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Let’s get something out of the way first: toilet cisterns are a**holes. Absolute a**holes.

And when they leak, they are quite possible the worst a**holes in the world. They are the parking inspector of a**holes. The traffic cop of a**holes.

They are incredibly fiddly and finicky things. If they were a human being, they would be a difficult person to deal with. If they were a person, they’d be the sort of person who can’t eat gluten as a rule, but can eat wholemeal stoneground organic wheat that’s been harvested by virgins. They’d be the sort of person who can’t eat dairy, except goats cheese (but only if those goats were milked under the light of a full moon) and they’d probably be able to eat those woeful cream cheese wheels that have fruit or herbs on the outside (who eats those things? they are a disgusting hangover from the 80s or 90s imho). They’d be the sort of person with weird, unpredictable, but definite food dislikes. Dislikes in spite of never actually having tried the thing in question, so an illogical dislike as opposed to an actual preference for/against something based on experience.

That’s what toilet cisterns are: one of THOSE people. Ugh.

There are 4 places they can go wrong, 3 of them are quite simple – but incredibly fiddly – to fix HOWEVER what usually happens is that they go wrong in combinations of those 3 places. So you might fix one part of the problem, but there’s still another part – and another trip to your local hardware and/or plumbing supply store in your future.

And unfortunately, while you can certainly selectively weed out THOSE people from your life (keeping only the best of a finicky bunch); basic house planning regulations mean that you will always have to have a toilet cistern in your house, and therefore your life. At least one. UGH.

I really hate those a**holes.

/end rant

If you can see water trickling into your toilet bowl even though you haven’t flushed it: know you are dealing with an a**hole. One that is simple to problem solve, and you can fix it yourself with some basic supplies but it will be a little fiddly. But knowing how to problem solve and fix, means you can potentially save money.

What makes is confusing is that:

  • the internals of the cistern can look slightly different
  • there’s no standard washer size (remember my point about incredibly finicky things)

However, there are 3 simple things to check (and fix) before you call in someone, regardless of what the internals look like:

  • The flush or outlet washer
  • The float
  • The ballcock or inlet washer

If water is trickling into your toilet bowl even though you haven’t flushed it…this is how to problem solve

Step One: Lift of the lid of the cistern

The lid is usually held in place on the cistern by the flush button. You should be able to unscrew that, lift out the flush button cover pieces (pieces: the button will be held in place by a threaded seat) and then take off the lid of the cistern.

At this point it’s good to place the lid and the flush button pieces somewhere out of the way, where you won’t step on them.

Step Two: See if you can visually identify the problem

  1. Underneath where the button sits, you will see a piece of equipment that is broadly called the flush unit, or outlet unit. If you press the flush button (you can still do that without its cover on), you should see part of the flush unit lift up to let water into the toilet bowl. The flush unit should also have an outlet for excess water towards the top (so if your cistern gets overfull, water leaks out through the water outlet and to the toilet bowl without you flushing it). There are two things to check here:
    1. When the cistern is full (so the water stops running into the cistern): does the water level sit higher than the outlet for excess water? If it does sit higher, you will see water trickling into the bowl. Then you need to adjust the float so that it sits lower (we’ll get to where the float is in a second).
    2. If the water level does not sit higher than the outlet for excess water, then the problem is probably the washer for the flush unit. This is the easiest thing to fix.
  2. You also need to look at the other piece of equipment in the cistern: this is the unit that is connected to a pipe that runs to the tap in your wall. This is the inlet unit, where water comes into the cistern. The inlet unit also has a washer in it (called a ballcock washer normally or inlet washer), as well as a float (the float floats on the water level in the cistern; when it reaches a predetermined level, the float acts to stop the cistern from filling any further. The predetermined level is adjustable). There are 3 things to check here:
    1. The level of the float, and where you can adjust it (this is the second easiest thing to do): if the water level is sitting higher than the outlet for excess water, you need to adjust the float so it sits lower in the cistern (the water level should be 2.5cm lower than the outlet for excess water). After you have adjusted the float, you will need to flush the toilet, and let the cistern fill. Watch the cistern fill to confirm you’ve adjusted the float properly, and then leave it for about an hour and then check the water level:
      1. If the water level is still 2.5cm lower than the outlet for excess water, you’re golden
      2. If the water level is back up to sitting higher than the outlet for excess water, there are one of two things that could be the problem:
        1. The inlet washer could need replacing. This is the third easiest thing to do.
        2. If the washer is fine (or you replace the washer and the water level still sits higher than the outlet for excess water), the issue will likely be the whole inlet mechanism. Somewhere in the mechanism there is a leak(s) that is bypassing the inlet washer and filling the cistern.

