Installing My New Toilet and Changing the Toilet Lever

There’s a new throne to bend the knee to in the Land of Laurel and it ain’t made of iron. That’s right! I’ve got a gorgeous porcelain throne for ya’ll to fawn over today. It’s downright spectacular. And oh so necessary. You see, back in early January 2018 I was just over 2 months in to my bathroom renovation and it was time to kick it into high gear. I had a deadline, one not set by me, one I couldn’t just ignore as it passed by, a big, important deadline. My little sister was moving into Berrybrier to live with me! Hi, Bronwyn! And well… she needed a place to relieve herself that wasn’t the tiny hell bathroom off my own bedroom. As much as that delightful little space worked for me, she was going to need a space a bit more… accommodating and far less… disgusting.

Luckily, I had a space that was pretty darn close! See the capped toilet flange below? That was my first step for getting the bathroom into more of a… useful… space. The plumber had installed it when he was doing rough in and after I’d tiled around it, and drywalled, and painted, the flange was finally ready for a toilet. The center part was just a cap that prevented the sewer gases and smells from coming into the bathroom. For which I was grateful. I popped it off with a screw driver and exposed the hole beneath.

Then I grabbed a reinforced wax ring toilet install kit from Home Depot and stuck it in the hole. The reinforced plastic part keeps it pretty centered.

Then I took the bolts that came with the kit and stuck them into the toilet flange. They slide nicely into place upside down, which is better than ones that screw into the flange from above since it’s easier to aim your toilet. I had bought the Kohler Memoirs Two Piece Toilet which is easier to install since it literally comes in two pieces. I lifted up the bottom part with the help of my friend Nikki and aimed it at my bolts and wax ring while her dog chased Malary around my house. With a little finagling we landed it just so for a perfect fit! Then I slipped the plastic covers that came with the toilet over the bolts to protect the porcelain and screwed on a nut to hold the toilet in place. I tightened the nut enough to keep everything snug and then simply sawed off the excess bolt with my hacksaw. Easy, peasy.

I snapped the bolt cap covers on and then it was time for the tank. This guy I was able to place on myself after Nikki left. It came with bolts already placed in the bottom of the tank and again I just aimed those bolts at the holes in the bottom part of the toilet. Then they got nuts which I tightened with a wrench being careful not to tighten too tightly which could break the porcelain. As I did that I stuck my level on top to make sure I was keeping things plumb.

One more check that it was level and I was ready for the fun stuff! The toilet lever that came with my toilet was already installed when I unboxed it. That’s convenient right? Wrong.

Lovely polished chrome in finish, there was nothing wrong with it, except I was using Delta’s Champagne Bronze (a brass /gold look) finish on all the other plumbing fixtures. So I popped one of Delta’s Cassidy Collection Toilet Levers into my cart and got ready to switch it out.

I also went ahead and screwed in the toilet water supply line into the tank and into my favorite water shut off valve that looks so cute coming out of the baseboard. I kept the water off still, but I wanted it to be ready to go once the lever was switched out.

Switching out the lever was also super easy. I took a short handled screw driver and just unscrewed the single machine screw that was holding it in place and popped off the lever.

The Memoirs toilet looked kinda cute all handleless and naked too! But.. that wasn’t going to stick around for long! I’d carefully noted the placement of the original nuts, washers, and other bits that came off the original toilet lever and meshed those in together with the new Delta parts.

I kept the delta parts that held the lever to the toilet themselves and screwed the original Kohler handle arm and chain into the new lever. That way the interior of the tank was mostly the same.

The Delta lever had some with a plastic handle that was supposed to replace the handle and chain, but that seemed like opening a larger can of worms than I was ready for so I just ignored that bit.

I checked several times to make sure the combination of parts together were still raising the flapper and thus “flushing” the toilet before I even considered turning on the water to this new throne!

But after it passed that test several times, I decided it was ready, got my bucket and dry towels ready and turned the water shut off valve to on. The tank and bowl began filling with water until it magically stopped at it’s capacity point. The moment of truth: would it now flush?!

Yes! It worked! And with no issues or re-dos or mishaps along the way! Turns out installing a toilet is really not as hard as what you’d think. And when everything in the bathroom is brand new and never before used, it’s not even the little bit gross!

So now I had a toilet! A whole toilet to myself! Well, for myself and my sister who moved in the very next day! Sure… we had to wash our hands in the kitchen sink until I got around to installing the bathroom sink and faucet a few days later, but eh, no big deal! Plus a functioning toilet and shower felt a thousand times better than the gross original bathroom!

