How To: Toilets

Advocate Master Plumbing is your plumber in Lee’s Summit. We make many plumbing service calls in a day and many are toilet repairs and installations. Diagnosing and repairing a toilet can be difficult. For this reason we recommend you hire your local lee’s summit plumber.

Toilets are simple machines. In this post you’ll be shown how a plumber performs toilet installations and repairs. The most common toilet repairs will be discussed with a video at the end of each section. We hope this is helpful.

Feel free to jump ahead by clicking one of the following links.

How do toilets work?

The design of the toilet is an exercise in simplicity. A siphon, in easiest terms, is water being pulled above it’s natural resting point by gravity. The initial artificial or added energy drawing water through an opening continues to flow above it’s resting point due to the weight of the already moving water. Now what’s this got to do with a toilet? Well, if you dump a bunch of water in a toilet bowl it will overflow into the trap.

Here’s a good video by Korky toilet parts explaining how a toilet works.

After that flow is started, the weight of the water falling will draw the rest of the water until air is introduced to stop the siphoning action. It’s kind of like pulling a coiled rope through a tall looped pipe. The weight of the water is you at the bottom pulling the rope.

When air is introduced at the other end it’s like cutting the rope with scissors at that end. The rest is pulled through but no more. That is the basic toilet flush cycle. You could flush a toilet with a 2 gallon bucket of water. The tank is just stored watered waiting to be dumped into the bowl at a given rate to start the flush cycle. Plumbing is simple and so are plumbers. That’s just how it is.

Toilets simplified

Toilets are physics at its most basic. Looking at the picture below you can see a toilet bowl. The toilet bowl has a trap, A trap is just a way to prevent sewer gas from entering your home by trapping it behind water. It’s also where clogs occur. Imagine dumping a bucket of water into

the following image. All that water would be forced down the drain by gravity. Once it starts
flowing fast enough, the weight of the water flowing down the drain will pull the rest of the water in the bowl down until it sucks air and breaks the siphoning action. That’s the sucking noise at the end of the flush.

What’s inside a toilet tank?

Remember, the tank is just water waiting to be dumped into the bowl to start the flush cycle. In physics this is called “Stored Energy”. But knowing that isn’t going to get your crapper working is it? So let’s stay on point.

The toilets tank consists of a water supply, fill valve, flush valve and trip lever. All of these things are there to prevent you from needing to keep a bucket of water next to the toilet. They’re also the parts that my plumbing customers tend to rig with rusty paperclips and wire. You know who you are.

Toilets Tank Parts

Your toilets components will not all look the same. They will all basically work the same. Manufacturers are redesigning these things all time. Sometimes to be compliant with changing

federal regulations. Sometimes because they want you to have to buy parts only from them. If they reinvent the mouse trap and say its better than all the rest they can charge more for replacement parts. When the patent rights run out they suddenly find a better way.

Toilet Water Supply

This is a standard flexible toilet water supply. Yours may be flexible or rigid. It can by braided stainless steel, braided plastic, chrome plated copper or just plastic. It connects the water shut off to the toilet tank. The flexible toilet supply is much better since it’s reusable

when installing a taller toilet. The flexible toilet riser is easier to use. A rigid toilet supply will bend and kink.

Toilet Water Fill valve

This is a standard fill valve. It’s function is to introduce a measured amount of water into to your toilets tank and flush valve. It usually does this with a float system. Once the water gets

to a set level a float with an arm attached will slowly force down on a button that shuts the flow of water off. This works kind of like a see saw. Yours may have a long rod with a ball float on it or even be a small flat device at the bottom of the tank.

Toilet Flush Valve

A flush valve has a few different components to it as well. The tank water flows through it during the flush cycle. It is what the flapper is attached to. It also has a small fill tube

attached to the top that comes from the fill valve. Water flows directly into the overflow part of the flush valve to refill and clean the toilet bowl. The overflow tube is the top of the flush valve. This works as a fail safe if the fill valve doesn’t shut off and water continues to flow into the tank.


Toilet trip Lever

Toilet trip levers or toilet handles come in many shapes, sizes and materials. When replacing yours try to keep with the same kind. All they do is pull up on the flapper to allow the water to flow into the toilet bowl thus starting the flush cycle. They aren’t all the same. Toilet trip levers will sometimes be straight or angled. Be sure yours matches. Toilet handles also come in all finishes.

Toilet Options

There are many different options for toilets that can improve your quality of life. When purchasing a new one I always recommend a high efficiency model. They are pretty economical now and perform so much better. Compare the difference in price between a standard and high efficiency model with the cost of one plumber visit.