Step 3: Fixes

A) Replacing the washer for the flush unit

This is the most common problem, and the easiest to fix. Although it is a little fiddly.

Before you do anything: turn the tap off at the wall, and flush the cistern. Then you need to look at the flush unit to work out how you can lift it out so that you can change the flush washer.

The washer sits at the bottom of the flush valve (between that mechanism and the pipe that carries the water from the cistern to the toilet bowl), it seals the flush valve so water does not leak out. To replace this, you will want to google your brand and model of cistern (should be written on the front of the cistern) to determine what washer you need to purchase.

Equipment

  • Needle nose pliers: some inlet parts are detachable, they are held together by plastic pegs. You can pull out the pegs using the needle nose pliers
  • Replacement washer:
    • If the degraded washer is still in place, take it out and go to your local hardware/plumbing supplies store to pick up one.
    • If there’s no washer, you might have to google or buy a couple of different washers to see what fits

Note: sometimes the recommended washer does not sit nicely on your outlet. I use a washer that’s different to the one recommended for the flush outlet in my cistern. I tried the recommended one, and literally would have to flush 4/5 times before the valve would seal, who needs that in their life? So I bought 4 different washers and tried them until I found the one that worked best. The washers are $4-5 each normally, so not a huge expense to try a couple.

There are different ways to get to the washer, so I’ve included a couple of videos to illustrate

B) Adjusting the float level

This is the second most common problem, and the second easiest thing to fix.

Before you do anything: turn the tap off at the wall, and flush the cistern. Then you need to look at the inlet unit to work out where the float is, and what is keeping it in place. That should be adjustable: you should see a little knob or screw you can turn. You might have to google your cistern brand and model to see if you can see inlet units and find instructions for where to tighten/loosen floats.

Equipment

  • Flat head or phillips head screwdriver: some floats can only be adjusted by turning a little knob, which usually can be easily tightened/loosened with a screwdriver. The type of screwdriver depends on the float.

C) Replacing the washer for the inlet unit

This is a little more fiddly, as you will likely have to take off the float to get to the ballcock washer/inlet washer.

Before you do anything: turn the tap off at the wall, and flush the cistern. Then you need to look at the inlet unit to work out how you can  unscrew it so you can change the inlet washer.

The washer sits in the inlet unit, normally below the float, and when the float reaches the level, the float presses on the washer and seals the inlet so water does not leak out. To replace this, you will want to google your brand and model of cistern (should be written on the front of the cistern) to determine what washer you need to purchase.

Equipment

  • Needle nose pliers: some inlet parts are detachable, they are held together by plastic pegs. You can pull out the pegs using the needle nose pliers
  • Replacement washer:
    • If the degraded washer is still in place, take it out and go to your local hardware/plumbing supplies store to pick up one.
    • If there’s no washer, you might have to google or buy a couple of different washers to see what fits

There are different ways to get to the washer, so I’ve included a couple of videos to illustrate

D) Replacing the inlet unit

This is the most fiddly, and I’d only do this if I’d exhausted all other avenues as it’s also the least likely. But if you’ve replaced the flush washer, adjusted the float to get the water level right, replaced the inlet washer AND THE CISTERN IS STILL OVERFILLING AND LEAKING OUT THE OVERFLOW OUTLET AND DOWN TO YOUR TOILET BOWL…then you need to replace the inlet unit.

At this point, I call in DIY Dad (sometimes the nuts fastening the cistern and inlet unit to the inlet pipe are quite tight, and the instructions are painful to read when setting up, so it helps to have someone else doing this with you.)

Before you do anything: turn the tap off at the wall, and flush the cistern. You will need to purchase a new inlet unit. To replace this, you will want to google your brand and model of cistern (should be written on the front of the cistern) to determine what inlet unit you need. Or pop to a specialist plumbing supplies shop, so you’re given the right unit

Equipment

  • A spanner
  • Flat head or phillips head screwdriver: some parts of inlet units can only be adjusted by screwdrivers
  • Needle nose pliers: some inlet parts are detachable, they are held together by plastic pegs. You can pull out the pegs using the needle nose pliers
  • New inlet unit
  • Bucket

This video has two parts and includes a section on replacing the inlet unit.

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I’ve been on hols for the last 3 weeks, so have been doing little things around my house including re-sealing my kitchen.

I first did this in 2010, however the section behind my sink was not perfect…and of course that is the bit that gets most of the water so I stripped the silicone out (again) and re-sealed with some new knowledge that I want to share.

