How serious is a running toilet? Just ask anyone who’s received a $500 water bill because of one.
To most people, a running toilet doesn’t sound like a terribly big deal, but what may seem like a mere annoyance can quickly escalate into a major problem. It’s like turning on a faucet and just letting it run. Even a simple leak in your toilet can easily fill a swimming pool with thousands of gallons of wasted water within a matter of days. And while water is a fairly cheap commodity under normal circumstances, a leaking toilet can result in an unpleasant surprise when you find yourself opening a utility bill that usually totals around $40 to discover you owe several hundred dollars.
The lifespan of a toilet
It’s not often a top-of-mind fixture but make no mistake about it — the humble toilet is one of the most essential and frequently used items in your home. How long yours lasts depends on the material it’s constructed from, the amount of use it gets and whether it’s thoughtfully maintained. Well-constructed toilets that are properly maintained can last a lifetime, but poorly made models that receive a great deal of wear and tear may need to be replaced every few years.
The older a toilet is and the more use it’s seen throughout its life, the more likely it is to experience cracks and fissures. Imagine dropping a china plate from the height of a half inch. It’s probably not going to break after one drop. But, if you keep dropping that plate repeatedly, tiny stress fractures will begin to form and eventually, it will shatter. The same principle applies to slamming the seat down on a toilet. Over time, the porcelain can become weakened and crack, creating prime conditions for leaks.
Hard water is another factor that can adversely affect your toilet and your plumbing on the whole. When hard water deposits form in the pipes, it can prevent a toilet from functioning at optimal efficiency.
When does a running toilet become an issue?
If you can hear the toilet running or see any leaking at all, even if it seems minor, you’ve got a problem that shouldn’t be ignored and needs to be fixed quickly. Beyond the astronomical water bills running toilets have the power to produce, they can also cause damage to the home if water is actually leaking out of the bowl or tank.
In cases of a hard or corroded flapper (the stopper that holds water in the tank before releasing it into the bowl when you flush) or an old gasket, the leak is usually contained within the toilet. However, a crack in the bowl or tank can lead to water leaking directly into your floor, destroying hardwood, tile, carpet and even the subfloor underneath. If that happens, you’ve got a major — and expensive — remediation problem to deal with.
Toilet leaks can sometimes be very subtle. In some instances, you may not actually hear or see water leaching out of the toilet. If you suspect your toilet’s sprung a minor leak, you can perform your own simple test by adding a drop or two of food coloring to the water in the tank. If after 20 minutes you see colored water seeping into the bowl, you know you’ve got a leak.
Tackling DIY repairs
Most mechanically minded homeowners can address minor toilet repairs themselves without much trouble. It’s usually not too complicated to take care of small fixes like replacing a flapper or chain yourself with parts readily available at hardware stores or major home improvement stores, although some brands can be trickier to work with than others.
When to call the professionals
If you’re experiencing a major leak or damage to the gasket, the flushing mechanism, the pipes, the bowl or the interior of the toilet, it’s best to call a plumbing pro. Overly ambitious homeowners can quickly find themselves in over their heads and wind up making the problem worse, costing more time, stress and money in the long run than if they paid a professional plumber to quickly correct the problem at its onset.