Living Smart

Keeping a lid on toilet-repair costs

 

www.AngiesList.com

Marc Arnold decided it was time to fix his running toilets, so he hired a plumber to replace the “guts” of four toilets in his Tacoma, Wash., home. Arnold had just signed up for a monthly service plan with the plumbing company, in which he was supposed to receive special discounts on service calls.

Instead, when his plumber provided him the estimate, Arnold had a case of sticker shock.

“All the things were just outrageously expensive,” Arnold said. “For just one flapper, he quoted a price of $247 before tax for a part that I knew was about $8. If I had him do (all four toilets) it would have been over $1,000 — for just the flappers. That’s ridiculous.”

Arnold sent the plumber on his way, purchased the parts himself and hired another professional to install them for a fraction of the original estimate.

His story, though, of being overcharged for a simple toilet repair is a common one. A number of reports on Angie’s List recount similar experiences in which homeowners called out a plumber for what they thought was a minor repair, only to be told they need to spend several hundreds and even thousands of dollars. One 80-year-old member was told her running toilet would need to be replaced at a cost of $2,400.

When it comes to toilet repair, unfortunately, it’s easy for us to just accept the bill — even if it seems too high — because we need the problem fixed and timing is usually of the essence.

“There’s no reason it (a toilet repair or replacement) should ever cost that much, because the cost of the material is just not there,” said Heather Beem with Beemer Plumbing in Spring Hill, Kan.

Beem said her company charges $175, which covers the parts and labor, to replace the guts — the fill valve, flapper and supply line — for a standard toilet. They charge about $100 to replace the flapper alone and about $350 to replace an entire toilet. Some repairs and replacement costs can be more, depending on the type of toilet; for example, something antique or more high-end.

The flapper is the rubber piece that seals the toilet tank. Often, it won’t seal fully, allowing the toilet to continuously “run.” You can do an easy test yourself to see if your flapper is bad by putting a couple of drops of dark food coloring into the tank.

“If you let it sit for three to five minutes and there is color in the bowl, that means your flapper is not seating correctly,” Beem said.

A bad fill valve — the part in the tank that lets in water from the pipe — can also cause a toilet to run continuously, or to leak. The supply line, which is typically located behind the toilet near the floor, and the wax seal around the toilet base are also common repair issues due to leaks.

A leaky toilet can also waste hundreds of gallons of water a week. If a toilet overflows or is leaking, homeowners can minimize the damage by turning off the water supply line to prevent further water damage.

Beem recommends avoiding putting chemicals and cleaners into the tank, which can cause those internal parts to wear out faster.

“If you want to put anything in your (toilet) to clean it or keep it fresh, get the things that hang on the actual bowl,” she said.

Replacing the guts of a toilet tank is something a handy homeowner could do on his or her own with a little time. Most of the parts cost less than $10.

“We, a lot of times, will walk a customer through what they need to do and try on their own first,” Beem said.

Adjusting those parts so the water flows and fills at just the right levels does take some know-how, though; so when in doubt, it’s always best to go with a professional, licensed plumber. By researching a plumber before you hire and developing a relationship with one you trust, you can help ensure you’ll get the job done right and at a fair price.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List

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