In all the plumbing fixtures were one of the most expensive parts of this bathroom renovation. BY FAR. Which is to be expected since they are the fancy finished bits! Here’s the breakdown of the toilet bits and pieces:

  • Reinforced Wax Ring $8
  • Toilet Water Supply Line $6
  • Sink water Supply Lines about $20 for two lines
  • Toilet $380
  • Toilet Lever $25
  • Toilet Install Total: $439
  • Now, you could totally spend a whole lot less if you went to Home Depot and bought some cheaper fixtures, but since I was trying to restore some of the original character of Berrybrier back into this house and I wanted a specific look, I splurged a bit for pieces I liked and would like for years to come.

    If I was a better blogger I would have snapped a picture of the final toilet all installed with it’s lid on but I am not a very good blogger so I will go ahead and just give you this sneak peek. The toilet installed, complete with a few plants on top of the tank and a preview of the installed sink!

    Ohhhh progress! It feels sooo good right? Boy is it nice to have a place to shower and relieve yourself after months of a messy construction zone! I mean, the rest of Berrybrier still looked absolutely insane considering the kitchen floor disaster, but even that was looking up! My sister Bronwyn had moved in with me which meant a whole bunch of free labor. Yay! Double time progress!

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    Cutting Copper Pipes to Install Water Shut Off Valves

    So after the bathroom was painted I was pretty excited to be at the stage where things were really looking good. I was dying to get the toilet and sink installed and finally have a full working bathroom! To do that, I first needed to install some shut-off valves. When I first contracted my plumber to do the rough in plumbing, I definitely thought that would include water shut off valves and then I’d just hook in the fixtures. I don’t know why I thought that…. because what I actually got was copper stubs sticking out of the walls. It was a bit daunting, but I watched this youtube video where a very reassuring lady told me I’d be able to do this just fine. I took one last look at this room with it’s copper stubby left wall and headed to Home Depot for supplies.

    I bought the following things for this project and gathered a few items I already had in my home too.

    This actually wasn’t as hard as I anticipated, what a delightful and unusual DIY surprise! First, I turned off the water. A very important step. Please don’t forget to do that. Then I put some towels down on the floor and put my bucket under the first stub. The pipe cutter was super easy to use too. Just put it on the pipe, spin, tighten, spin, tighten and so on! Totally easy and then boom! The end of the pipe popped off into my bucket within just a minute or two. I was overly cautious about cutting the pipe since I didn’t want to cut off too much, but I probably left more pipe than I needed on the wall. I decided to proceed anyways.

    I bought cheap chrome pipe flanges and spray painted them with matte black Rustoleum enamel paint because I thought they’d blend in more with the dark green walls. I was too afraid to paint the actual shut off valves though because I thought it might affect their performance.

    I slipped the newly black flange over the pipe, threw the compression ring and nut over the pipe and then stuck the valve over the end of the pipe and gripped it with my pipe wrench. In my other hand I used a wrench to twist the compression ring and nut over the shut off valve and tighten. Tighten. Tighten. But not too tight, don’t want to break anything. The video told me to be cautious about over-tightening. Eventually it seemed tight enough though…

    You’ll see above too that I threw a bunch of caulk into the oversized pipe holes. The flanges would cover the holes, but I wanted to block any airflow. Once it looked good, I stuck the bucket right up under it and ran down into the basement to turn the water back on and then ran back up the stairs to see how it looked.

    AHHHH!!!! Water was shooting everywhere! I sprinted back down to the basement and shut the water back off. Got out the wrench and and the pipe wrench again and tightened more. I was a lot less tentative about tightening it this time. Try two with the water turned on went muuuch better! Just a slight drip this time.

    Back into the basement, water off, back up stairs, grab wrench, tighten, tighten, tighten, into the basement again, water back on, run back upstairs and…. WAHLA! No drips or leaks or showers, just a water shut off with the water shut off! One valve down, two more to go! No need to be cautious about over-tightening apparently…

    I did the second sink valve next. It went much smoother. I was aggressive in my tightening and got it done on round one this time. It helped that I remembered I have the arm strength of a new born infant so the likely hood of me over-tightening anything is slim to none.

    This slightly scary project ended up being way easier than I’d originally thought. Just goes to show you, even intimidating things can be easily conquered with a little internet research and a willingness to try! The sink valves were now ready for the sink which basically meant the bathroom was done right? Right?!

    Just kidding. DIY projects are never done. I needed to do the toilet water shut off valve. This one is my favorite, because it sticks out of the baseboard which I find strangely pretty. I’m weird okay? I did leave WAY more pipe on this one than necessary though. Shoulda cut that baby about an inch shorter. But eh, I’m lazy and don’t want to alter it now that it’s done. I got this one done on the first try too, so I must be an expert in this right?

