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Robert Lamoureux: Be careful of deadly sewer gases

Your Home Improvements

Posted: February 5, 2010 10:41 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2010 4:30 a.m.
We have designed a custom, full color Signal / Your Home Improvements T-shirt that we will  send to you, with our compliments, if we answer your question in our column.  Thank you, Robert Lamoureux

Hi Robert
My wife and I always enjoy your column. Hopefully, you can help with my problem. I decided it was time to replace the toilets that came with the house many years ago and with the rebate from the water company, it didn’t cost too much to do so.

I purchased and installed three identical American Standard High Efficiency Toilets that came with complete installation materials (wax ring, bolts and nuts etc.).

All three were installed the same way and set to the same water level in the tank. Two of them seem to work fine but the third one has water splash up when it is flushed. I notice that the water level in the bowl is also lower in this one than the other two and is nearly level with the top of the water inlet in the front of the bowl.

I checked how level the bowls are and found this one is slightly slanted down from front to back. Could this possibly be causing the problem?

If so, can I raise the back by inserting some plastic shims without having to completely reinstall a new wax ring? Thanks so much for your advice.
Bob B.

Hi Bob,

It’s not unusual for toilets to be defective. Jets can get plugged up — I would take it back and get a new one.  

Before installing the new toilet, you want to make sure that the floor is level. The base of the toilet should be in full contact with the floor, so you don’t want to install any shims. If you do, you run the risk of sewer gases escaping into your home. This is serious as those gasses can be fatal.

First you need to determine why the floor is not level and address that problem. It could be an original construction defect. A floor leveling agent might be all you need, depending on how bad of a slope you have. Maybe the original toilet had leaked at some time and rotted some of the subfloor or the top of the joist causing it to sink and sit lower in the back. Call in a contractor if necessary, but the floor has to be repaired before the new toilet is installed. If the gap between the closet ring and the toilet is high, you can always put in a double wax ring, but that ring must be replaced whenever you pull the toilet because once that seal is broken, you are no longer protected from those gasses.

Also, once you set your toilet, run a bead of caulk around the base where it meets the floor.  This will help keep the toilet stable and glues the toilet to the floor — in addition to giving you a nice, clean finished look.

Hello Robert,
For the last three years, every time it rains, they send somebody to put caulk on my window. Now here we go again. How should this be handled? Is caulk a cure-all for leaks? Shouldn’t they just give me a new window? Also, there are diagonal cracks in the stucco from the corners of the window. That’s what they should seal. Thank you,
Darren B.

Hi Darren,
No, caulk is only a Band Aid. It will help temporarily, but to actually fix the problem requires, first of all, a water test to ascertain the source of water intrusion.
I can’t say if you need a new window without seeing it, but typically what we find is bad paper. As you know, stucco is porous.

Water is going to get inside stucco, even without the cracks. So, they could patch the cracks but if the paper is bad, then you’re going to have leaks. That’s because it’s actually the paper underneath that is your waterproofing. If you have bad paper, then you need to demo the stucco out until you find good paper, then reinstall.  

We apply bituthene to any transition points, another waterproofing agent, and then make sure you lap the paper correctly. Then come back with new lath, scratch, brown and color coat of stucco.

Hi Robert,
I hope that you can find the time to help with this problem. During the last rain, we had a lot of water dripping through the kitchen ceiling. It has not been repaired yet. I thought maybe it was a plumbing line in the attic so I went up and saw daylight through our roof. We have a hole in our roof about the size of a golf ball. I have no idea what caused it, but there is a hole through the shingles and the roof. I thought it might have been a meteorite, but there is no evidence in our attic.  

Anyway, this is not the best time for me to hire a roofer so I’m hoping that this will be a somewhat easy DIY project. I would like to hear how you would go about repairing something like this. Thank you very much,
Steven G.

Hi Steven,
It could have been a rodent that chewed through your roof. I’ve seen the same thing happen before where rats chewed through the plywood to get into the attic.  

For the repair, get a pinch bar and remove all of the nails to pull the shingles.  

Next you would remove the paper and expose the damaged section of plywood. Set your blade to a one-half inch depth to cut out and replace that plywood, but be very careful not to cut the rafters below.  

Once you get it cut out, reframe from the attic side with 2 x 6’s and nail in the new plywood.  

After the new plywood is in, you’re going to want to re-paper and I would suggest a 30-pound felt with a 6-inch underlap. Work the paper under the top piece and work your way down.  

Once you get the paper installed, then reset and renail all of your shingles.

While you’re up on the roof, it would be a good time to check all of your roof vents and make sure they are sealed. If you don’t have doughnuts, which are rubber seals around your roof jacks, then you have to put mastic. We use Henry’s 208. If you see any black mastic that is cracked, put a rubber glove on and put on another coat of the 208 and push it in being careful not to cut yourself. You should make sure your vent stacks are sealed properly every two years.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. 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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