Northwest Renovation Magazine

A Home Improvement Magazine

It is one of those dreaded things in life, when the toilet doesn’t flush. At first, you jiggle the handle and it works for a while. Deep down, you know that you really should go down to A-Boy and buy a new flapper. You let it go a little longer, until you have to jiggle it almost every time. The procrastination is starting to get to you, so you go and buy a flapper for less than four dollars. It sits in the trunk of your car for a week and then your wife says, “We have relatives coming to visit this weekend; can we fix the toilet?” You go out to the car and get the flapper, and within five minutes, months of dread have been dealt with. Your only thought is, “Why didn’t I do that sooner?!”

This toilet has the old-style fill valve with the float and a standard 2″ flapper, on a low cost toilet.

The Porcher brand toilet with a 3″ flapper uses only 1.28 gallons per flush. It uses a standard Fluidmaster fill valve. The flapper has an anti-corrosion feature that resists the tablets some people put into their tanks to clean the bowl.

A Mansfield 1.6 gallon toilet using the IntellG fill valve. It has a 3″ flapper/flush valve system and three bolts for extra stability.

A Mansfield 1.6 gallon toilet using the IntellG fill valve. It has a 3″ flapper/flush valve system and three bolts for extra stability.

Fixing a toilet is usually about that hard. There are three main components inside the tank of most toilets: the flush handle, the fill valve, and the flush valve. They all will break or need replacement sooner or later.

Flush Handle
The handle is the easiest one to replace, assuming you can find the exact replacement. It usually screws on and the only tricky part is attaching the chain to the flapper. Sometimes you have to adjust things in there to make it work just right. There are always exceptions. You just hope at repair time that your toilet is a fairly standard configuration and you don’t have a lot of problems finding the repair parts. It also helps to have a good plumbing store like A-Boy Electric & Plumbing around, where you can easily buy the hard-to-find parts. Unless you have a few extra bathrooms in the house or really understanding neighbors, a toilet is one of those things that you have to keep operational 100% of the time and for which you can’t be waiting for parts.

Fill Valve
When the fill valve goes, it usually lets you know by the water that won’t stop running. There are quite a few different kinds of fill valves. The old ones have a float with a rod controlling the water level and the newer ones have a Fluidmaster valve, or something similar. The good thing about toilets is that the hole in the tank for the fill valve is standard, so that if you choose to replace or upgrade your fill valve, you can do so fairly easily. The removal of the old valve is the hardest part. Sometimes the nuts are rusted or stuck and it is difficult to get tools into the small space around the fill valve. There are several good fill valves on the market. Fluidmaster has the largest market share. Before you start working on your toilet, make sure you turn off the water supply.

Flush Valve
The third major component in most toilets is the flush valve. It is the valve that lets the water out of the toilet and down into the bowl. The lowly flapper is the part that goes bad first on most standard toilets. There are two main kinds of flappers: the ones that have two arms that attach to hooks and the ones that go over the fill valve. Most toilets have two-inch flush valves and flappers that are pretty standard.

The last few years have seen an explosion of different flush valve systems. Most are three-inch and some are quite sophisticated. There are systems to retrofit the flush valve into a dual flush system; one way for maximum flush and the other for minimal. Not too many of these systems have broken down yet, but when they do you are going need the exact replacement part or replace the whole valve. At least the hole in the tank is standard and you can always tear it all apart and replace the entire valve.

Toilets are like cars: they started out simple and anyone with a wrench could fix them. Over time, both consumers and government demanded more performance, and gas saving with cars and water saving with toilets. The flush valves are nothing like a car engine, but the new ones are getting high tech. They are usually simple, but with advanced designs to enhance the flushing performance. Many toilets use only 1.28 gallons or less and they flush better than the standard 1.6 gallon models. These valves can be repaired or replaced a lot easier than you think. Unlike a car, you can still fix a toilet with a wrench.

While there are several other problems that can go wrong in the tank, not much goes wrong on the bowl because it has no moving parts. The bowl can clog really badly or can crack, in which case you need to buy a new one. The tank can crack as well, as it often does around the bolts that hold it to the bowl. The gasket between the tank and bowl is one that eventually needs replacing, as are all the gaskets and washers. Just watch where the water is leaking and you can usually narrow down the problem. It’s not rocket science; it’s just something anyone with a wrench can do. The helpful folks at A-Boy Electric and Plumbing would be glad to answer any questions that you have.

Dan Dolan is the owner of A-Boy Electric and Plumbing, a local chain of stores with three locations in Portland that specializes in hardware, garden, and plumbing solutions for the residential home. He can be reached at or visit

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