I recently purchased an accessory for my elderly aunt. She was having trouble getting up from the toilet. So I installed a hand rail that mounts to the toilet seat. It’s made a tremendous difference to her life and no more falling down in the bathroom. Another accessory that can help the elderly is a thicker seat. It raises the seat a couple of inches and helps handicapped and elderly people to get up.

I recently had a customer with a very clever and curious toddler. He decided to hide most of his toys in their toilet. It took a couple of hours to dig all of them out. It included pulling the toilet and turning it upside down in their front yard. An inexpensive precaution would be to buy a seat lock. There are a lot of different designs and it will definitely save you a lot of problems and money. There are even seats that have heaters, lights and bidets built in. It may seem silly to some but to others they’re real comforts.

How to install a toilet

It’s late spring and I’m getting a lot of phone calls about how to install a toilet. Every home owner in town is doing some DIY home project. And I guarantee that I’ll be getting many plumbing service calls pleading for emergency service to rescue them. Usually on a Sunday. It’s always Sunday. So let’s see if I can explain how to install a toilet.

Tools & Materials

Before beginning a job like this consider what tools and materials you’ll need for the job. There are some variations. But I’m going to explain the standard way I do it in a step by step approach.


  1. Gloves
  2. Pliers and/or adjustable wrench
  3. Putty knife
  4. Mini hack saw or similar cutting tool
  5. Rag or wet vac


  1. Wax ring with horn (unless you have a toilet flange with an opening less than 3 inches. If so, no horn.)
  2. A stainless steel toilet riser tube (unless your riser tube is reusable)
  3. Plastic toilet bolts
  4. Paper towels
  5. Drop cloth or plastic garbage bag
  6. 100% clear silicone
  7. A few pennies (These are for shims only if the floor is uneven)

How to install a toilet – step by step

  1. Shut off the water to the tank at the water shut off near the base. If your water shut off isn’t working either replace the water shut offs or shut the water off to your house.
  2. Flush the toilet.
  3. Remove the tank lid & place it flat on the ground.
  4. Remove residual water from the tank & bowl using either a wet vac or towels.
  5. Using your pliers, remove the water supply tube from the bottom of the tank at the fill valve shank.
  6. Using your putty knife, pry the bolt caps off without damaging them. I just slide it under the cap & twist.
  7. Using your pliers or adjustable wrench, remove the toilet bolt nuts at the base of the bowl. If these are brass & have been trimmed to fit under the caps you may have trouble getting them off. I will pull up on the bowl to create friction. This will usually allow me to turn the seized nut without turning the bolt. If you’re throwing this toilet away you can just cover the bolt with a towel and gently tap the porcelain to break it.
  8. If you have caulk at the base of the bowl slide your putty knife between the bowl & the floor to break the seal.
  9. Pull the toilet & place it on your drop cloth or plastic garbage bag.
  10. Remove any excess caulk with your putty knife. Clean around the area and dispose of the old bolts.
  11. Using your putty knife remove the excess wax around the flange and pull out the plastic horn from inside the drain pipe.
  12. Inspect the flange for damage of any kind.
  13. Inspect the subfloor around the flange for damage of any kind.
  14. Remove the riser tube still attached to the water shut off if you intend to replace it.
  15. Place your new bolts onto the flange at equal distances from the back wall and on the centerline of the flange.
  16. Place the wax ring on the flange. (Not on the under side of the bowl. It just falls off.)
  17. Set the toilet down slowly on one bolt at a time by tilting it to the side. Don’t drop the other side. Lower it slowly. If the bolt isn’t lining up right just adjust it to fit while moving the bolt to fit.
  18. Put the bottom portion of the caps over the bolts on either side of the bowl.
  19. Install the plastic nuts on the bolts and tighten a little tighter than hand tight. Don’t over tighten them. You can crack the porcelain.
  20. Using your mini hack saw or other cutting tool trim the excess off the bolts to allow your caps to fit.
  21. Install your new riser tube from the water shut off to the bottom of the tank.
  22. Turn on the water.
  23. Clean up around the base and install the caps.
  24. Flush the toilet a few times to test for leaks.
  25. If it wobbles after being tightened or the floor is uneven, shim it with your pennies. Do this by laying a penny flat on the ground and against the bowl base and roll it from the back to the front until it slides under the bowl.
  26. Do the same for the opposite side of the bowl.
  27. Shim the front of the bowl base. This may take a couple of stacked pennies.
  28. Be sure the pennies are pushed under the bowl far enough to hide the penny but not too far to lose the support.
  29. Caulk the base of the bowl to the floor using your clear 100% silicone.
  30. Put the lid on and don’t sweep or mop around the toilet until the silicone has set up. (usually the next day)
  31. Clean up and put away your tools.

But just in case, I’ve included a video from a guy I really like and respect.

