diagnosing a toilet leak

Discussion in 'Toilets and Sinks' started by beh333, Aug 2, 2018.

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  1. Aug 2, 2018 #1

    beh333

    beh333

    beh333

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    Hi all. I have a Toto Ultimate toilet on my third floor, probably 8 years old. Directly below that toilet, on my second floor, I observed today a significant bubble of water that had formed behind the paint on the wall. I went up to the third floor and found the toilet flapper stuck open with the fill valve running and running. There was no excess water visible around the toilet. (The base of the toilet appears caulked/grouted to the floor btw.) I reset the flapper. I went back down to the water bubble on the second floor, where I cut the paint bubble and got about one pint of smelly brown water.

    I am wondering, is it possible that the flapper problem can lead to water seeping down to the next floor? Or is it certain that there is another problem, such as a faulty wax seal at the base of the toilet?

    Previously in situations like this, with other one-time water incidents below other fixtures in my 3rd floor bathroom, there has never been anything for a plumber to do. I have occasionally wasted a few hundred dollars for professional plumbers to tell me exactly that ("nothing to do").

    I guess the question of what to do with the damp wall where the water bubble formed is for another forum... but advice on that appreciated too :)
     
  2. Aug 2, 2018 #2

    havasu

    havasu

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    You gotta open up that wall and dry it out before mold sets in. As far as the toilet, I'm going to guess your wax ring has failed. Did you caulk around the entire base of the toilet? If so, only caulk the left, right and front caulked up, leaving the back open so you will know when the wax ring fails the next time.
     
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  3. Aug 4, 2018 #3

    anticlmatic

    anticlmatic

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    I have seen bad flapper issues cause significant pooling condensation in the summer months due to all the fresh ice cold water flowing through it all the time. Hope you get lucky and it isn’t a big crack in the cast iron drain ;)
     
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  4. Aug 6, 2018 #4

    beh333

    beh333

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    Thanks for the tips. I removed all the soggy material from the ceiling -- roughly one third of the entire ceiling. It was a mess of drywall layered next to 100 year old horsehair etc. Remarkably, considering the extent of water in the bathroom ceiling, I don't see water in any other rooms/ceilings. (E.g., the toilet drain is directly above the wall, and my bedroom is adjacent to the water damaged room, just on the other side the toilet drain pipe. But no water went that way. I cut a hole in the bedroom ceiling to verify this.) Also there is no water damage on the 1st floor.

    Through the huge new hole in the ceiling I can see a PVC drain pipe. So it seems there is no cast iron serving the 3rd floor toilet. (That said, because of the old wood slats and insulation of the original ceiling, I still cannot see where the drain pipe meets the toilet. I can just see a foot of horizontal PVC that elbows into a straight-down section of PVC descending through the 2nd floor walls.)

    I replaced the flapper and handle assembly in the third floor toilet so it always seals properly now. The toilet gets flushed many times a day and there has been no more water leaking/dripping. I am hesitant to repair the 2nd floor until after properly diagnosing the 3rd floor leak, but I am also hesitant to repeat my earlier experience (one year ago) of hiring a plumber who concludes that there is nothing to fix, which seems quite possible this time around as well.

    Maybe I try forcing the 3rd floor toilet flapper open while watching carefully from second floor and wait for the leak to recur that way?

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    Last edited: Aug 6, 2018
  5. Aug 6, 2018 #5

    anticlmatic

    anticlmatic

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    Find the 100% certain cause of the leak before tackling the far more difficult job of drywalling.

    I’ve found sources of leaks about 10 feet away from the ceiling damage before. Water can do some funny things. Get your head up there with a flashlight and look for shiny wetness anywhere above the damage or anywhere around the edge of it.
     
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  6. Aug 7, 2018 #6

    beh333

    beh333

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    Reproduced the leak! When the toilet is flushed normally (many times a day), there is no problem. But when I remove the flapper and let it flow, there is instantly water dribbling to second floor. It's a bit hard to see *exactly* where it originates but my hunch is a faulty wax seal (which I can't see from the hole in my second floor ceiling).

    I think I can handle replacing a wax seal if only I can get the toilet off the floor. It's got grout (not caulk) all the way around the toilet base, resting on super-hard floor tiles (as I learned a while ago in a grab bar install project). So my plan is to remove the grout. Any grout-removing tips appreciated. In particular, I'd like to avoid damaging my toilet and the tile floor, and be able to keep using the same toilet (which I assume means I need to remove pretty much *all* the grout).

    Thanks anticlmatic and others on this forum!
     
  7. Aug 8, 2018 #7

    Mr_David

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    If you unbolt the bowl all you need is a little bump and the side and it should just pop off the grout
    You make have to chip off the grout from the floor before resetting. UNLESS you have one of those rare occasion when someone tiled the floor around the toilet without pulling the toilet 1st.
     
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  8. Aug 8, 2018 #8

    CT18

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    I used a multi tool for grout removal in shower stall, Im sure it will work on that.
     
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  9. Aug 9, 2018 #9

    jeffnc

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    A multi tool is indeed most likely your best bet for removing the grout. (FYI grout should never be used around a toilet - only caulk.) You would want a carbide grout removal blade. A grinder would work better/faster, but you are too likely to scratch the toilet.

    Removing and reinstalling a toilet is actually pretty easy. Obviously remove all water from it, then standing directly over it you're able to get enough pull to lift and move it a few feet to the side. It's not like you have to carry it downstairs.

    A toilet should never leak regardless of how long the flapper stays open. The only issue should ever be condensation as anticlimatic mentioned. But that is obvious so you can easily check that by simply looking.

    Your scenario is rare and if you look at how a toilet is built, it's hard to imagine how it's happening. There isn't supposed to be any water pathway where water can get out when the flapper is open as opposed to when it flushes. (After all, the flapper is open when it flushes.) It should not be a problem with the wax seal except in a very very unusual circumstance. Everything that happens when you flush is the same as when the flapper is open, it's only the force of flow that's different. It would have to be something like when water is dribbling slowly, it follows a path by "sticking" to one side of the drain and happening to hit a specific spot where there is a gap in the wax. But when you flush, water "rushes" down the middle, mostly bypassing that little gap. I'm just guessing, as this isn't a problem that should be occurring.
     
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  10. Aug 9, 2018 #10

    beh333

    beh333

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    I brought in my professional plumber, and good thing! He explained how the toilet was installed rather "creatively" due to the lower flange of the exit pipe being below the tile floor instead of above the tile floor. So the current installation had all sorts of extra spacers and caulk in addition to the standard wax seal to make up for the extra inch gap between flanges. He is putting some concrete in so that the lower flange can be reinstalled at the correct height to meet the upper flange with a standard wax seal. We could have instead done a double wax seal but I can't bear the thought of another leak there, which the double-wax seal would risk. Concrete is the real fix to the toilet installation and I can replace my downstairs ceiling with confidence after this is over.
     
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  11. Aug 9, 2018 #11

    jeffnc

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    Yikes. I've seen a lot of hacks in the home improvement business (or DIY) but I haven't seen that one yet.
     
  12. Aug 9, 2018 #12

    anticlmatic

    anticlmatic

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    Good call on passing on the double wax seal- I’ve blown those seals out just trying to plunge a toilet before.
     
  13. Aug 10, 2018 #13

    TomFOhio

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    They make spacers for that problem. Then the toilet can be set normally.
     
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