Gilles' Outlet

December 6, 2009

Installing a Toilet

Filed under: Plumbing — Gilles @ 4:19 am

A closet flange is cleaned. A new wax ring is installed. A toilet bowl is set in place, leveled and fastened securely. The tank is hooked up to the water line and the fill valve is adjusted for optimal water level.


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 45 minutes

In addition to the toilet, tank and seat cover, this project requires the following materials. From left to right:

  • A flexible water hose:input 3/8 O.D.,
  • A wax ring, with hornet and hardware,
  • A box of toilet plastic shims


For a professional, finished look, we will also need a decorative cap. This device covers bolts holding the toilet to the flange. There are two parts:

  • A spherical cap (left) to provide a finished look, 
  • A snap ring (right) onto which the cap attaches to.

The snap ring typically has an “up” side. Installing the ring upside down will prevent the cap from snapping to the ring.

Left: The starting point of the project: a toilet flange.

Before tiling the floor, the toilet bowl was removed. A rag was stuffed in the flange to prevent sewer gases from entering the house. I also added masking tape to keep grout and other debris away.


Right: I peeled the masking tape and removed the rag.

Left: I scrapped the flange with a putty knife to remove any leftover material like old wax. This took about a minute. It is difficult to see on this picture but the flange is flush with the finished floor. This is important to ensure a good seal.

Too often floors are tiled with little consideration for the height of the finished floor. The flange ends up being lower than the surface of surrounding tiles. This condition causes the toilet to leak with all the consequences that this has.


Right: I inserted the bolts on each side of the flange. It is required to use new bolts each and every time a toilet is installed. For this reason, they typically come in the same package as the wax ring.

Left: Securing a toilet to the flange requires a few pieces of hardware and it is important to install all parts in the correct order. From left to right:

  1. Thin plastic ring designed to hold the bolt vertically during installation,
  2. Plastic ring to hold the decorative cap,
  3. Washer,
  4. Bolt.


Right: I snapped the thin plastic ring on each bolt. They hold bolts vertically to facilitate installation.

Left: Bolts installed and held by the plastic rings. Those bolts need to be as vertical as possible to thread properly in the bottom of the toilet bowl.


Right: A wax right with a hornet (the black plastic piece visible on the left). The hornet guides waste down the pipe and reduces the possibility of leak. The manufacturer produces this “deluxe” model with almost twice as much wax as regular models. It costs a little more but this is well worth it.

For optimal results, the manufacturer of this ring recommends the ring to be at 70F at the time of installation. This ensures the wax has the right consistency and will create an optimal seal.

Left: I installed the ring on the flange, hornet down. Some people prefer to put the ring on the toilet. Personally, I find it difficult to move the toilet around with the ring without loosing the ring or damaging it.

Right: I took the bowl and sat it in place, making sure the bolts threaded in the holes manufactured for that purpose. Toilets are heavy awkward shaped objects. I like to pick up the bowl right behind it, where the seat cover typically attaches.

It is important to drop the toilet in place and press it in the wax only when it is perfectly placed. If the toilet is pressed in the wax in a wrong position, the wax ring will most likely have to be replaced before a good seal can be achieved.

I checked alignments and when everything was proper, I sat on the throne to press it in the wax.

Never re-use a wax ring, they are single use items.

Left: I checked for level left to right …


Right: … and back to front. The toilet was level on both directions BUT it was slightly rocking. This is typical for toilets to rock on tile floors.

When a toilet rocks, the seal produced by the wax ring can get broken and cause leaks.


Left: I threaded the flat part onto the bolt being careful to place the side marked “up” pointing up.


Right: I then placed the washer and threaded the bolt. The bolt is threaded by hand, just enough to be in contact with the washer. It will be tightened later. I repeated this operation on the other side.



Left: I used an adjustable wrench to tighten bolts. It is important to tighten just enough to avoid breaking the toilet, or worse, breaking the flange. These bolts are not set very tight: just a few lb/ft.

The procedure is as follows:

  1. Tighten about 1/4 of a turn on a side at at time
  2. Tighten about 1/4 of a turn on the other side
  3. Verify that the toilet does not rock
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 until the toilet does not rock

Tightening a side faster than the other side should be avoided. It cal lead to the toilet being off level and worse, cause the porcelain to break.


