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DIY Bathroom: Replacing Your Toilet

Hello all, my bathroom is finally done!  It took me more than a week, but I’m really happy with how it came out.  I could have gotten it done faster, but after the first three days I took it slowly and only put in a few hours at a time.

I was a little nervous about putting in a new toilet.  It was something I had never done before, though I had seen someone else do it.  It really wasn’t that hard.  It wasn’t particularly fun, but it wasn’t hard.  I only needed four tools to get the job done, and they are all pretty common.

Yes, that is my iPhone. I'll get to that part later.
Hopefully yours won't be quite as yucky as mine.

Step one, you need to get the old toilet out.  First, turn off the water.  My knob is corroded and nasty so it took a little persuasion, but in the end I won.  Once the water is off, flush as much water out as you can.  Mine had about a quarter inch of water left in the tank and a full bowl.  I then used our trusty plunger to force most of the water out of the bowl.  Then you disconnect the water supply hose from the tank.  It’s not a bad idea to have a bucket and rags around when you do this, there shouldn’t be much spillage, but there will be a little.  I should have included the bucket and rags in my tool photo, but I forgot.  (Sorry.)

Now you’re ready to start taking things apart.  I started by removing the unnecessary bits, the tank lid and the toilet seat, and getting them out of the room.  You don’t have to do this, but it made things easier to strip everything down and reduce the clutter. Now you remove the tank bolts.  This was the worst part of the whole process.  If your toilet has ever been used by a male-type person, chances are it’s a little funky under the edges.  I live with three boys, who I’m pretty sure just stand in the doorway and “aim,” so undoing the hardware was nasty.  I washed my hands a lot.  A whole lot.  Anyway, I did this part myself, but a partner wouldn’t have been amiss.  You have to use a screwdriver to hold the screw head inside the tank, while wedging a wrench under the toilet tank to undo the bolt.  And the remaining water in the tank was dripping out while I did it.  And there’s one on either side, so you have to do it twice.  There may have been some cursing involved.  However, once you have the bolts undone, all you have to do is lift off the tank and take it out of the room.

Bolts under the new tank (I didn't want to subject you to pictures of what was under my old toilet)
Bolt heads inside the new tank

Now you have half a toilet bolted to your floor.  I didn’t read any directions before I started because, looking at the assembly, it seemed like a case of “unscrew everything and take it apart.”  I don’t recommend this as a course of action, but it does bring me to my first bit of advice:

Sara’s Tip #1 – If a part of your project suddenly seems much harder than the previous steps, stop and check the directions.

I tried my best to undo the floor bolts, but those nuts weren’t budging.  Years of corrosion had fused the nuts and bolts together, I could just barely get them to spin as a unit.  So I reasoned that there must be another way.  After checking a diagram of the floor bracket that held the toilet in place I realized that the nuts didn’t have to come off.  Instead, I grabbed the bowl, gave it a twist and it popped right up, leaving me with this:

It was every bit as gross as it looks

It was not-so-lovingly dubbed “The Poo-Hole” and I had to deal with it for most of a week.  Taking out the old toilet was one of the first things I did.  Putting in the new one was one of the last.  In the meantime, there was an open poo-hole to contend with.  The first thing I did was pour some bleach in there.  The second thing we did was stuff a towel in it.  It didn’t smell quite as bad as you might expect a poo-hole to smell, but the odor was pervasive.  As I mentioned earlier, I live with teenage boys.  There were a lot of poo-hole jokes.  I even made some of them.  When I’m tired, my sense of humor drifts toward “twelve-year-old boy.”  After the great floor debacle, someone mentioned burning the towel when we were done and I yelled, “No, you can’t do that!  It’ll release the spores into the air.  We’re gonna start the zombie apocalypse because we burned the poo-hole towel!”  You catch my drift.

After much floor business, new baseboards and some painting, it was finally time to put in the new toilet.  Unless your old toilet was more than fifty years old, the existing floor bracket/flange should work with your new toilet.  Clean as much wax and gunge off of it as you can and bring in the new toilet base.  The floor bolts that come in the box are probably longer than you need.  You can either cut them down to size before installation or after.  If you are using bolt cutters I suggest doing it after, because it will be harder to thread the nuts on when the ends are all mashed out of shape.  You should also have a fancy new wax ring to seal the gap between the toilet base and the drain pipe.  From what I could see, most of the toilets I looked at came with new wax rings.  Check the side of the box, if it doesn’t say that it comes with one, get one from the hardware store.  The wax ring is what stops everything you flush from seeping out from under the toilet, you want a good one.  Set the toilet base upside down and place the wax ring on the opening that will match up with the drain.  Mash it down a little, just enough that it will stay stuck in place when you turn the base right side up.  Slide the new floor bolts into the grooves in the bracket on the floor so they are about where you want them to be, then get ready to set the base onto the bracket.  This is another part where a spotter could come in handy.  It would have been nice to have someone who could tell me when I was close to setting the base on both bolts at the same time.  As is was, I had to bend myself sideways a bit so I could see the bolts with the toilet hovering over them.  Once you have set the base down on the bolts, take some time to line it up so it is straight and then “apply pressure evenly to the base to set the wax ring.”  I sat on it.  It seemed like the easiest way to apply the pressure evenly.  However you do it, apply pressure till the wax ring has squashed down enough that the base is sitting on the floor, then tighten the floor bolts down.  My instructions told me repeatedly to avoid over-tightening, lest I crack the ceramics, but you want to get it tight enough that it won’t wobble when you sit on it.

