Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series.
In an earlier column we responded to a San Mateo, Calif., reader whose husband has a neurological condition that affects his walking and balance. She was concerned about his safety at home. We can relate: Both of us have compromised neurological systems. Kevin has multiple sclerosis; Bill, a spinal cord injury.
Our reader says her husband was pretty handy in his day, so we encouraged her to persuade him to install grab bars in the shower, elevated commodes in the bathroom and handrails on the stairs. We estimated that the work would cost $2,000 if contracted but less than $500 as a do-it-yourself project.
Our previous column addressed installing grab bars. Today we’ll talk about toilets that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Replacing a standard toilet with an ADA-compliant model is really not different from installing a standard toilet. Recently Kevin replaced the commode in his downstairs half-bath. Total cost for the fixture, toilet seat and wax ring was about $200. A standard plain-vanilla model costs half to two-thirds of that.
The first step is to remove the old toilet. Shut off the water at the angle stop under the toilet. Flush the toilet and hold the handle down to allow the water to drain from the tank. There will be some residual water in the tank. Use a sponge to wick the water out.
If it is a two-piece toilet, unbolt the tank from the bowl and separate the two. Next, remove the plastic covers from the bottom of the toilet and expose the closet bolts that hold the bowl to the floor. Unscrew the nuts from the closet bolts. If the bolts are rusted in place, use a hacksaw to cut them off.
Carefully remove the toilet bowl from the floor. There will be some residual water in the trap inside the toilet. If you tilt the bowl, it will come out, so have a towel handy to mop up the water.
Check the closet flange and the screws that secure it to the subfloor. The flange should be OK, but it’s not a bad idea to replace the screws with new rust-resistant ones.
The new toilet should come in two pieces. We avoid units with integrated tank and bowl, finding them tougher to install and more expensive.
First, clean the flange of wax left from the old wax ring and put the flange bolts in the flange.
Most toilet-bolt kits come with some kind of press-on plastic pieces that are supposed to temporarily hold the bolts upright while you set the toilet.
Throw them away and use another set of nuts and washers to secure the bolts to the flange before installing the toilet. This will hold the bolts firmly while you jiggle the toilet onto them. Also, when (not "if") you need to remove the toilet, the bolts won’t spin, something that can force you to use a hacksaw to cut them off.
Next, dry-fit the toilet by placing it over the bolts. Place a level across the bowl. If it’s not level, use cedar shims under the bottom of the bowl to level it. Next, press strongly down on the edges around the bowl of the toilet.
If it wobbles, place more shims to stabilize the bowl. Install the shims with the narrow end pointing toward the center of the toilet. Break the shim to approximately the correct length so that not too much pokes under the toilet.
Give the toilet a final wobble test by pressing hard around the rim. Then, without disturbing any of the shims, lift the toilet straight up off the bolts and set it right next to you.
Next, place a wax ring over the discharge hole of the bowl and lower it straight down onto the bolts without twisting. Be careful not to move any of the shims. Install the plastic cap washer, the steel washer and the nut onto each bolt and tighten evenly. Don’t be a gorilla.
On marginal plumbing installations, it’s possible to pull the toilet flange up out of the floor. That’s why replacing the screws in the flange is a must. Too much pressure can also crack the ceramic bowl.
Test the toilet one last time for wobble, and add to or adjust the shims slightly if needed. Tighten the bolts one quarter turn more, connect the water supply and test it five or six flushes to be sure water doesn’t show up on the floor.
Use the point of a new utility-knife blade to cut the shims at the base of the toilet. There are differing views on caulk. We prefer to caulk but leave about 4 inches at the back of the toilet clear so that if there is a leak, water doesn’t pool under the toilet.
Caulk serves a couple of purposes. Most important, it keeps the shims in place. One plumber wrote to us: "I have had callbacks where a cleaning crew had carefully removed my shims. Caulk hides the shims, and it adds a little extra ‘glue’ to keep the toilet in place. Because caulk shrinks when it dries, you may need to do it again the next day."
Next week: Installing stair rails, handrails and bars to make getting around the house safer and easier.