How to replace a toilet

           A toilet that doesn’t flush well can turn what should be pleasant personal time into a shaming, stressful experience. A plunger at the ready by the side of the toilet is of course a thoughtful touch in any bathroom, but all too often it’s an indication of deeper problems. Fortunately, replacing an old toilet is a straightforward procedure, and with common sense and a few basic hand tools almost anyone can do it.  
         The first step is to select a new toilet. Make a checklist of features you like, then ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. Check out consumer guides. Start paying attention to what’s out there (or, more accurately, under you). Look for quality. Too many homeowners just buy whatever’s on sale and then end up right back where they started, struggling to flush even insignificant movements.
         Unpack the new toilet and inspect it as soon as you get home. If it’s defect-free strap on your tool belt, turn the water off and roll your sleeves up. Flush ‘old unreliable’ one last time and then sponge out any water left in the tank and bowl. Cram the sponge deeply down into the bowl to get all the water out. This may seem unpleasant but giving in to queasiness now will lead to disabling feelings of revulsion later, so plunge ahead.
         Disconnect the water supply line from the underside of the toilet and look inside the tank. Two large bolts with rubber gaskets hold the tank to the back of the bowl, and to undo them you need to reach in the tank with a screwdriver and hold the bolts in place while loosening the corroded nuts under the water tank. This may sound hard, and in fact it is.
         Next, remove the nuts holding the toilet bowl to the floor and yank the bowl up. Underneath you’ll see a dark hole with thick goo around the rim. This is the waste line, the portal to the main sewer or septic field. It will smell, so stuff a rag down into it quickly. 
         Scrape up the goo - the gummy remnants of the wax ring used to seal the joint between the bowl and the toilet flange. Wax rings are the last line of defense in the waste removal system, preventing flushage and odors from exploding out onto the bathroom floor. Scientists estimate that the average American family uses their toilet 32.6 times a day, and one could easily believe that the mess smeared on the floor under the old toilet was some dreadful residue of all that hard use. But it’s not.  (Believe me, memory and imagination are a plumber’s worst enemies.) Still, there is some danger of sepsis (a potentially life-threatening medical problem) if you accidentally scratch your hand while scraping, since an open wound would create an easy pathway into your blood for toxic bacteria.        
         Frankly though, it’s the next step that rarely goes well for me. But I’m sure it will for you, and I don’t want to scare you away from this simple home improvement project by talking about every little problem that might occur.
         However, if the floor and the surrounding joists under the toilet do turn out to be rotted from years of leaking - to take one common for-instance - simply remove all weakened subflooring and the finished tile floor resting on it (in some cases also the bathtub and vanity), install temporary support walls in the basement under the rotted joists, cut out the damaged  sections, re-route any wiring, plumbing and heating running through the joists (bringing them up to code if necessary), jack up the floor with a hydraulic jack to correct any settling, splice on new joists, lay down new subflooring, retile and grout the floor, then reinstall the fixtures. 
         Presumably the main waste line running through the house and out to the street is in good shape, with no leaks or cracks of the kind that can secretly cause thousands of dollars in damages, but of course it’s difficult to know. 
         Finally, clean up the mess and unpack the new toilet. You’re almost done! 
         The rest of the installation is simple enough and needs little explanation. Just repeat what you did to remove the old one, except in reverse. Consult the manufacturer’s directions if you become confused.
         Incidentally, the first flush after you fill the new tank may seem sluggish, but this just means you forgot to remove that rag you stuffed into the waste line. Have a laugh – then drain and remove the new toilet, pull the rag out and reinstall everything. 
         Remember, though, to put a fresh wax ring on the bottom of the toilet every time you reinstall it. Without a perfectly sealed wax ring toxic sewer gas can vent out and silently fill your entire house while you sleep. And unfortunately under certain circumstances this can kill you.