do this before you remove the old toilet so you can buy your new one and have it on hand before you start. If the toilet has four closet bolts, measure to the center of one of the rear ones. Also, measure from the center of the mounting holes to the back of the new toilet you're considering. Compare these two measurements. If the base of the new toilet is shorter than the distance between the rear bolt holes and the wall, it should fit. In small bathrooms where space is tight, also measure from the sides of the flange bolts to sidewalls or other objects to assure side-to-side clearance. You don't want to find after you start that you can't wedge your new toilet into place because it's trying to occupy some of the same space as your vanity.
Buying the Toilet
Unless you buy one of the sleek, new one-piece models, you'll have to buy both a bowl and a tank. They'll come in two separate boxes. Have a Lowe's customer service associate help you check to make sure the two components match. Almost any tank you purchase will come with the flush-valve assembly already installed, but it never hurts to check this as well. In addition, you'll need new closet bolts, a wax gasket and a toilet seat if these aren't included. If you plan to replace the supply line, the flexible ones encased in stainless steel mesh are strong, attractive and very convenient. Less expensive plastic supply lines are also available if cost is a concern and your local codes allow their use.
Removing the Old Toilet
If you're removing a toilet for replacement, it will be easier on your back, your floor and your walls if you take it out in pieces. Even though you're removing the toilet, don't break it. You may be able to sell it at a yard sale or donate it to a local charity.
- Turn off the water supply for the toilet. There should be a supply valve located below the left side of the tank and extending from the base of the wall or floor.
- Flush the toilet and remove any remaining water from the tank and bowl using a small cup and a sponge.
- If you plan on reusing the supply line, disconnect it from the bowl. If you plan on replacing the supply line, go ahead and remove it from the supply valve and simply leave it attached to the bowl.
- Remove the tank top and set it flat on the floor well out of the way, preferably outside or in another room. Don't prop this fragile top against a wall close to where you're working. If it falls, or if you bump into it while trying to maneuver the heavy toilet pieces, it will probably break.
- Remove the tank from the bowl. It will be attached by a pair of bolts near the center of the bowl where it meets the tank. These bolts pass from inside the tank through the mounting flange at the back of the bowl. Simply remove the nuts, and lift the bowl off the gasket. If the bolts are rusty and the nuts are difficult to remove, soak the bolt assemblies for a few minutes in penetrating oil. Put the tank well out of the way, outside if possible.
- Remove the bolt caps from the base of the toilet and take out the closet bolts. Some toilets will have four closet bolts mounting them to the floor. Most will have only two.
- Rock the bowl to free it from its wax gasket. Unless you plan to carry the bowl straight outside, have a piece of paper or plastic close at hand on which to put it. The gasket will be a sticky, dirty mess, and the wax from common bowl gaskets is difficult stuff to clean off any surface.
- Plug the drain hole to keep the gases from escaping into the room. Do this in such a way that your plug (rag or whatever) can't fall down into the drain line and stop it up.
- Use a putty knife to scrape the wax or putty from the base of the bowl and the mounting flange on the floor.
- Clean and level the mounting surface before installing the new toilet.
Repairing Damaged Flanges
Toilets can be mounted in two ways. Closet bolts may have flatheads, which slide into slots on the flange. In this case, the bowl is secured to the flange itself; the flange serves as the toilet mount. Closet bolts of the second kind have screw-type threads on one end and bolt threads on the other. These closet bolts mount the toilet directly to the floor. The flange in this type of installation serves only to seat the wax gasket and doesn't bear the pressure of securing the bowl.
Once you've removed the old toilet, you may discover that the flange to which it's mounted is damaged. Flanges can be made of several materials, including cast iron, copper, brass and plastic. If your flange is badly damaged, you may wish to have a plumber replace it. If it isn't severely cracked or badly broken, you may be able to make a simple and permanent repair by using a special tab that fits under the lip of the flange. This tab has a hole through which the closet bolt is attached. After the bolt is inserted through the hole, the tab is placed under the lip of the flange in the broken area. As the closet bolts are tightened, the tab pulls against the bottom of the flange lip, securing the bowl in place. Of course, if your toilet mounts directly to the wooden floor and not to the flange itself, the seat of the flange (the inner circle against which the wax will seal) is the important thing. If the flange is cracked or broken inside this area, you need to have it replaced.
Installing the New Toilet
Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions for the model you purchase.
Setting the Bowl
You can install the new toilet just as you took the old one out — in pieces — to save your back from unnecessary injury.
- Insert closet bolts if they're the kind that slide into the flange, and place them in a line parallel to the wall behind the toilet. If they're the types that screw into the floor, install the new bolts in place of the old ones.
- Turn the bowl over on the floor. Put something under it (a rug or blanket) to prevent damage. Install the wax ring on the waste horn with the tapered end facing the toilet. The waste horn is the protrusion on the base of the toilet that extends into the flange. A warm wax ring is softer and easier to work with. If you've brought yours in from the cold, allow it to warm up before performing this step.
- Unplug the waste drain hole, and position the toilet on the flange. Loosely install the retainer washers and nut. Make sure the tapered washers are installed with the appropriate side up. These washers will be labeled in the manufacturer's instructions.
- Position the toilet and gently press down against the wax ring and flange with a rocking motion.
With the bowl in place, tighten the nuts on the closet bolts by alternating from side to side so you'll more evenly distribute the pressure.
- Install the bolt caps on the closet bolts. After the installation is complete and you've checked to be sure there are no leaks, you can seal the base of the toilet with sealant. Tub and bath silicon sealant is appropriate. It can be applied from a tube and smoothed with a wet finger.
Installing the Tank
- Install the large rubber gasket over the outlet on the bottom of the tank per the manufacturer's instructions.
- Insert the tank mounting bolts and rubber washers from inside the tank, through the mounting area of the bowl.
- Place the tank in position, and alternately tighten the nuts until the tank is securely fastened to the bowl. Again, don't overtighten.
- Install a toilet seat according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Install the water supply line. If you use the new, flexible supply line, this step is easy. If you use a rigid supply line, you'll need to do some bending to make it fit. Don't crimp the line. This will obstruct the flow of water and weaken the line, possibly causing it to leak or break.
Adjusting the Flushing Mechanism
When your toilet is fully installed, it may be necessary to make some minor adjustments to the flushing mechanism. Try flushing it to see how it works and to make any changes. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Don't overtighten the bolts; you may damage the base of the toilet.