Dear Barry,

The water valve in our toilet tank turns on by itself every 10 minutes or so. It makes a noise for about five seconds that sounds like the final moment of tank refill after the toilet is flushed. This happens throughout the night and often wakes us up. Can this be fixed, or does the toilet need to be replaced? –Linda

Dear Linda,

Your toilet does not need to be replaced. What you have is a leaking flapper. The flapper is the rubber stopper at the bottom of the tank. When you flush a toilet, the flapper lifts, releasing water into the bowl. After the flush, the flapper falls back into place and the tank refills in preparation for the next time it’s used. If the flapper is not well sealed, water slowly trickles down the drain. This causes the water level in the tank to recede, thereby activating the refill valve. That’s when you hear the recurrent “final moment of tank refill.”

Ask your plumber to replace the flapper and to make sure that the opening at the bottom of the tank has no irregularities that would prevent the flapper from providing an adequate seal.

Dear Barry,

We purchased our home about 14 years ago. Since that time, we’ve made many improvements without building permits. All of the work was done by licensed contractors, but without documentation or inspections. These changes include new exterior pavement, a new sliding glass door, two new windows, one window enlarged, and an added fireplace. We plan to sell the home within the next year and are wondering how the non-permitted work will affect our sale. –David

Dear David,

Of all the items you mentioned, the one that definitely requires a permit is the fireplace. All other improvements are in gray areas where permit requirements vary from one municipality to another. As a seller, you need to disclose the lack of permits for any work that was done. Buyers may ask that you get permits at this time or that you adjust the sales price of the home. On the other hand, they may simply accept full disclosure without expressing any concern at all.

Regardless of buyer response, the safety and liability implications of a bootlegged fireplace addition should not be causally dismissed. Even fireplaces that were installed by licensed contractors can have significant defects. The wise approach is to be proactive–to apply for an “as-built permit” for all work pertaining to the fireplace. This will enable the building department to inspect the installation and determine whether it is safe and in full compliance with fire safety standards. If violations are found, they can be corrected, and the installation can then be approved and signed off by the municipal inspector.

Most buyers are not likely to be concerned about permits for doors, windows, and pavement. However, you should consult the building department regarding the permit requirements for those kinds of alterations and include that information as part of your disclosure to future buyers.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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