Right: After a few iterations of the procedure above, I realized that the floor was uneven at the toilet would always rock no matter how much I tighten the bolts.

I determined the low point: on the right side of the bowl, close to the front. I inserted a plastic shim, pushing it in gently until the toilet was no longer rocking. I checked for level on both directions and made the necessary adjustments.


Left: I turned bolts 1/2 of a turn more to squeeze the shim slightly. This will hold it in place.

The toilet stopped rocking so the shim was cut flush with a utility knife. I then pushed the shim slightly in to allow the caulk to hide it.



Right: I snapped the decorative sphere on.

Left: Sometimes bolts are too long and the decorative cap won’t snap onto its base. When this happens, I trim bolts with a hack saw. It is imperative to be careful not to slip and ding the porcelain. This can be tedious.

Right: Now that the toilet is fastened properly, I turned my attention to the water supply. I removed the compression fitting on the stop valve.

Left: I connected the hose to the tank. This connection gets tightened by hand. Do not use a wrench.


Right: I tightened the other end of the hose on the stop valve by hand and then made about two turns with an adjustable wrench.

Left: I turned the water on at the stop valve and checked for leaks. The tank filled.


Right: The inside of the tank, seen from above. There are a few important parts:

  • The fill valve (on the left with a purple cap) lets water enter the tank and stops it when the tank is fills up to a predefined level,
  • The flush valve located in the middle drains the water from the tank to the bowl when the flush lever is triggered.

Now, I need to adjust the fill valve to make sure that the tank contains only the amount of water it needs. Allowing more water in the tank wastes water. Regulations currently require a toilet to discharge a maximum of about 2.6 gallons of water per flush.

Another view of the inside of the tank from a different angle. On the flush valve (the white pipe in the center of the picture) a sticker indicates the right water level in the tank.

The black part on the background is a float. As water rises in the tank, it floats on water and slides vertically on the grey column. The trick to adjust the water level is to slide the float up or down to make sure it cuts water exactly when the desired level is reached.

This is actually more difficult to explain than it is to do. Installation instructions of toilets typically describes the procedure so be sure to adjust according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Once the level was adjusted, I installed the tank’s cover. The chrome flush level at the top of the tank got hooked up to the flush valve chain. When the flush level is pulled, the flapper (blue part at the bottom of the flush valve – see previous pictures) gets pulled up and releases water from the tank.

I later applied a bead of 100% pure silicone caulk around the base of the toilet.

Tools Used:

  • Putty Knife
  • Level
  • Adjustable Wrench
  • Utility Knife
  • Hack Saw

Materials Used:

  • Toilet Bowl, Tank, Seat Cover
  • Flexible water hose
  • Wax ring (typically contains hardware)
  • Plastic shims
  • Decorative cap
  • 100% Silicone caulk


November 29, 2009

Installing a compression stop valve

Filed under: Plumbing — Gilles @ 5:35 am

A stubbed out copper pipe is cut and a compression stop valve is installed.


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 15 minutes

Earlier, a cold water supply line for a toilet was roughed in and capped. It is now time to connect the toilet so the copper cap needs to be removed and replaced by a stop valve.

Stop valves make it possible to shut off water at a specific fixture (sinks, toilets …) without having to shut off the water for the whole house. This ability is currently required by plumbing codes, specifically for sinks and toilets.

Before getting too involved with this project and went and shut the water off at the main house shutoff valve. I opened a faucet at the highest point and a faucet at the lowest point, to let the water currently in pipes to drain. It is important to open a faucet at the highest point to let air enter the fresh water piping.

Left: Materials for this project. From left to right:

  • a compression stop valve (1/2 input – 3/8 O.D. output),
  • a silver cover plate to give the project a more finished look

Stop valves can be attached to water piping using two different methods: soldering (the valve gets soldered to the pipe with a torch) or compression (the valve uses a brass mechanism which grabs the copper pipe to achieve a tight seal).

Compression stop valves can be installed and removed easily without soldering. This has made them the preferred stop valve choice for most pros and home owners.

Right: Tools for this project. From left to right:

  • a copper pipe cutter,
  • two adjustable wrenches

Left: I measured about 2’’ from the wall and marked that location with a pen.