How to replace a toilet flapper

The simplest plumbing lesson I could give is how to replace a toilet flapper. That’s not to say that you should know how to do this. Not everyone does. Believe me, there are plenty of things that I don’t know. But if nobody has taught you yet or it just has never come up, then this blog post will come in handy. And I’m glad to explain it.

Flush Valve Seals

Flush valve seal is a trade term meaning toilet flapper. But it’s not a made up term. It’s called a flush valve seal because it’s attached to the flush valve and makes a seal at the opening to allow water to fill up the tank. The flapper is what you’re pulling up on when you flush the toilet thereby breaking the seal. It allows the tank water to flow into the bowl.

There are newer style toilet flush valves with much different types of flush valve seals. The flush tower style is used in newer toilets for primarily 4 inch flush valves. We’ll get to those at a later date.


How to replace a toilet flapper – step by step

For now we’ll get to how to replace a toilet flapper.

    1. Shut off the water to the toilet at the water shut offs. If yours doesn’t work properly then shut the water off to house.
    2. Flush the toilet.
    3. Remove the flapper chain from the end of the handle.
    4. Remove the flapper from the flush valve by pulling the little rubber flapper eyelets off the plastic flush valve ears.
    5. Gently run your finger over the surface of the flush valve seal where the flapper sits. You’re feeling for any imperfections or debris on that surface. If there’s debris, remove it. If there’s a small groove or dent then lightly sand it away with a fine grit sandpaper or plumbers sand cloth.
    6. Get your new flapper. If there is a circular portion of rubber between the two eyelets on the flapper remove it with a knife. Discard it. It’s only there if you have a damaged flush valve. But it isn’t usually there. They’ve kind of done away with that model. There are some that have a plastic circular portion that’s easily removed.
    7. Set the flapper on the flush valve seal where it will sit after installation.
    8. Attach the rubber eyelets to the corresponding flush valve ear. If your flapper is partially plastic it may need to be pressed onto the ears of the flush valve. Be careful not to damage the flush valve ears.
    9. Hold the chain up to the handle directly above it at the corresponding handle hole to measure the correct length to adjust the chain. Always leave just a little slack in the chain.
    10. Move the clip from the end of the flapper chain to the correct spot on the chain for optimal tension and slack.
    11. Remove any excess chain and discard. You can usually just twist off one of the links by hand.
    12. Test the flapper for correct length by pressing the handle and watching it.
    13. Turn the water back on.
    14. Flush the toilet. If it doesn’t flush, shorten the chain. You should never have to hold a toilet handle down to make it flush. If it’s not sealing you may have the chain too short.
    15. Check for leaks by either watching for running water at the waters edge inside the bowl or putting about eight drops of blue food dye in the tank and coming back thirty minutes later to see if there’s blue dye in the bowl.


Here’s a video I like that may help with those of us that are visual learners.

How to install a toilet fill valve

Learning how to install a toilet fill valve is relatively simple. The first step is knowing what you’re working with. A fill valve is sometimes referred to as a ball cock. They come in all shapes and sizes. The type I’ll be discussing will work for most standard toilets and can be found at your local home store. I like them because they’re simple and they work. I don’t recommend getting variations of the model I mention. Plumbing parts should be simple, like plumbers.

Fluidmaster 400A Universal Fill Valve

The Fluidmaster 400A universal fill valve is simple and inexpensive. You can find it anywhere.

Fluidmaster sells variations of this model but I don’t recommend them. If you have an older style fill valve with a ball float this model usually replaces it. Once this is installed you should never need a tool again to replace it. Don’t worry if the packaging is a little different as long as you see all the parts in this illustration.


Tools & materials

Before we begin learning how to install a toilet fill valve you’re going to need a few things. A few tools are always necessary before beginning a plumbing repair. And I always recommend the best you can afford. It’ll make the job go smoother. What you’ll need for this repair are:

  • Pliers
  • Knife
  • Towel or rag

How To Install A Fill Valve – step by step

The following is a step by step explanation of how to install a fill valve. There are different ways to do this. But this is the way I prefer and it’s worked well for me.