This time I masked off the tiles and the counter so that I could really work the silicone into the join, without spreading it all over the counter top or tiles:

Who needs corner tape?

Who needs corner tape?

You can buy a product called corner tape to do this, it costs you about $15 and only has one use (to mask corners)…of course I bought the wrong sized one and didn’t realise it until I had opened the package and cut a bit off (making it non returnable). ARGH!!!

Instead of buying another $15 roll of tape that only has a single use…I decided to improvise with the existing masking tape I had and it worked a treat! So that’s my tip for today ๐Ÿ™‚ Don’t spend $15 when you likely have masking tape on hand that you can use instead.

Using masking tape also means you can mask to the exact size of the gap you need, rather than the arbitrary gap provided by the corner tape.

Other things I did differently this time: I also bought a square edged plastic paint scraper so I could really work the silicone into the join so it should be better sealed than my first attempt. And, I bought a silicone and grout scraper which worked a treat when I need to get rid of the silicone from my 2010 attempt.

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For the last 6 weeks DIY Dad has been undertaking a little improvement on my kitchen ceiling. It was meant to be a quick, easy improvement that has turned into a bit of a mission and now is finally….FINALLY….over.

There was a plaster ceiling grill in my kitchen which was not 100% when I bought it and, which the electricians broke even further when the house was rewired and they attached a new light to it:

In the beginning, there was light in the kitchen...and it was good

Because the actual grill was broken, the light was quite precariously attached and there was the danger of the grill and the light breaking away and falling onto the floor…or onto my head if I happened to be in the kitchen at the time. Which would just be my luck.

So to prevent this eventuality, DIY Dad screwed a piece of plasterboard to the grill cornice and reattached the light thereby preventing my skull from possible light-fitting-shaped dents:

With plasterboard, without possibility of concussion for anyone entering the kitchen

And this was a dandy fix…until we noticed that the cornices that the plasterboard where coming away from the ceiling. So rather than jack up the cornices, strapping them and making sure everything was re-attached before I (finally) got around to painting the bit of plasterboard; DIY Dad decided to remove the grill and cornices all together.

I won’t lie, it has taken a while. I have had my father over at my house for an hour each day of the weekend for…ooo…the last 6 weeks. He has bolted, plastered, sanded, plastered, sanded, plastered, painted, sanded, plastered, sanded and finally painted to give me a kitchen ceiling sans grill.

Of course, for every round of sanding, I have had plaster dust to clean from pretty much every surface in my house….which has been a pain. After every visit, he would leave my house looking like a columbian drug factory had exploded inside it…vaccuuming at least twice in a weekend, every weekend for 6 weeks was cruel and unusual punishment.

My current issue with plaster dust aside, I am pretty lucky my DIY Dad is so good at these things and is available to do them for me. And the results were so worth it:

Pretty as a picture

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All a question of technique

Having spend most of the back of the house honing my re-pointing technique, an image of the work in action might help to illustrate how I am working:

Re-pointing in action

The coffee fairy took this photo while I was working on the front of the house.

The wood rectangle I am holding is the float trowel, it has a hand grip on the other side. The small trowel is actually a paint scraper. Once you have filled the area you are working on, let the mortar dry a little (I find another icecream containerful of mortar somewhere else is about the time needed) and then use a brush to clean up and smooth your work.

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Front of house, to the left

At $8 for a 20 KG bag of cream mortar, re-pointing is definitely cheap DIY thrillz, but still very satisfying. I have used up 2 bags already and I bought another 2 bags over the weekend so I could get started on the front of the house.

On Sunday I did most of the left hand side of the house and started on the right. There is still the U in the middle of the house, but I will do that last. As I go along I am getting cleaner and more adept at it, which is satisfying…and means less clean up too ๐Ÿ˜€

I still have some finishing touches to do at the back

  • Sweep up
  • Get DIY Dad to remove drain pipes so I can repoint behind those

But those can wait for a while.

The drain pipes will probably be left until the every end as pretty much every rain water pipe needs to come off so I can repoint behind it.

More territory gained

 

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Re-pointilism

I have progressed further with my re-pointing. It’s not perfect and it’s certainly not finessed like federation tuckpointing, but I know I am going to render the house so I don’t need to be as pristine as all that.

