Question: It takes two to three flushes to empty my toilet. What do you think the problem is?
Answer: That's all the reader wrote. There could be a host of reasons why the toilet might require more than one flush, so I asked master plumber Terry Love www.terrylove.com and the folks at Kohler www.kohler.com who manufacture them, to offer possibilities.
Ed Del Grande, Koehler's triple master plumber, says "chances are, the toilet may be from the early 1990s, and these were notoriously poor performing" ones.
In 1994, a federal law passed in 1992 took effect and it required that all residential toilets be manufactured using the 1.6-gallons-per-flush standard.
"Manufacturers were forced, in a short time frame, to convert all of their toilets from 3.5 gallons per flush to 1.6 gallons per flush," Del Grande said. "The best they could do at the time was lower the water level in a tank designed to use 3.5 gallons per flush."
The result: Poor performing toilets. The fix, if the reader has one of these toilets, is to buy a new one.
"Technology has caught up with new gallon-per-flush requirements," Del Grande said. "A reputable brand should have many high-performing models to choose from."
If it's a newer low-flush toilet, however, the water level in the tank may be off, or the flapper chain may have too much slack, he said. These are simple fixes.
When it takes several flushes, Love first checks the fill tube between the fill valve and the overflow tube. It should be pointing down the overflow tube. This is what fills the bowl after the flush.
If the bowl is not filled before flushing, the first flush from the tank merely fills the bowl, getting it ready for the next try.
The second cause of multiple flushing, according to Love, is an object in the trapway of the bowl slowing the siphon action of the flush.
"This can be a toothbrush, pen, small toys, soap or bottles," he said. Removing objects from the trapway will restore the suction needed for the siphon.
To do this, he sometimes uses a closet auger with a fairly large end - about 1 3/8 inches in diameter. Smaller augers or snakes sometimes bypass the object.
"In some cases, I need to remove the bowl, looking into the exit of the bowl, and see what is there, sometimes running the auger in from the bottom, and pushing the object out the top of the bowl," Love said.
A trapway with tight bends may have a lodged object at the top of the bend. It is easy to get a pencil stuck there. A small mirror may help to locate it.
If you can't remove objects, and sometimes you can't, then replacing the bowl may be the only cure.
Love said the third cause would be plugged rim holes under the bowl lip. If these have become plugged, then a wire coat hanger can unplug them.
The fourth is a main-line backup, he said. "If that is the case, you might notice water seeping out from under the bowl. That means the line is full, and flushing the toilet, the water really has no place to go.
"A shower or tub on the same floor may show signs of backing up, too," Love said.
Safety first. The holidays are on top of us, so here is one way to make them safe and happy ones, courtesy of First Alert, the smoke-alarm folks:
Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries, and more than $6 million in property damage.
If there is a fire, the Christmas tree often is the first thing to ignite - especially if it is dried out. Make sure that you have a sturdy stand for the tree so that it is not in danger of falling over on children or pets. Place trees away from heating sources and candles. In addition, assign a member of the family to be on water duty and make sure the tree always has plenty to drink. More: www.firstalert.com
Winterizing continues. A tip from Lou Manfredini, who frequently brings his expertise to NBC's Today.
Check your attic insulation. Heat rises, and if your attic is poorly insulated, those heating dollars are going right out through the roof. Have a qualified contractor check your attic insulation. More: http://tinyurl.com/learnfromlou