Right: I positioned the pipe cutter on the line previously marked and turned the wheel so it was tight around the pipe. The whole cutter is then turned one full turn around the pipe. The scoring wheel makes a small mark in the pipe.

The screw is then tightened slightly and the cutter is turned around the pipe one more time, making the dent deeper. The process is repeated until the pipe is cut.

During the operation, I placed a shallow bucket under the pipe to catch residual water.

Left: the pipe has just been cut. There was still a fair amount of water waiting to drain from the system. I decided to proceed immediately instead of waiting for the whole system to drain.


Right: The pipe cutter leaves burrs inside the pipe so used the reamer on the back of the pipe cutter to remove all copper burrs inside the pipe.

Leaving burrs inside the pipe can cause noise when water is flowing so it is always strongly recommended to ream freshly cut pipes.

Left: I slipped a decorative plate over the pipe. This gives the project a finished look.


Right: The compression stop valve with its business end unassembled. From left to right: the compression nut, the brass ferrule, the valve body. The ferrule gets compressed onto the copper pipe. This causes a water tight seal to be produced.

The ferrule can only be used once: every time the stop valve is removed and re-installed,the ferrule must be replaced.

Left: First, I slipped the nut over the pipe then …

Right: … I slipped the ferrule. It is a tight fit.

Left: I inserted the valve body over the pipe until it bottomed out.


Right: I threaded and tightened the nut by hand, still making sure the valve body remained pushed against the pipe. This is necessary to achieve a long lasting, leak free installation.

Left: When I could no longer tighten the nut by hand, I used two adjustable wrenches to tighten the valve further. One wrench is set on the nut, the other is set on the valve body. I like to use the longer wrench on the nut – this gives me more leverage.

As I tightened, I made sure the output of the valve stayed perfectly vertical.

Unfortunately, I could not take the picture and hold both wrenches at the same time.


Right: Detail of the valve which both wrenches engaged. The valve body acts as a nut.


It is possible to over-tighten a compression fitting. I use the following procedure:

  1. Tighten by hand until no longer possible
  2. Use the wrenches to make at most two additional turns
  3. Turn the water back on and if the fitting leaks, progressively tighten more until the leak stops.

Tools Used:

  • Pipe cutter 
  • Adjustable wrench (2)
  • Pen
  • Measuring tape
  • Bucket
  • Rag

Materials Used:

  • Compression multi-turn angle valve (1/2’’ I.D. – 3/8’’ O.D.)
  • Escutcheon plate (1/2’’ I.D> – 5/8’’ O.D.)

July 21, 2008

Replacing a Freeze Proof Faucet

Filed under: Plumbing — Gilles @ 4:04 am

A freeze proof exterior faucet is replaced.

Skill Level: 2~3 (Basic ~ Moderate)

Time Taken: About 1 hour

A freeze proof faucet (also known as "sillcock", "bib hose" or "spigot") is an exterior faucet specifically designed to prevent water from freezing at or close to the faucet during winter freezing time. This is achieved by the two following unique design aspects:

  1. The water is actually shut as far away as 20 inches from the handle. This ensures that water stays in the building, far away from the freezing conditions,
  2. The faucet drains itself when the water is shut off to ensure no water remains accessible to freezing conditions.

Now, the automatic drainage can only happen if when the hose is disconnected from the faucet. This is why it is critical to always disconnect the hose from the faucet at the beginning of the winter. Many people did not respect this simple rule and saw their freeze proof faucet  … freeze. This is clearly written on every single faucet in home centers.

In this article, we replace an old faucet with a new one.

The existing faucet. It is a multi-turn valve with a rubber washer and has previously shown signs of leaks. Moreover, it does not have an integrated backflow preventer (sometimes called "vacuum breaker").

In North America, we expect to get clean water when we turn the faucet. There is a rare but dangerous phenomenon called "back-siphoning". It happens when the following conditions are met:

  1. A faucet (or garden hose is turned on)
  2. The faucet or hose is submerged in water that has "left the system" and is therefore considered dirty. For instance a shower head left submerged in a filled bath tub,
  3. There is a sudden loss of pressure in the water supply system, perhaps because the water was shut off for maintenance.

