Psycho Tenants, Leaking Toilets and DIY

toilet

It’s been a busy couple of months and a lot of it revolved around toilets. This might not be a line you hear every day so let me to explain. As a bonus I’m offering a step-by-step leaking toilet wax ring replacement DIY so how can you resist?

If you’ve been following along then you already know that I own a 2-bedroom 2-bathroom condo that I’ve been renting out for a decade now. Any aspiring landlord should read this post and see if they still want to dive into a fun world of real estate rentals. Don’t get me wrong – there’s definitely money to be made in rentals but rest assured that it’s not without the headaches. If you are looking for a passive income stream stick to dividend paying stocks, index funds or any other investment that can’t pick up a phone and call you whenever it wants.

After five relatively non-eventful years of renting to the same lady with just routine maintenance and one black mold scare, that lady (a 30-something female) decided to move out but apparently not before making sure to make the last couple of months extremely difficult for me. I’m not going to go into details, but suffice it to say that she acted like a complete psycho and my mom had to do some Reiki to get the situation diffused. I didn’t ask her to, but I guess she thought it can’t hurt after hearing one too many stories about tenant’s psycho behavior. Not sure if it was Reiki or the Lease Agreement End Date, but the tenant finally moved out.

The condo has been continuously rented from the time I put it up on the market with one tenant moving out and then a new tenant moving in within a couple of days. Ten years is a lot of wear and tear and while I’m always trying to keep things in good working condition, some things are easier repaired when apartment is empty.

So with the psycho tenant out of the picture I blocked off about a month to get a few things done on my own time. Nothing major but I did replace wall-to-wall carpet in both bedrooms and closets, put two new ceiling fans in, fixed a couple of dripping faucets, patched all the holes in the wall and did some light painting along with a few other things. Plus lots and lots of cleaning to make the place really shine.

As I was cleaning, I noticed that both toilets were leaking water or not flushing right or noisy or all of the above. A few years ago I refurbished both toilets with all new rubber parts but I guess it was time for a new set again. Last time I replaced parts one by one only to find that something else would start leaking. This time I decided to do it all at once buying a couple of toilet repair kits that had everything to make them good as new. If you have a toilet that’s leaking, running or noisy do yourself a favor and get a kit like this instead of trying to change one part at a time. These are guaranteed for 5 years and it looks like that’s an accurate estimate from my personal experience with (lots of) toilets.

After I was finished with the repairs it took another month to find a tenant that I liked. I was very selective to try to avoid another closet psycho. Unfortunately even if you do a full background investigation like I did, there is absolutely no guarantee that one day your good tenant won’t turn into a bad tenant overnight.

While all of this was going on, my own house sprung a leak. One of the toilets upstairs would have a small puddle of water on the floor once in a while. It appeared to be coming from under the toilet but it would be a small amount and only once every couple of weeks. Busy with my rental saga I made a huge mistake of ignoring it for a while.

You’d think I would learn the lesson from my last leak. It’s simple really:

Do NOT ignore ANY amount of water you see anywhere it doesn’t belong in your house.

Period. Figure out what’s wrong right away and spare yourself costly repairs  down the road.

Of course I did exactly the opposite… Again.

The costly repairs in this case will not be costly in terms of money, but in terms of time and inconvenience. You see, while I was too busy ignoring the symptoms the living room ceiling started showing the signs of a leak. First there was a small stain on the Sheetrock, then a small crack, then a bigger crack. Sure, I will be able to fix the damage myself but it could’ve been all avoided if I fixed the root cause right away instead of being distracted with other “more pressing” things. And there are always more pressing things.

My previous toilet experience (I wonder if I should put that on the resume?) led me to conclude that this leak was probably caused by an old wax ring that was letting some of the water escape. I’ve dealt with wax rings before and they are no fun. After you take the old one off (messy) and put a new one on, you pretty much have one shot at seating the toilet bowl on top correctly to provide a water-tight seal. Screw it up and you’re back to step one, scraping off the new “old” wax ring and running to the store to get another one hoping you get it right the second time around.

So that was years ago. Apparently there’s been some progress in toilet technology and while I wouldn’t call it disruptive, it’s progress nevertheless. What I found is that there are wax rings out there now that take all the guesswork (and the mess) out of either installing a new toilet or just replacing an old leaky ring.

The product I went with (Danco Perfect Seal Toilet Wax Ring) had good reviews and was reasonably priced at just a few bucks more than your grandpa’s wax ring. With a name like “Perfect Seal” it better work great and, while skeptical at first, I must say that it absolutely does. There is a good product video in the link above that explains how it works and why it’s better than a plain old wax ring.

Main advantages are listed as:

  • No mess with a hidden wax ring
  • 3x stronger than a regular wax ring
  • Toilet can be repositioned as needed
  • Maintains a tight seal when common toilet and floor movement occurs

I suspect that the last bullet is what caused the leak. As you’ll see in the pictures, there were some leveling shims under the toilet and cracked tiles so there was definitely movement which probably unsealed the wax ring. A 10 year warranty and a promise of a tight seal even if there’s slight movement due to uneven surfaces sealed (pun intended) the deal for me.

As promised, here is a quick DIY for this very simple job. No special tools are required and it’s easily accomplished by one person, especially if you take my advice and take the tank off the bowl.

  • Shut off the water at the wall. Flush the toilet. There will be some water left in the tank that you’ll want to get outta there. You can do it with a sponge and a bucket but I use an oil suction gun that I have in my garage.

toilet1

  • Disconnect the water hose and unscrew the bolts holding the tank to the bowl. Doing so is optional but it makes things much easier in the following steps since you’ll be dealing with a lot less weight this way.

toilet2

  • Unscrew the two nuts on the bolts holding the bowl to the floor and remove the bowl. As soon as you do that you might start to gag thinking that your floor is covered with poop. Not to worry – that’s just the old wax ring which you now get to scrape up and throw out. Take your time and clean it all nicely.

toilet3

  • Follow the instructions that came with the Perfect Seal wax ring to install it. Notice that there is no wax exposed in this design which makes things much cleaner and simpler. All you have to do now is seat the toilet bowl on top of the rubber wax ring, tighten the two bolts, put the tank back on if you removed it, connect the water line and you should be good to go.

toilet4

Another benefit of using Danco’s Perfect Seal was that I didn’t need to use the leveling shims at all. The toilet is sitting tight even on a floor that has a few cracked tiles. There is no movement at all so hopefully I won’t have to worry about any leaks any time soon.

I hope that someone will find this DIY and information about the cutting edge wax ring technology useful. If not, well, I still feel better since this post will serve as another reminder on why it’s important to get any and all leaks taken care of immediately.

Now all I need is to find some time to repair the damaged ceiling in our family room.