A few things to check when toilet tank leaks

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceOctober 2, 2013 

Q: One of our toilets leaks constantly from tank to bowl. We can hear it and know it is running up our water bill, big time. I put in a new flapper valve, but it didn’t help. What next? — Ray

A: The flapper valve, which controls the flow of water from tank to bowl, is sometimes the cause of these leaks, but it pays to check the refill valve first. Remove the tank lid and observe what happens when water flows into the tank from your water source. The refill valve is the tube-like mechanism at the left of the tank, and often has a ball float on the end of a metal rod attached to it. At the center of the tank is the overflow pipe.

If water is running into the overflow after the tank refills, the refill valve is defective or out of adjustment. In simple terms, the valve is letting too much water into the tank, and the noise you hear is water running into the overflow and then into the bowl. The valve might simply need adjustment, and you can sometimes do this by grasping the metal rod that holds the ball float and bending the rod down slightly, which will lower the float and should lower the level of water in the tank and shut off the water supply before it overflows.

If this doesn’t work and you have an owner’s manual for the toilet, check it to see if there are other adjustments you can make to the valve to stop the tank from over-filling. In some toilets, the refill valve has no ball float, and adjustments are made by raising or lowering a float on the valve tower. Ideally, the tank should refill to about an inch below the top of the overflow tube. If you conclude that the refill valve is defective, replacement valves are available at most home centers and on the Internet. Prices start at about $8. Replacement refill valves include do-it-yourself installation instructions, but some basic plumbing tools and skills are helpful.

If the refill valve does not appear to be the problem, it is possible that even though you installed a new flapper, it is not making a good seal with its seat — the round opening at the bottom of the tank where the water flows into the bowl.

To check your new flapper, or an old one suspected of leaking, turn off the water at the valve under the toilet and flush, which will remove much of the water from the tank. First, eyeball the flapper to make sure it is making good contact with the seat. If it is, lift the flapper and feel the seat with your fingertips for dirt or corrosion. If the seat is not smooth, it might be causing a poor fit with the flapper. Wipe the seat with a clean cloth to remove dirt. If there is corrosion, use a little very fine steel wool or a kitchen cleaning pad. When you are convinced the seat is clean, let the tank refill and see if there is still a leak. If there is, reach into the tank and push down firmly on the flapper (If there isn’t space for your arm, use a stick with a flat, smooth end.) If the leak stops, you’ll know the flapper is still not seating properly.Re-adjust the chain that lifts and drops the flapper and see if the leaking stops. If not, you might have installed a flapper that does not fit your toilet.

Q: I’ve read a couple of articles about furnace air filters, but I’m still confused about what type would be best for my heater. I’d like to remove dust, pollen, pet dander and so forth from the air in the house, but some sources say the filters that clean air best can damage my equipment. Is this true and what type of filter do you suggest? — Sally

A: There is some controversy about this, but I think if you don’t let the filter get too dirty and change it when necessary, you shouldn’t damage your equipment no matter what type of filter you choose.

So-called high-efficiency filters, which screen out the most and finest particles, are the main targets of criticism and might cause problems with the blower motor or other mechanical parts if allowed to get so dirty they clog free movement of air through the blower.

No matter what type of filter you use, don’t rely on manufacturer’s claims about how long a filter will last — pull it out periodically and inspect it in good light. Once-a-month inspections are about the minimum for filter safety. If necessary, hang a calendar somewhere near the heater or air conditioner and check the dates when you make inspections. It is also a good idea to print the date on the cardboard border when installing a new filter. I tried high-efficiency filters for a while, but didn’t notice much difference between the performance and that of a good-quality pleated filter, which costs a lot less. I now use pleated filters regularly.

Questions? Email Alan J. Heavens at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.

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