Category Archives: Plumbing Tips

A straight flush



Do you have one of those toilets that just doesn’t want to flush?  You flip the handle and nothing happens.  You try it a few more times with the same result, and then you either give up and take the lid off the toilet to see what is the matter or you call the plumber.  It can all be very frustrating.

But you don’t need to get flustered.  It may be something very simple, such as a broken flush lever.  This is a very simple fix.  We are going to discuss how to diagnose it and how to fix it.  It can be your first simple plumbing project.

First, let’s take a look at the toilet.  The flush handle is usually on the right (if you are sitting on the seat) since most people are right-handed.  On the toilet pictured below, the handle is white.  When activated, it moves but nothing happens.  In order to discover the problem, you will need to remove the tank lid.  It should just lift off.  Set it to the side where the porcelain will not get dropped and broken.




Now that the lid is off, you can see the lever.  It attaches to the flapper at the bottom of the tank.  Lifting the flapper upward allows water to flow out of the tank and into the bowl, flushing the contents of the bowl down the drain.  The flapper is the red and black object located under the lever.  It usually attaches to the lever with an adjustable chain.

The lever is held in place with a nut that screws onto the back of the handle assembly.  This picture shows the nut on the inside of the tank.


In this picture, you will see that the lever is cracked, so that when the handle is operated the lever just flops around and does not lift the flapper.  The handle and lever will need to be replaced.

This is another picture illustrating the break.


This is the new lever that we are going to install.  New levers are inexpensive, generally less than $20.00.  This will be a simple and inexpensive repair.

This shows a pair of “426” Channel lock adjustable pliers.  This pair has seen some use but will certainly get the job done.

Since the lid is already off, you will have access to the lever and the nut.  Disconnect the flapper from the lever.  Using your pliers, grasp the nut that is holding the lever to the tank.  Rotate the pliers clockwise, turning the nut to remove it.  After the nut has been removed, the lever will slip through the face of the tank. You will pull the handle toward you.  It may be necessary to rotate the lever a little to remove it.

This is the lever and nut that have been removed.

Now you can take the new lever and slip it into position.  Hold the handle at the angle that you would like to have it sit.  Tighten the nut, turning counter-clockwise this time.  Another way to think of the direction that you will turn the nut is that right turns tighten and left turns loosen.  The nut is only plastic, so be careful not to over tighten it.

The next step is to re-attach the chain to the lever.  This chain has a hook on it that makes it easy to slip into the notches provided on the lever.  Test the handle to make sure that when it is operated, the lever lifts the flapper, letting the water into the bowl.  After the water is out of tank, the flapper should fall back into place, sealing the tank and allowing the tank to fill again.



The handle has now been repaired.  All that remains is to replace the lid, and your project is complete!  Now, wasn’t that simple?



Slow Drains Got You Down?


Is your tub drain or bathroom sink a little slow? I have some easy things to check regularly to help keep things flowing more smoothly.

First, let’s check the tub. Located below the spout, there will be a round cover. This is the overflow. It is designed to help keep the tub from spilling over onto the floor if you forget to turn off the water. It should have one or two screws holding this cover in place. Now is a good opportunity to use those screwdrivers that you have in your toolbox. If the screw head has a cross on it, it will be your phillips head screwdriver. If the screw head has a slot, it will be your standard screwdriver. Remove these screws and set them aside where they cannot fall into the drain. Now carefully work the mechanism out. Pull straight up and out. This mechanism is called the bail, and is part of what operates the stopper.

Do not be surprised if there is something on the bail. It has a tendency to collect hair, especially if someone in the family has long hair. This may also be a problem if any pets are bathed in the tub. It may be kind of disgusting, but use some rubber gloves and you can remove the hair without having to actually touch it. If there is enough hair on the bail, it will keep the drain from working properly. If it is clear, carefully put the bail back into place and replace the screws. Operate the stopper to make sure that it is working properly. If the drain is still slow, then the problem has moved further down the line. The drain will probably need a plumber’s snake, and if you do not feel comfortable with one of those, contact a licensed plumber.

Now for the sink. Remove the sink stopper. If it does not simply pull out, you will need to loosen the nut that holds the activator rod in place. Some stoppers slide over the rod, and when the nut is tight, the stopper cannot be removed. Look under the sink and locate where the activator is attached to the sink drain. There will be a vertical rod that attaches to a horizontal piece that ties into the drain line. Use a sharpie or marker to mark where the vertical rod attaches. You will probably have to loosen this nut (it will most likely be a wing nut). Once you remove the linkage, you will need to remove the nut that keeps the horizontal portion of the actuator in place in the drain line. Once you have removed this piece, you will be able to remove the stopper.

Now that the stopper is out, check it for any hair or other obstructions that might have accumulated on it. Clean the stopper, and then re-install the stopper. If you had to remove the linkage, you will now to re-trace your steps and re-install it. The marks that you made with the sharpie will help you line these pieces back up. After the sink is re-assembled, run some water to make sure that the drain does not leak. Check the stopper for operation, filling the sink with water. Once the sink is fairly full, turn off the water and release the stopper. As the sink drains, check to see if a small funnel or whirlpool forms. This will let you know that the sink is draining well. If you do not see this, or the sink seems to drain slowly, there is a problem further down the line. We can address those issues in a later column. At this point, if the drain is still slow, it might be advisable to contact a licensed plumber.

Performing these simple, regular checks can help to keep your plumbing draining smoothly and should help to give you some peace of mind.