These conditions can cause the water to be sucked into the incoming water pipes, contaminating the system. Most building code require a backflow preventer to be attached to all garden hoses. Some cities require the whole house be protected against backflow at the meter level.

There are in-line vacuum breakers for spigots but it is easy to forget to use them. Besides, the wall behind this faucet is open so replacing the faucet is a faster operation.

Left: A replacement freeze proof faucet. I purchased it for about $20 at a local plumbing supplier. It is 10” long which means that the water is cut 10 inches away from the handle. The faucet is actually located close to the threaded piece on the far left of the picture. 

Right: The faucet offers a two in one connection: threaded or sweat soldering. The heat of the torch can melt the rubber gasket in the faucet so a warning on the faucet body reminds installers to remove the cartridge before soldering.

Left: The old faucet seen from the inside of the house. It is an 6” freeze proof faucet which means that the water is shut off 6 inches away from the handle.

The new 10” faucet will provide a little more protection.

I went inside and shut off the water at the main valve.


Right: From outside, I removed the two screws holding the faucet to the building.

Left: Using a pipe cutter, I cut the existing faucet as short as I could. The idea is to leave enough copper pipe so I can adjust to the size of the faucet without having to cut and solder an extension.

The pipe cutter is easy: You set it up on the pipe, make one turn, tighten the screw a little, make another turn and so on until the pipe is cut.

Right: The pipe separated and a little bit of water drained. I put a small bucket to collect the water.

Left: I pulled the faucet from outside. It came without a fight.


Right: Using an adjustable wrench, I  removed the packing nut of the faucet and extracted the cartridge, as required by the manufacturer.

Left: The disassembled faucet. The body of the faucet is at the top. The cartridge is the brass part at the bottom.


Right: I slid the faucet’s body in the opening. I could insert it into the cut pipe but as expected, the pipe was too long and the faucet stayed proud of the siding.

Left: I measured the distance between the siding and the faucet’s flange. It turned out to be about 1/2”.

Right: Back inside, I pulled the faucet as much as I could and marked where the pipe needs to be cut. It is not easy to see on this picture but you can actually see the bottom of the fitting in the faucet and it is possible to estimate where the cut needs to be done by eye.

After marking, a quick check with a tape measure showed that I would remove about 5/8” of the pipe, which felt about right.

Left: I cut on the mark with the pipe cutter.


Right: This pipe cutter as an integrated reaming tool. It is designed to cleanup the inside of the pipe after cutting. The burr left by the cutter is minimal but any obstruction in the pipe can reduce the water flow and create a lot of noise when water flows.



Left: I removed the reamer from the cutter and reamed the end of the pipe by hand. It took a while but this step is important.


Right: I cleaned the end of the pipe with a piece of waterproof 100 grit sandpaper designed for this application. This cleans the copper and allows the solder to bind to the copper properly.

After this operation, the copper should be very shinny. I removed any dust and sandpaper grain with a damp rag. The pipe needs to be perfectly clean for the solder to be successful.

Left: I used a round wire brush to clean the inside of the fitting on the faucet body.


Right: I then applied tinning flux on the outside of the pipe …

Left: …. and inside the fitting.

I could have applied flux later but my experience told me that the flux helps lubricate the joint a little bit and facilitates inserting the pipe into the faucet’s fitting.

Right: I pulled the faucet out and applied two thick beads of 100% silicone caulk to the flange of the faucet.

Left: I positioned the faucet in the opening, inserted it into the pipe in the wall and secured it with two 1 5/8” exterior screws.


Right:  I added a more caulk at the bottom of the faucet and smoothed it with my finger. This should achieve a water tight seal.

It is not the most perfect bead of caulk I ever did but this area can’t be seen so effectiveness matters more than aesthetic. 

Left: Turn the torch on and start warming up the fitting. Make sure you do not directly put the flame of the torch on the join you will be soldering: the sooth of the torch will contaminate the joint and it will be difficult to achieve a water  tight seal.


Right: After about 15 to 30 seconds, move the torch away and apply a little bit of lead free solder to the fitting. If the solder melts like water, quickly put about 3/4” of solder into the fitting. Solder will be sucked in by capillarity and will seal the joint.

