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Have you noticed that the people we most depend on in life are addressed in the possessive form, as in, my doctor, my lawyer or my plumber?

We definitely can't perform home brain surgery, but many home-dwellers are qualified to tackle basic plumbing repairs. Parts to fix an aging toilet cost less than $25, and a simple tip from Rohnert Park plumber Einar Prado will keep the pipes running clog free.

Toilets are quite simple mechanisms, with just two active parts: the flapper and the fill valve.

Technology has rapidly evolved in recent years, with super low-flow (1.6 gallons per minute), rapid flush capabilities and an array of sophisticated flapper units. But since most toilet problems evolve over time, we will focus on the traditional models that have been around and unchanged for years.

To determine whether the problem is solely a worn flapper valve, place colored food dye in the water tank. Let sit overnight without flushing. If there's colored water in the toilet bowl in the morning, you need a new flapper.

Replacing the flapper:

Materials needed: Corky brand flapper, $2.98 to $15. Request the top-grade flapper as it has more flex and greater resistance to decomposition from harsh water.

Directions: Shut off water-supply valve. Flush toilet to evacuate water.

Remove old flapper (disconnect chain to flush-handle arm) and inspect the rim of the flapper valve-seat. If it looks rough, buff with a scrubby sponge to ensure a watertight fit.

Install new flapper and connect chain (leaving minimal slack) to flush handle arm.

Turn water back on. If problems persist, repeat the food-dye test to eliminate the flapper variable and move on to the fill valve.

Replacing the fill valve:

Recommended replacement part: Fluidmaster Fill Valve, model-400A, $7.50-$8.50, includes detailed directions. You'll need adjustable wrench and pliers.


Shut off water supply to toilet. Flush the toilet twice to drain the water. Remove residual tank water with a sponge or towels.

Place a towel or pan under the water supply line from toilet, then disconnect it from the toilet using an adjustable wrench.

Unscrew the fill-valve locknut located on the bottom side of the tank.

Before inserting the new fill-valve through the inlet hole, pre-adjust the height. There is a semi-clear collar-ring midway up the shaft. First, slide the collar up and it will release tension, allowing you to slide the inner tube up or down.

To determine proper height, note the embossed "CL" mark located on the side of the shaft, toward the top of the fill valve. This mark should be parallel to the adjacent vertical overflow-valve tube.

Slide the supplied neoprene gasket to the top of the threads (beveled surface faces down); insert flush-valve tailpiece.

Install the locknut, using adjustable pliers to firmly tighten it.

Insert one end of the black refill tube into the small outlet located just below the top fill valve mechanism. Insert the other end in to the plastic clip holder and secure it around the flush valve's vertical tube top.

This is an opportune time (while water is off) to also replace and upgrade the old water supply line. If your supply line is welded to the shut-off valve, merely replace the neoprene gasket (supplied).

Be sure to take the old supply line with you to the hardware store so the salesperson can select the correct nut sizes for you (woven stainless-steel wrapped models are best). Also bring the old flapper unit to ensure a proper match.

Tip of the Week: Keep your sewer lines clean

Prado, pradosplumbinghvac.com, has a cheap, simple approach to dissolving the grease and bacteria buildup in sewer lines and septic systems — regular enzyme treatments.

"Some plumbers offer special solutions for as much as $100 per gallon," Prado said. "But plain old Fleischmann's yeast, at 79 cents per ?-ounce packet, works the very best of all."

His Sonoma County rancher friend has maintained a 100 percent trouble free sewer pipe and septic system by doing what his mother and grandmother did, going back 100 years. He simply scheduled regular Fleischmann's yeast treatments for his drains.

Preparing a yeast solution:

Boil 4 cups of water in saucepan. Add 2 cups sugar and stir. Remove saucepan from burner.

Add 2 cups of cornmeal (provides more carbohydrates for the yeast microbes). Cool to room temperature. Add 2 packets of yeast (Prado recommends Fleischmann's). Stir until yeast dissolves and wait until it froths. Pour yeast solution into the toilet bowl and flush. Repeat monthly.

Deal breaker: Never put non-biodegradable chemicals such as bleach down the drain. They will kill the microbes that are doing your dirty work.

Tom Wilmer has been a licensed general contractor since 1986. Contact him with questions or suggestions at tomwilmer@aol.com.

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