Home Improvement: Toilet Day

American Gothic Home Improvement
American Gothic Home Improvement

Winnie and I have worked home improvement projects since we moved to our home in Northern Virginia. At this point, over the eleven-plus years we’ve lived here we’ve remodeled every room in the house except for the bonus room over the garage, which we’re presently working. Although we’ve already remodeled all three baths the one thing we didn’t do was replace toilets, on the basis that the toilets were mostly doing what they were designed to do so leave them alone.

This changed on Saturday.

The Setup

Although the toilets mostly did what they’re supposed to do, we had problems. Sometimes the toilet water did not stop running, sometimes the toilets didn’t quite flush the way they were supposed to. They tended to be noisy. A few years back I discovered one tank was leaking due to a spontaneously developed  hairline crack (repaired with some epoxy).

Over the past fiver years I’d replaced the toilet tank workings at least twice in each toilet, but we continued to have random issues. It turns out that simple things randomly not working can be extremely irritating.

A couple of weeks ago Winnie and I were in our favorite store, Lowe’s. We were just browsing around because where else does a home-owning couple go when they have free time? While there, we discovered Lowe’s was having a sale on toilets. Winnie happened to see one particular model and excitedly told me the price to buy it was less than it would cost a plumber to fix an existing toilet. I hadn’t been planning on calling in a plumber to fix our existing toilets, but, no matter. Winnie had an idea.

So we drove home that afternoon the proud new owners of three “American Standard” low-water flush toilets. We stored them in our living room, waiting until I had time to install them.

They sat in our living room for two weeks, waiting. This past Saturday morning Winnie woke me up to tell me our main bath toilet would not stop running. I got up, turned off the toilet water, and decided this would be the day to install toilets. It was looking to be a crappy day anyway.

The Installation

We had breakfast and got to work. Since shit flows downhill I started with replacing our upstairs toilet. I’ve pulled and installed toilets before so I didn’t see it would be a big deal. Although the toilet box labels claimed all installation parts were included, I’d bought a few plumbing accessories “just in case”. My norm for home plumbing projects is at least one emergency trip to Lowe’s and I wanted to try breaking that record with no trips.

The first toilet was easy. Shut off the water, drain the water from tank and bowl, unbolt the tank and discard, then unbolt the bowl and discard. Remove the old wax bowl seal and hold-down bolts. Put on new bolts, new wax seal, set the new bowl down, and bolt it in. Install the new tank, bolt in place, connect the water hose, test and done. No leaks or drips. Winnie provided much-needed supervision and technical assistance, and helped me move toilets around.

The first toilet took about one hour. I was on a roll.

We moved to the main floor bath. Repeat toilet removal, installation, test and done. No leaks or drips. By now we had two old toilets parked on our front lawn on account we had nowhere else to put them. It was only 10:00, and I had one more toilet to replace in our basement bath.

The basement bath was the one that forced an emergency Lowe’s trip. We had raised the floor a few years back for our first remodeling project and I needed to use a double wax seal that didn’t come with the kit. So I made my standard home plumbing repair emergency Lowe’s run. Back home, finished up the last install, and done. Except for the cleanup.


We now had three old toilets sitting out on the front lawn, undoubtedly drawing attention from the neighbors. I was OK with leaving the toilets there and suggested to Winnie they would  make great flower planters. Winnie wasn’t convinced and thoughtfully suggested I haul them off to our town landfill. So I loaded them into my Jeep and unceremoniously dumped them off, leaving behind many memories and years of thoughtful inspiration.  

Back home I finished up the day caulking in the new toilets and putting on the hold-down bolt covers. We were done. The new toilets look great, flush using less water, and generally seem to do what they’re supposed to do. With any luck we’re done with toilet problems and can move on to bigger and better home improvement work.

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