If it does not melt and becomes liquid, move the solder away and apply some more heat.

It is critical to not apply heat directly to the solder: it will melt too quickly and will not allow you to produce a water tight joint.

Left: As the joint is still hot, I take a slightly damp rag and clean up the excess solder at the bottom of the pipe.

You have to be quick and gentle during this operation of you will remove solder from the joint and it will leak.

At this point, I left the fitting alone for a few minutes to allow it to cool down. I then cleaned all residues of flux with a damp rag. Flux residues can corrode pipes so it is a best practice to always clean flux up. 

Right: I applied a generous bead of expanding insulating foam from the inside of the wall. Washington energy code mandates that all opening be sealed properly to reduce air infiltration.

I am using Great Stuff Pro Gaps and Cracks with gun applicator. It is a overkill here (it is a residential type V fireblock which is not required in this application) but I had a can that was going to expire so I finished it up here.

Left: I turned the water on for a few seconds to flush the pipe from all flux residues.

I then threaded the faucet stem back in. This is a delicate operation: the cartridge needs to engage in its housing and go all the way in.

Right: I tightened the packing nut by hand and then made one more turn with the wrench.

I turned the water back on and checked for any leaks.

Left: Alert readers have noticed that the pipe is located close to the edge of a stud. Plumbing codes call for nailing plates. This will prevent nails or screws to go and puncture the pipe.


Right: It is matter of positioning the plate and nailing it home, like that.

Tools Used:

  • Impact Driver 
  • Pipe Cutter 
  • Torch with MAPP gas
  • Basic Carpentry Tools

Materials Used:

  • New Freeze Proof Faucet
  • Lead free solder
  • Tinning flux
  • Nailing plate
  • Outdoor screws (1 5/8”)

October 1, 2007

Fixing a Leaky Compression Faucet

Filed under: Plumbing — Gilles @ 12:59 am

A leaky compression faucet is unassembled. One of its o-ring is replaced. The faucet is re-assembled.


Skill Level: 1 (Very Basic)

Time Taken: About 10 minutes

There are various types of faucets: cartridge faucets, ball faucets, disk faucets and compression faucets. Compression faucets have two handles which control the flow of hot and cold water separately. They have been around the longest, are prone to leaks and these are the most likely to require maintenance.

The subject of this article: a (dirty) compression faucet installed on a bathroom vanity. It is difficult to see on this picture but the hot water side (left) leaks badly: a drop of water falls every 3 to 4 seconds.

At this rate, a fair amount of water is lost every day.

Left: I turned the water off at the shut-off valve under the vanity.   


Right: The top of the hot water handle is removable. It conceals the screw which holds said handle onto the faucet stem. I removed it with my fingers, no tool were necessary.

Left: Detail of the brass screw holding the handle to the faucet stem. It is difficult to see on the picture but this screw has a Phillips drive.


Right: I removed the screw with a Phillips screwdriver.

Left: The stem (the brass part with the gray plastic arbor at its top) was visible after pulling the handle up.


Right: I used an adjustable wrench to remove the stem. It came without a fight.

As I unscrewed the stem, a little bit of residual water was released. This is absolutely normal.

Left: The stem seen upside down. The o-ring at the top is most likely responsible for the leak. I pried it carefully, making sure not to damage it.

I did not cut it. I need it to remain in its current shape so I can purchase the exact replacement.

Right: A box of replacement o-ring. Mine was an 7/16” I.D (Inside Diameter), 9/16” O.D. (Outside Diameter), 1/16” wall thick. It is likely yours will be different.

This box was purchased at Lowes for about $0.50

I positioned the new washer in place: it fit snuggly. Now, I got lucky to find the right o-ring right away. I fixed others faucets which were not this cooperatives and it took a few tries to get the right o-ring.

You may be tempted to use a washer which is not fitting perfectly: slightly too big or too small. Well, do not. You are almost assured the leak will come back, bigger.

I lubricated the ring with a little bit of teflon based lubricant. I would usually use plumber’s silicon grease but I ran out.

I reversed all the previous steps to re-install the faucet and observed the leak was fixed.

Tools Used:

  • Phillips Screwdriver

Materials Used:

  • Replacement o-ring
  • Silicone based grease

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