Pretty new floor bolts, unmarred by time or boys with bad aim.
We have flushing!

Now that you have a solid base, put on the new tank.  Put the tank screws through the tank holes and then put the tank on the base.  Now you get to do the “one arm in the tank, the other under the base” thing again, only without the yucky water dripping out.  This is where the iPhone came into play.  When both tank screws are tight-ish, you need to make sure the tank is level.  I own a level, actually I own two, but both of them were down in the garage and I didn’t feel like going downstairs so I downloaded the Handy iLevel app for my phone and just used it.  It worked surprisingly well.  Get the tank level, reconnect the water supply, turn it back on and ta-da!  You have flushing!  At this point, everyone in my house started arguing about who got to be the first to use the new toilet.  I believe the Mister won.  Everyone else lost interest when they realized that I wasn’t re-hanging the door yet, he just waited till they were all in bed for the night.

So that’s it.  Aside from some help lugging toilet parts up and down stairs, I was able to do everything myself.  Like I said, there were times when I might have liked a partner, but it is entirely doable as a one-person job.

Project costs:

New Toilet – $129.00

6% Sales Tax – $7.74

Total – $136.74

Total from last post  – $29.25

Project total so far (subfloor fixed, new toilet in) – $165.99

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/AngryOwlStudio if you're interested in checking it out.

11 replies on “DIY Bathroom: Replacing Your Toilet”

Wow! I’m pretty sure I could not have replaced our toilet by myself when we needed a new wax ring. I helped guide it into place. I had read a tip on the Internet to place cut straws over the bolts to help you line everything up. I honestly can’t remember if it helped much, but I thought it was a pretty cool tip. Anyway, it felt so great to fix the leak ourselves! Congrats!

Oh wow! The incredibleness of your beautiful bathroom is being made even more epic because i swear your flooring looks nigh on the same as what we have in our bathroom!

Apart from the flooring though, it’s really cool to see what you’ve done and how, it doesn’t seem nearly as scary as i envisioned it could be.

Wow, it looks fab! I had to change that big tube thing in the tank this when my tenant took it upon himself to try to “look into the toilet” and broke it. Gee thanks!

It was a royal mess but I was so proud of myself when it was done. One thing I encountered was the screws in the tank had completely rusted. I couldn’t get it out for the life of me. But somehow I managed. The internet was great, because I had no idea what I was doing. Soooo I’m bookmarking this little bad boy for further use! Thanks!!!

Thank you!

Yeah, the tank screws were a mess both inside and out, you’d think they would have figured out how to stop that by now.

I know it’s petty, but I always feel a little bit extra empowered when a know-it-all guy breaks something and I come in and fix it. Especially if he gives me the “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it little lady” vibe.

Well, actually this guy is worst than that. His parens were coming to visit and he asked if I could “help” him put up some curtains.

I said, “I put them up in ten minutes, it’s a cinch. You’ll do fine.”

He looked at me blankly and said, “But I don’t have a power screw driver.”

I said, “Neither did I”!!!!

I think he might have wanted me to act like his Mommy!

Yay Sara! You are a badass! The new floor and terlet look great, and if I were you I wouldn’t let any of the errant pissers in there for a month. (I think man urine is part flubber, it’s the only way it can end up in all the places it does.)

I’ve never replaced an entire toilet, but I’ve replaced all the parts in the tank, which required taking the tank off. It was in the powder room, which has just enough space for the toilet and the sink, so it involved a lot of bending and dragging my ponytail through Very Bad Things. I am in awe of your accomplishment. Especially because my terlet has not worked quite the same since the repair. I’m choosing not to think about it.

Seriously, I don’t know what they do in there. I found old pee in the weirdest places. I’ve started calling it “pee-funk” and I tend to sing George Clinton when I have to clean it up. It helps a little.

I’m glad this bathroom is fairly spacious. My friends have a powder room that is so small there’s about six inches between the toilet and the sink, and it’s only about two feet wide. After guest or two got stuck in there they stopped using it as a bathroom and turned it into a teeny-tiny server farm. I have also not had the greatest luck with fixing tank innards, but as long as it removes waste from the house it works in my book.

I hate that this post was at the end, because it’s totally derailed me from the original conversation. But I must know… a) your friends have friends who got stuck in their powder room? And this happened more than once??? and b) so they made it into a server room?!? Did they keep the toilet? Does the plumbing still work? How do they keep it cool? Are there photos??

It is still a functioning bathroom, but I doubt it has been used as such in a very long time. It is an older house and all the ceilings are about 10′ high so all the computer equipment is above eye level on shelves. “Farm” was a bit of an exaggeration, it’s just our friend’s personal server and a few other computer related boxes with blinking lights so the regular house air conditioning is sufficient.

And I know my husband, who is a pretty big guy, got stuck in there. He was experiencing a bathroom emergency and the other bathrooms were occupied. He was able to extricate himself, but he staggered back into the living room declaring that he was never, under any circumstances, ever going back into the little bathroom. I did some painting in there and I managed to hit both my elbows, stub my toes and hit myself in the face with a paintbrush while I was in there.

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