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3 pressing questions about toilets; a definitive answer for at least one

I Love Caulk

Toilets are a divisive topic, but today I'll be setting the record straight once and for all on three important toilet topics. First, the toilet paper roll: overhand or underhand? There's only one right answer, of course, and it's overhand. There's no point in even discussing this one.

Toilet seat: up or down? Wrong question! It's not about the seat. It's about the lid. The lid is there for a reason. Put it down. Ladies, you're guilty of this too. I've been in countless female-only homes where I found the lid up at every toilet. I document every one of them in my toilet lid journal.

And now, onto the most divisive topic. Unlike the first two, this one is real, and it actually gets a fair amount of discussion. Should toilets be caulked at the floor? The answer is yes.

Toilets should be caulked at the floor

As standard procedure for every home inspection that I perform, I check the toilets to make sure they’re properly anchored to the floor. Almost every time I find a toilet that’s loose, I also find missing caulk at the base of the toilet. The two go hand-in-hand.

When I find a loose toilet I tell my client to properly secure the toilet to the floor and to caulk around the base of the toilet, but I frequently get clients that tell me they’ve heard otherwise.

The thought process behind not caulking a toilet to the floor is that if the toilet leaks at the floor, you’ll quickly find out about the leak as long as the toilet isn’t caulked. If it is caulked, the thinking is that if the toilet flange leaks, you’ll end up trapping water between the toilet base and the floor in an area that you can’t access.

In reality, toilets rarely leak onto the floor. More often, they leak through the floor around the flange. I’ve found plenty of toilets that leak down into the basement, but very few that leak onto the bathroom floor.

Why caulked?

There are two great reasons to caulk a toilet to the floor:

1. Caulk prevents a fouling area. If mop water, bathtub water, or a less pleasant "bathroom liquid" gets underneath the toilet, there is no way to clean it up. Caulking around the base of the toilet will prevent this from happening.

2. Caulk helps to keep the toilet secured to the floor. The bolts are really supposed to keep the toilet secure, but caulk helps. As I mentioned before, toilets that are caulked at the floor are rarely loose. Caulk does such a good job of keeping toilets secured to the floor that you could probably rely on caulk alone to keep a toilet secured… not that I would try this.

Besides these two great reasons, it's also a code requirement. The Minnesota State Plumbing Code says, under section 402.2, "Where a fixture comes in contact with the wall or floor, the joint between the fixture and the wall or floor shall be made watertight." For areas of the country where the IRC has been adopted, you'll find nearly identical language under section P2705.1.3: "Where fixtures come in contact with walls and floors, the contact area shall be water tight."

Some people prefer to caulk all around the toilet and leave about a one-inch gap in the caulk at the back of the toilet to allow water to escape out in the event of a leak.  It’s already tough enough to caulk behind a toilet, so if this is what you want to do, God bless. Just don't go crazy with the caulk.

Toilet caulk

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Home inspection horror story: Putting a screw through water line

Ask any seasoned home inspector about stuff that has gone wrong on an inspection, and they'll surely have a good horror story or two for you. I happened to be at an inspection last week when the unthinkable happened to one of my inspectors. She put a screw through a water line. Ouch, right? You've gotta be thinking "what the heck was your inspector doing putting a screw into a wall?" I can explain.

The setup

As I mentioned in a blog post from about six years ago, we always test bathtub overflows for leaks, provided the back sides of the overflows are accessible. Most bathtubs have an access panel behind the drain, and they're usually screwed into place. This home had too, with just a single screw holding the access panel cover in place. What was funny about this one was that the screw hadn't been driven all the way into the wall; it stuck out from the wall about an inch. You can probably guess why.

Access panel with screw protruding

After Tessa had dutifully filled the bathtub with water and checked the overflow for leaks, she used her Milwaukee M12 impact driver to screw the access panel back into place, and did the same thing that any other unsuspecting home inspector would have done; she drove the screw right through the water line.

Screw hole in water line

Our client was nearby when this happened and he immediately jumped into action, running downstairs and shutting the water off to the house. Not too much got wet, but it was still enough to stain the corner of the living room ceiling below.

Stains at ceiling

I happened to be at the home when this happened, so I ran over to the nearest home improvement store to pick up the needed tools to get the water line repaired. God bless whoever invented push-fit fittings. I love those things. Everyone calls them SharkBite® fittings, but that's just one brand.

I had to enlarge the access hole in the wall to gain access to the damaged water line, but the access panel cover was still large enough to completely cover the hole. We lucked out there.

What now?

We put a fan on the closet opening to help dry out the remaining wet stuff. We also hired a plumber to go out and bless my repairs, as well as a painter to take care of the ceiling. Whenever we make some kind of mistake like this, we try to learn from it and not make the same mistake again. I guess the take away is that if there is a screw that isn't fully embedded, don't fully embed it. Also, never make a new screw hole. You don't know what might be inside the wall.

For any home inspectors reading this, do you have a good horror story to share?

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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