Loose Toilet?

In our society, talking about our toilets isn’t exactly the most respected topic of conversation.  However, when it comes to protecting our homes from water damage – not to mention a stench – a little home maintenance on your toilet will go a long way.

In every home inspection I perform, I always make sure to put significant side pressure on every toilet in the house looking for one thing:  movement.  Toilets should never move sideways…ever.  Or up and down either for that matter, but if you’re toilet comes up, most people will recognize that as a problem right away.  But many people may not recognize the potential problems that can come from a loose toilet.

The two bolts on the side of the toilet secure the toilet to a flange, which in turn is screwed securely into the subfloor.  The drain of the toilet is connected to the house’s Drain/Waste/Vent (DWV) system of the house which is designed to carry waste into the municipal sewer system.  The connection between the toilet’s drain and the house’s DWV system, is a wax seal which is installed when the toilet is installed.  When the wax seal is compressed it creates a waterproof and airtight seal.  This prevents odours and fumes from entering and water and waste from leaking into the house.

The problem with a loose toilet is that the wax seal can easily be broken with movement.  The wax is soft when the toilet is installed but quickly hardens.  Sideways movement of the toilet can crack the seal and allow water, waste and odors to escape the DWV system and into the house. 

If you have a loose toilet right now, I would suggest that you’ll want to replace the wax seal.  A new wax seal costs about $10-20 at Home Depot or Home Hardware and they’re not that difficult to replace.  You’ll only need a few basic tools and an hour or so.  There are many how to guides online when it comes to replacing a wax seal, but I like the one at www.diynetwork.com.  It has lots of pictures that make it easy to understand.

One caution though, and that is that I suggest you skip step #17.  Many people put a strip of caulk around the base of the toilet for a nice clean look and to keep water from leaking under the toilet (especially if there’s a shower or tub nearby).  While there’s no requirement one way or the other, I’d rather leave the caulk off because if there ever is a leak under your toilet, you want that water to leak out onto the floor so that you notice it.  Caulk may keep water out, but it also keeps water in.  Different Home Inspectors and different Plumbers will have different opinions on this issue though, so it’s personal preference.

Replacing a toilet, or just the wax seal may seem like a daunting task, but once you break it down into its individual steps, you’ll find that it’s not as difficult as it seems.  If you have a loose toilet, do more than just tighten it down…change out the seal and you’ll sleep easier knowing that water or waste isn’t slowly leaking into your house.

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