And now that I have a bit of a knack for it, I can actually go faster which is excellent. I have now done all the back of the house barring a 1 metre strip towards the far end (behind the lemon tree) and barring underneath the drain pipes (DIY Dad needs to help me remove the drain pipes for that bit to be finished):

Still needs a clean up, but that is one Sunday's worth of work right there

Things I have discovered:

  • Icecream sized containers are the best for carrying mortar about – you may have to make more quite often but it means the mortar won’t haave dried out by the time you reach the end of it
  • Perfect consistency is 4 mugs mortar mix to 1 mug water (with perhaps another 2 tbsp or so of water if needed)
  • Wear gloves, the thin latex gloves and change them often (or lose a layer of skin…or 3)
  • Diamond shaped trowels are good for mixing
  • A small flat head paint scraper is the best nifty tool for getting the mortar into the joints
  • A float trowel (large, rectangular) is very handy too, use it as a palette
  • A thin piece of dowel is good for pressing the mortar in to deep crevasses in the wall to make sure there are no air bubbles and your mortar is compressed.

Technique

I use the float trowel like a palette. You dump mortar onto it (as much as you need) and then move it level to the course you are repointing and flat against the brickwork.

Then use the small paint scraper to shift the mortar into the cracks until they are full. Even if the mortar falls off the wall, your float trowel should capture most of it (conservation and meaning less clean up). You can work quite quickly this way.

Because the float trowel has a long and a short side, you can shift it around – sometimes deliver mortar off the long side, sometimes off the short side; dependent on the obstacles around you.

There will still be awkward areas (around pipework, behind round hot water heaters and in other tricksy areas where you can’t get the float trowel in), for them I balled up the mortar in my hands and pushed it in, using the scraper to press and level it.

Not a professional but a gifted amateur

All in all, it has taken me about 4 days, over 2 years to do the back wall of the house. But now that I have the knack and am a bit more confident, I reckon I will try and get it finished before Christmas. Ideally I will spend the next couple ofย  Sundays on this until it at least the back and the front are done but we will see how we go. If I can tick most of this off before it gets too hot to work through the day, that would be awesome.

I calculate it will be another 5/6 days to finish the front (larger area with the U in the house,) and maybe 1/2 days for the side…and then there is the clean up. There is always the clean up…

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More fun with cornice cement

Abstract

I got some more DIY over the weekend – using cornice cement to fix a hole in a door. Cornice cement and 1/3 of the instructions were DIY Dad’s idea, the rest I had to work out as I went along.

From the looks of it, the previous repairer cut out a piece of styrofoam to fill an old lock or handle in the door, then puttied up either side of it.

Dear former repairer, thank you for making what I am about to do look expert

With nothing to hold the putty slabs in place and the door having reasonable use, eventually one of the putty slabs fell out exposing the styrofoam. Yay for that professional look.

Luckily, because there was a lock or handle there, the cylinder I was about to fill had a side indent (where the latch would have gone). What that meant was that as long as whatever I used to fill it also filled that cavity, the side indent will chock the cylinder of fill in place. i.e. it will act to lock the fill in place, unlike the styrofoam and putty cylinder which basically had nothing to lock into and was therefore bound to eventually fall out.

The handy side divot, previously filled with a ball of scrunched up masking tape.

If that divot had not been there, I could have hammered some nails into the cylinder bit as a solve to make sure that the filler did not fall out the first time I closed the door…or the tenth time.

First thing to do, was to cover one side of the hole with masking tape (at that point the instructions from DIY Dad ended, but once I was in the midst of the work I realised what else I needed to do):

One side covered

Then you need to cover the other side to about half way with masking tape (from the bottom up). The cornice cement is like a thick creamy ganache filling for a cake, it’s relatively firm but it is sloppy and it will not stay in place without something to hold it. Hence the tape on two sides.

You are going to fill into the little container you have created with the masking tape. When you reach almost to the top of the half way, you are going to lay another struip of masking tape down, making your container higher – you’ll keep doing this for as long as you need till you get to almost the top.

Unless you are smart and buy a piping bag and pipe in the cornice cement, you are going to need room to get your spatula in to fill the cavity. That’s why you tape half the way up and then tape as you go (wipe the excess cornice cement off with a damp cloth and then tape, if you want the tape to adhere).

The trick is to overfill so that your masking tape bulges out a little at the sides – that way when you put that last bit of tape on, you can put some pressure on the filler and it will expand upwards to fill that last little bit of air. I taped everything down and then used two pieces of thick cardboard and a C Clamp to apply some pressure to squidge that filler upwards:

Under pressure, squidging away

I took the C Clamp off after about 2 hours as I needed to close the door. I left the filler 24ย  hours to dry with the tape on and then I peeled it off to see how I went:

The front bit, where I was filling from (hence the more tape stripes)

It’s not totally straight, I will have to sand and then apply a bit of putty. But it is still 100% ahead of where it was.

The other side

Not bad for a first attempt on minimal instruction ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

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