Why to replace your old toilets, and how to do it!

Toilets: the place we spend twice as much time as we do at the gym. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. A survey in the UK found that Brits spent over 3 hours every week on the john, while they only exercised for an hour and a half weekly. Oof.

man sitting on toilet

A lot of us don’t pay much attention to toilets unless they’re working badly. If you have a good toilet, you’ve probably never noticed it. Seriously. Think about every time you’ve thought about the toilet. For the vast majority of us, it’s only the subject of our attention when it won’t flush, or when it starts running constantly and you have to fiddle with it.

Today, we thought we’d encourage you to replace your toilet if you’re not thrilled with it. It’s easy to do, and it has a big pay-off. Hang on, you say–why should I pay money for a toilet? It’s basically a glorified outhouse, right? Nope! Your toilet is a lot more important than you give it credit for.

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For one thing, it uses more water than you might think. Older toilets can go through as many as 7 gallons per flush, which is absolutely ludicrous by today’s standards. Current regulations state that any toilet produced today has to use 1.6 gallons per flush or less. If you take 5 trips to the bathroom every day, you’d save 25 gallons daily by upgrading. That’s 9,000 gallons in a year, just for one person.

Saving that much water is good news for the planet, and it’s also good news for your wallet. Old toilets are a literal money suck, so they pay for themselves pretty darn fast. And you’ll be doing your part to be green.

New toilets can make your bathrooms a lot healthier, too. Old toilets did a decent job getting rid of what was in the pool, but not so much around the sides of the bath, so to speak. Your average toilet that comes out now is designed to mostly clean itself, so the bowl stays a lot less grimy. That cuts down on bacteria significantly.

You can reduce the time you spend cleaning your toilet for the same reason. If the flush does most of the work for you, you only really have to clean the outside and then do a once-over inside the bowl.

More than any other benefit, you’ll be kicking yourself for not cutting out your clog problem sooner. In a sort of toilet equivalent to the space race, manufacturers are all competing to make the most clog-proof toilet out there, if only for marketing cred. Just spend 30 seconds on Youtube searching for toilets, and you’re guaranteed to see at least one tennis ball go down the hatch. Any decent toilet today should be clog-proof, so it’s adios to your plunger and the social embarrassment your friends feel when they come over for dinner and end up putting a plug in your plumbing.

Now that you’ve got an incentive to swap your throne, you’re probably wondering how to go about doing it and darned if that doesn’t involve a plumber. Before you get out your antique yellow pages, rest assured that toilet replacements seem a lot more difficult than they actually are.

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The first order of business is to figure out what size toilet you need. The vast, vast majority of toilets are a standard 12” “rough-in” size. What that means is that there’s about 12” between the central pipe (where the waste goes) and the wall behind the toilet. If you measure and it’s a 10” or 14” distance, you’re going to have a lot fewer options. Thankfully, it only affects very few people. Double check before you go shopping, though.

*It’s a good idea to check the hardware when you buy a toilet. A lot of them are going to have crappy alloy bolts with zinc coatings designed to fool the optimistic customer into thinking they’re brass. Be savvy! Check that they’re actually solid brass, and if they’re not, just grab some stainless steel bolts at the hardware store so you don’t have to deal with weak, snappable components.*

To get the old toilet out, you’re going to need to detach it from the floor. That’s a matter of loosening the nuts that hold the toilet onto the bolts coming up from the floor. Hopefully, they’ll come off without too much trouble. If worst comes to worst, you can always cut through them with a hack-saw.

Next, either install new bolts (if you have to–most people don’t need to) or set your new toilet over the bolts already on the floor. Just get the bolts to go through the holes in the base of the toilet, and you’re most of the way there.

The most important step is to get the toilet situated on the flange, which is the component which holds the toilet onto the floor and the waste pipe. It’s a metal ring, with bolt holes for the bolts you’ve just been using. Hopefully, the flange is in good shape and you can just set the toilet on it with a new wax ring. The wax ring will prevent any leaks. If the flange is corroded or broken, check out The Family Handyman’s guide to fixing them.

man fixing toilet

Once you have the toilet over the flange with a wax ring in between, start tightening the nuts onto the bolts. Don’t go too far, though. Make sure the toilet is level, first. If it doesn’t just slide a few shims underneath, and then caulk around the bottom to hide them (do the caulking last. Another thing to do before you tighten the nuts is sit on the toilet, to help set the wax seal ring. You have to sort of wiggle and shimmy until the wax squishes enough that the toilet hits the floor. Once it’s there, tighten off the nuts.

Finally, get the water supply hooked up. That’s the hose that goes on the side or back of the toilet tank. If yours comes with a rigid pipe, chuck it and grab a flexible length at the hardware store. You’ll thank yourself later. Be careful not to overtighten the connections, or you can actually cause more leaks than a loose fit. Go as tight as you can using your hand, then give it a quarter-turn with a wrench.

The last thing to do is test things out and make sure they’re shipshape. Hopefully, they are! You’ve successfully upgraded your toilet, and improved your quality of life. Congrats!