Stop Toilet Flooding with New Supply Lines
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Stop Toilet Flooding with New Supply Lines

In this article, D.B. Sweet dips into his contractor knowledge bag to provide step by step instructions for replacing toilet supply lines. The steps work for any supply line, but the article encourages the use of new flood safe lines.

Look behind your toilet. What do you see, besides evidence of your housekeeping habits? You should see one small pipe or hose. This pipe/hose is normally attached to a valve that protrudes from the wall with one end and to the bottom of the toilet tank on the other end. This is your water supply line. In this article, you will learn how to tell if your water supply line is prone to failure and, if so, how to replace your line with a type that will afford considerably more insurance against a flooded home.

Touch the supply line to see if it is rigid or flexible. If it is rigid and there is no evidence of leakage, the supply line is probably sound and not in need of replacement. If the line is flexible, it will either be sheathed in a stainless steel mesh, which you can easily feel and see, or it will be smooth to the touch. Supply lines that are smooth to the touch are made from plastic or vinyl plastic and may or may not have some type of fibrous reinforcement. These supply lines are common since they are very cheap and easy to install, but their potential for failure should motivate any conscientious homeowner to spend a few bucks and a bit of time to replace these ticking, hydraulic time bombs.

One product now on the market provides maximum protection against flooding caused by a bursting supply line. This product incorporates a quick-shut automatic valve into one end of the actual supply line. A quick-shut automatic valve senses the flow of water and, if the flow quickly increases, as in a supply line rupture, the valve immediately closes, preventing flooding until the line can be replaced. You can find these lines at any well-stocked home improvement store, and they will be attached to flexible lines of either reinforced vinyl or stainless steel, braided lines. While an argument can be made that the quick-shut valve negates the need for steel-braided lines since a burst in the line would cause the valve to close, if I have the option, I will always use the steel-braided lines as the price difference is negligible and you cannot argue the increased strength of the supply line.

  1. Shutting Off the Supply- To replace your questionable supply line, first you need to shut off the water supply valve at the wall. One word of caution is prudent at this point. Always be aware of the location of your main water shut-off valve before working on any supply line plumbing. Old valves have been known to fail and even break off while being closed. More commonly, a small leak may occur around the shaft of the valve while closing it, which can usually be stopped by fully closing the valve. In the rare event that a valve breaks, it is wise to know the location of the home’s main water valve so that damage, and cursing your plumbing’s lineage, is limited.
  2. Disconnecting the Old Line- Once the valve has been closed, flush the toilet and peer into the tank. If water is filling the tank, even slowly, the cut-off valve is defective and will need to be replaced. Sometimes, you can hear the water flowing easier than you can actually see the water flow. Assuming the cut-off valve has done its job of stopping water flow, the old supply line can be removed. You will probably need a wrench for this operation. The “proper” tool would usually be a plumber’s slip joint wrench, but any pair of pliers should give you enough grip and torque to remove the two ends of this line.
  3. Selecting and Purchasing the Replacement Line- Now, take the old supply line to your home center and ask for help on finding a replacement with a flood-safe valve and stainless steel braiding. If you can’t find both in one line, opt for the valve on a reinforced, vinyl hose. A knowledgeable salesperson should make certain that the ends of the replacement line match the old line. They should also make certain that the new supply line is at least as long as the old supply line. Of course, you should not trust any employee to be knowledgeable and you should double-check these aspects of the new line unless you don’t mind return trips to the same store. Also, never…and I repeat, never, throw out the old pieces until the new part is installed and working. I know it might be “dirty,” but if that new hose does not fit, and you don’t have the old one to look at, getting your upholstery dirty will be the least of your frustrations.
  4. New Line Installation- Once you return to your bathroom with the new and the old hose in tow, it is simply a reverse process to get the toilet back in operation. The hose works only one way, because the end fittings for a toilet supply line will almost always differ and a quick valve must be installed on the end closest to the wall shut-off valve. Despite the urgings of the upselling store employee, your new hose should not require the use of any thread compound or pipe tape during installation. These new hoses have heavy rubber washers that are designed to seal the connection. Install the hose hand-tight, and then use a wrench to go an additional quarter turn. If a leak-free seal cannot be obtained, your cut-off valve may be damaged.
  5. Restoring Water Flow- Now, slowly turn the cut-off valve to allow water into the hose and the toilet. This should be done slowly to insure that you don’t have any leaks and to minimize the potential for the valve to “think” you have a leak. Should you forget and open the valve like you were putting out a fire, you may hear a thud followed by a cessation of water flow. If this happens, simply turn the cut-off valve all the way off and try again, with more finesse. This is also the process used to reset the valve should it close at any time in the future.
  6. Check for Leaks- (Standby for a priceless tip.) I never complete a plumbing project without making certain there are no leaks. As a professional, “callback” was a very dirty word. But, even if your significant other is not paying you to do this work, you don’t want to come home to a wet floor. Since it is sometimes tough to know if you have a small leak, I always used a wad of toilet paper to wipe over the plumbing. Toilet paper should be handy in the bathroom and, if even a drop of water touches it, you know instantly. After I was fairly sure the plumbing was dry, I would put a length of toilet paper under the plumbing I was testing. In my pro days, I would do this while I was packing up, and then, pick it up as a last step. In your own home, you can leave it down for as long as you want or until company comes over. Any leaks will cause a very noticeable mark on the toilet paper, letting you know you have more work to do before you have a wet floor to clean.

Now that your toilet line is safe from bursting, maybe we should move on to all of the other supply lines in your house. But, then again, that is reason for another article. - ©2011 Doug Sweet

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