Lean back on the toi­let with­out worry

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - ASK THE BUILDER - By Tim Carter

Q: An un­named per­son liv­ing in my home says that the toi­let seat lid and the toi­let tank are made for lean­ing back against while us­ing the fix­ture for per­sonal needs. In a ne­go­ti­a­tion de­bate with this per­son, I men­tioned that the bolts fas­ten­ing the tank to the bowl aren’t strong enough for lean­ing as one might against a stan­dard chair. What say you, wise Tim? Do you ar­bi­trate these touchy dis­cords be­tween co­hab­i­tants on a fre­quent ba­sis?

A: Truth be told, I ad­ju­di­cate dis­putes — or should I say spir­ited dis­cus­sions? — be­tween two peo­ple liv­ing un­der the same roof at least once a month.

I’ve been a mas­ter plumber since age 29. I’ve in­stalled more toi­lets than I care to re­mem­ber. The tra­di­tional toi­let tank used to have just two brass bolts that con­nected it to the toi­let bowl. One man­u­fac­turer years ago thought this was in­suf­fi­cient and de­vel­oped a three-bolt de­sign. The third bolt added lots of strength.

The bolts in ei­ther de­sign are plenty strong and should never break if some­one leans back against the tank while sit­ting on the toi­let bowl. How­ever, it’s the rub­ber O-rings that sur­round the bolts that are the is­sue. It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to cre­ate a leak be­tween the toi­let tank and bowl if you push back against the tank too much.

This is quite pos­si­ble as the toi­let ages and the rub­ber O-rings be­come less pli­able. I’m sure you’ve seen rub­ber that be­comes brit­tle with age. You don’t want to hope that the rub­ber O-rings stay sup­ple in­def­i­nitely.

Plumbers can in­stall toi­lets so the tank is snug against a wall, but this re­quires quite a bit of plan­ning. What’s more, if the tank is tight against the wall, the tank lid might not fit well be­cause the lids are larger than the tank and of­ten have an over­hang­ing rear lip.

It’s easy to keep peace in these sit­u­a­tions. When the lean­ing co­hab­i­tant is out and about hav­ing cof­fee with a friend or pick­ing up gro­ceries, you can glue some wood shims be­tween the back of the toi­let tank and the wall be­hind the tank.

You can use paint stir­ring sticks, reg­u­lar ta­pered wood shims and con­struc­tion ad­he­sive that comes in a stan­dard caulk tube to ac­com­plish this sim­ple fix. The key thing to re­mem­ber is to be sure the shims are about 1⁄2-inch be­low the top of the tank lip so the tank lid doesn’t touch the shims when you put it back on.

Q: Tim, I en­joy all the videos on your Ask­theBuilder web­site. I just moved into an apart­ment that’s tired and old, and my land­lord is slow at mak­ing re­pairs. Can you help me fix a closet door that wants to al­ways shut on its own with­out hav­ing to use a doorstop? This same door is rub­bing the frame up at the top cor­ner. How can I fix that? Fi­nally, the sink in the bath­room drains slowly. Is there a fast way to see if it’s clogged with some­thing? Thanks so much.

A: These pesky prob­lems can hap­pen in houses, con­do­mini­ums and apart­ments, no mat­ter what the age. I have a ghost door in my own mas­ter bath­room that wants to close on its own, and She Who Must Be Obeyed has let me know that it must be fixed. I don’t see why I have to be re­minded ev­ery six months, though!

The self-clos­ing door is per­haps the eas­i­est thing to cure. I’ve had great suc­cess by sim­ply bend­ing one of the door hinge pins. The bend in the pin cre­ates just enough ad­di­tional fric­tion to over­come the force of grav­ity that closes the door with­out your help.

I pre­fer to bend the top hinge pin. Open the door part way and slide a folded mag­a­zine or some thin pieces of card­board un­der the far bot­tom tip of the door un­der the han­dle.

This will sup­port the door when you re­move the top hinge pin.

Some­times the bot­tom of the hinge has a hole so you can in­sert a large nail to get the pin to move up. Once the hinge pin is out, take it out­side to a con­crete sur­face and lay it on its side. Strike it in the cen­ter with mod­er­ate force to put a slight bend in the steel shaft. Rein­sert the pin, and let’s move onto stop­ping the door rub.

The rub­bing that hap­pens at the top of a door frame is of­ten caused be­cause the top door hinge screws have come loose. Open the door so you have ac­cess to the hinge screws and tighten them. If that works, fan­tas­tic. If not, then you may have to set the hinge plate deeper in its mor­tise. This re­quires the use of a wood chisel and great hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion. What’s more, leave this to the land­lord as it’s his door, not yours.

The slow bath­room sink drain can also be quite easy to fix. If the sink is equipped with a stan­dard pop-up drain, the tiny prong that makes the stop­per go up and down is su­perb at catch­ing hair and other gunk. You can buy long plas­tic strips that can hook the hair and pull it back up out of the drain. You can also un­screw the nut on the back of the tail­piece, re­move the lever that lifts the stop­per and clear out all the ob­struc­tions. This can be done in less than two min­utes. Watch the video I have at on my web­site that shows how to do this.

DREAMSTIME

Plumbers can in­stall toi­lets so the tank is snug against a wall, but this re­quires quite a bit of plan­ning.

TIM CARTER

The gap you see be­tween the toi­let tank and the wall should be shimmed if you want to lean back against the tank while on the john.

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