  1. Turn off the water at the water shut offs. If you have an older model shut off I’d recommend either replacing your water shut off or shutting the water off to your home.
  2. Flush the toilet. Hold the handle down to get as much water out as possible.
  3. Using either your towel or a wet vac, remove the remaining water from inside the tank.
  4. Remove the water supply pipe from the bottom of the fill valve.
  5. Remove the fill valve lock nut holding it to the tank.
  6. Remove the refill tube from the flush valve overflow tube and pull out the old fill valve.
  7. Pull apart the shank washer and cone washer that comes with the fill valve.
  8. Put the shank washer on the shank of the fill valve with the smooth side facing the flange on the fill valve shank.
  9. Place the fill valve through the opening at the bottom of the tank.
  10. Thread the lock nut on the bottom of the fill valve. Tighten it a little beyond hand tight. Don’t over tighten it. It could cause a crack in the fill valve.
  11. Place the angle adapter onto the flush valve overflow tube. Be careful not to crack the plastic overflow tube.
  12. Place the refill tube on the fill valve refill tube barb and attach the other end of the refill tube to the angle adapter. If the refill tube is too long, cut the excess off and reinstall it.
  13. Reattach the water supply tube to the bottom of the fill valve. I don’t recommend keeping the ridgid chrome style water supply tubes. I prefer replacing them with stainless steel flexible supply tubes.
  14. Confirm that the adjustment nut on the shaft of the fill valve is locked in position and turn the water on slowly.
  15. After the fill valve has filled the tank, adjust the water level by turning the plastic rod on the float. It will raise or lower the float to adjust the water level. If you need at least 3 or 4 inches of water level adjustment you will need to shut the water off again and pull up on the adjustment nut on the shaft of the fill valve. This will allow for larger water level adjustments. Just be sure that it’s pulled all the way back down into the locked position before turning the water back on.
  16. Check for leaks.
  17. Put about ten feet of toilet paper in the bowl and flush it. This is a good test for a proper water level adjustment.

Here’s a video that may help those visual learners.

How to install a toilet flush valve

If you’re trying to learn how to replace a toilet flush valve I’d recommend you consider it’s value and your time. I don’t mean to imply that it’s an insurmountable task. But if you’re going to break your toilet down to its basic pieces then you need to weigh the option of complete replacement. If it’s a good one then do it. If it’s just a toilet then consider the value of your time and replace it with a well designed model.

Tools needed

  1. Pliers
  2. Flat head or multi-bit screwdriver
  3. 24 inch pipe wrench or large pliers
  4. Tubing cutter
  5. Bucket
  6. Wet vac, towel or sponge

The pliers I prefer are the same brand and model as mentioned in other posts; Wilde pump house pliers. They have a long handle for gripping and smooth action for adjustment. The pipe wrench should be cast iron and heavy. The bucket can be a piece of Tupperware.

Materials needed

  1. Flush valve – either 2 inch or larger 3 inch. Whichever was the original size.
  2. Tank to bowl kit – This will include the appropriate tank to bowl gasket for this model toilet and corresponding bolt kit. This is like car parts. They have to match.
  3. Teflon thread compound. T plus 2 will do. You’ll find it at your local home store.

How to install a flush valve – step by step

  1. Shut the water off to your toilet. If your water shut off doesn’t work either replace the water shut off or shut the water off to your house.
  2. Flush the toilet and hold the handle down to completely empty it.
  3. Remove the tank lid and place it flat on the ground
  4. Wet vac or soak up the remaining tank water.
  5. Place your bucket or Tupperware below the water supply riser and remove it from the fill valve shank.
  6. Using your pliers and screwdriver remove the tank to bowl bolts under the toilet tank on either side.
  7. Carefully remove the tank from the bowl and place it flat on the floor. Preferably on a towel or drop cloth.
  8. Remove the old bolts and tank to bowl gasket and discard.
  9. Using your large pliers or pipe wrench remove the flush valve from the tank.
  10. Inspect the tank for debris or malformation at the tank bolt holes or flush valve opening. Clean as needed.
  11. Remove the mounting nut from the bottom of the new flush valve and wipe T plus 2 teflon thread compound on the flush valve seal. This will ensure a proper seal.
  12. Place the flush valve inside the tank and position it so that the tank bolts can still be installed and flapper will be directly below the handle.
  13. Install the flush valve mounting nut and tighten it using your pipe wrench. Be careful not to over-tighten and crack the porcelain.
  14. Put the tank bolt washer on the the tank to bowl bolts and wipe the bottom of the washers with T plus 2 Teflon thread compound to ensure a water tight seal.
  15. Put the bolts through the tank holes and install the corresponding washer and then bolt. Tighten appropriately.
  16. Carefully place the tank back onto the bowl. Install the corresponding tank to bowl nut and tighten half way.
  17. I will then confirm the bowl is positioned correctly on the bowl and tighten each tank to bowl bolt a full turn each until the tank is completely tightened and installed.
  18. Using your tubing cutter, trim the flush valve overflow tube below the level of the handle hole. If the fill valve ever fails it will overflow out of the handle opening and flood your home.
  19. Reinstall the water supply line and turn the water back on. Do this slowly. You don’t want to clog the fill valve with water debris or hard water deposits.
  20. Confirm the water fill valve is still set correctly for the new toilet flush valve by adjusting as needed.
  21. Place the tank lid back on the tank.

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