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Robert Lamoureux: Replacing toilets? Don't forget to turn off the water

Your Home Improvements

Posted: March 28, 2009 1:10 a.m.
Updated: March 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.
My husband is planning to replace the toilets in our house, which was built here in Valencia about 1969. Is there anything we need to do in preparation or anything we need to anticipate in replacing the toilets?
Maureen W.

Hi Maureen,
First of all, valve down the house - turn off all of the water.
Replace angle stops with the quarter-turn style that are sweated onto the line - not threaded on with a compression coupling. There have been instances where compression couplings will blow off with pressure increases. Sweating is much stronger and is ultimately one less thing you have to worry about. The quarter-turn stop allows you to shut off the water very quickly in an emergency as opposed to turning for a few revolutions. These quick shut offs don't tend to freeze up like the old plastic gate valve style and will come in handy if ever the need arises.
Replace the rubber hose supply lines from the angle stop with steel braided hoses. If your PRV- pressure relief valve should ever fail, the rubber hoses have a greater tendency of rupturing than the steel braid, which cost only pennies more.
Also, look at the flooring before you set the new toilet. Many times, the toilet is set and then the flooring guys come in and work the flooring around it. Since the base of the new toilet will probably be different than the original, it will sit on top of the raised flooring that will create a space. So, when you pull the old toilet, check to see how the new pedestal pattern will fit. You may have to repair the floor before setting the new toilet to ensure that it sits flush.
After you have valved down, give the toilet a final flush to remove the water. Then come in with rags and soak up all you can from the bowl before lifting it out of there. If you have to leave home for any reason once you have the toilet lifted, place a wet rag in the throat opening. Since the trap is within the toilet itself, once it is removed you want to prevent the sewer gasses, which is methane gas, from entering into your home.
Check the closet ring. Sometimes these can rust and go bad. If so, you can purchase a retrofit closet ring and replace while you have it opened up.
Scrape off the old wax ring and replace. I recommend to the flange type. Water could seep out through this ring, so use the flange. They are only about 0.10 more. Once you get everything done up to this point, place your new toilet. Sit down on it to compress the wax ring to give you a good fit and carefully tighten everything up.

Hi Robert,
We have birds or squirrels or something that are roosting in the overhangs of our house and they are also crawling inside our walls because I hear them scratching at night. Also, there is a terrible smell coming from our upstairs hallway or bedroom so something has died in our house somewhere. So, could you please tell us how do we get rid of the smell and how do we prevent this from happening again. Thank you very much,

Hi D.S.,
Call an exterminator to get whatever varmint you have out of there.
Next you have to find the entry point. It could an opening the size of a silver dollar or less, and it could be anywhere. You have to go over the exterior of your house with a fine tooth comb. Rodents can compress the size of their bodies to the size of their skull. If they can poke their head through, they are getting in. If you find an open ventilation hole, put on some new hardware cloth over the opening. Many times, they'll find their way in through the hole for the liquid suction lines from the air conditioner. If you see too large of an opening for the a/c lines, pack it with steel wool and spray some foam to seal it. They won't eat through steel wool.
As far as the deceased critter in your wall, you can try to find it but this won't be easy. I'd start by looking around the attic but if you don't see it, know that whatever it is will dry up and the smell will go away eventually.

Hello Robert,
We've got a leak in our kitchen sink. It drips all night long and it's driving me crazy. I'd like to know what I can do to remedy this. Thanks,
Amy M.

Hi Amy,
To repair, you would disassemble the fixture. Turn the water off and pull the stems out. Check the seats and make sure they're tight. There are seat wrenches for this. You can look down with a flashlight or sometimes you can feel it with your finger. If they feel smooth and round, chances are they are okay.
It could also be the washer on the end of the stem. If this is cracked or damaged, replace it. If you're going to replace the washers, go ahead and replace the stems also. With the daily usage of on and off, the bushings inside the stems get worn and they could be on their way out anyway. However, if it's ten years old or more it may be better and a lot less headache to go and buy a new one. Besides, it's fun to get a new fixture. I like changing out things like that - it gives you a fresher, newer feel.

Mr. Lamoureux,
Whenever I use hot water in my house, in the sink or shower, there is a horrendous smell like rotten eggs. This is everywhere that I use hot water so it has to be coming from my hot water heater, right? Should I replace it? Can it be fixed? Thank you,
Denny B.

Hi Denny,
You are absolutely right. As hot water tanks get older, you will find this problem from time to time. It's the chemical composition within the tank from all of the sediments that gather at the bottom that will emit this smell.
You can try flushing it out, but most of the time this won't work. There comes a time when the mineral deposits are so solidified in the bottom of the tank, like concrete, that the water heater has to be replaced.
Besides the smell, which is enough of a reason to replace, just imagine all of the extra energy that is being wasted for the heat to travel up through this layer of sediment, before it begins to actually heat the water above it - not to mention the loss of water volume.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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