    Ha! Nope. The next time I had a project involving installation of water shut off valves I shot water onto the ceiling…

    But at least I got these done with minor issues! Just in time to leave for the holidays too. Thank goodness!

    And now, on to plumbing fixtures!! Who wants to install a sink? Or better yet a toilet? Now that’s where the real fun is at… right?!

    Unexpected Plumbing Repairs: Cutting Cast Iron Pipe and Repairing the Sewer Line

    Nothing like a Thanksgiving dinner to clog the sink, right? That’s exactly what happened to me on Thursday evening! My sister and I were working on doing some dishes, she had a full sink of water and started to let it go down the drain. My sink is connected to my dishwasher which has an open pipe in the corner of the kitchen that the dishwasher then drains into. When Bronwyn let the water start going down the sink drain, the pipe for the dishwasher started gushing out water all over the floor! We quickly plugged the sink back up to prevent any more water from going down and called quits on dishes for the night. 

    The next morning I saw that both the sink and the pipe had drained overnight. I tired flushing things out with baking soda and vinegar followed by boiling water to see if that would fix the clog. It did nothing and I could only get a few cups of water down the dishwasher pipe before the water rose to the top. Not a good sign. A little while later, I headed into the crawl space to see if I could figure out what was going on (a lofty idea for someone as naive as I am about plumbing!). I am not particularly fond of my crawl space. It’s damp and filled with spiders and there’s lingering molten tar that dripped down between the floor boards when I accidentally liquified the tar mastic in the kitchen . I should probably replace the plastic tarps that are affected by the latter… but that would just add more to my to-do list! So instead I leave it be and crawl through the grime. The crawl space is accessed through this half-door in the corner of the basement. You can see it here at the edge of this photo from when I first toured the house. 

    So, I climbed into the crawl space and opened up the flexible coupling (this type) with a screw driver to see if I could identify the problem. It’s one of those rubber-like couplings with metal clamps on either end, so it’s easy enough to loosen the clamps and open the pipe. Of course, idiotically, I didn’t think my plan through. When I opened the clamp and pulled it up the pipe, the whole thing started gushing dirty dishwater in all directions! It started off by splashing right up into my face of course! Yuck!

    After I drained an unexpectedly large amount of water all over myself, I removed myself from the dark cavity that is my crawl space and texted my neighbor Erik. This was clearly over my head. He popped over shortly after with a snake and we stuck that into the pipe where I’d opened the coupling. After getting the snake in nothing seemed to be happening, but when Erik went to remove the snake, the whole pipe moved with it. Uh oh. I reached out to steady the pipe and realized it didn’t even matter! The whole pipe section had just snapped off. And snapped off not close to where we were snaking, but farther down the pipe. See the dirt in the picture above? That’s where it broke, buried down in that! So I slathered a smile on my face and pretended I loved the crawl space and got to work.

    I took out a shovel and started digging in the dirt to figure out where the pipe had broken and found the house’s 4″ cast iron sewer line. The old galvanized pipe that connected the sink and dishwasher drains to the sewer had corroded away and the slight motion from snaking it, broke it off right where it connected to the sewer. Not good! Because it was broken, I couldn’t even get it out of the sewer line and simply sub in a new section of pipe. Nope, I had to get way more involved and replace a section of the sewer line itself! Erik headed out with the promise to help me tomorrow. After I finished digging out around the pipe I called it quits for the night and stuffed a rag in the broken off pipe to prevent the sewer gases from filling the basement. The only good thing about this clog is that it caused me to find this corroded (now broken) pipe. This pipe had been leaking into the soil hidden below where I’d be able to see it if I had not been digging!

    The copper pipe that runs perpendicular to the sewer line above is a random pipe that does not connect to anything. Helpful vestiges of plumbings past! 

    There’s a special tool that would have made cutting the cast iron sewer line quick and easy. It’s a ratcheting soil pipe cutter. You can buy one for about a billion dollars or rent one. Home Depot rents ’em, but the store closest to me didn’t have one so I went to a local tool rental. They pulled it out of the back and I took one look and teared up. There was no way this could work. My basement wall is oddly angled on this side. Guess why? Because the sewer line was built first. And when they carved out the basement, rather than moving the pipe and making a straight wall, the built the concrete wall about 1/2″ away from the sewer line. The ratcheting pipe cutter gears were about 1.25″. It wasn’t going to fit!

    On to plan B! Sawzalling the cast iron pipe with diamond blades. I headed to Home Depot to grab that and the rest of the supplies needed. Two cast iron sawzall blades for $15 buck each was a lot better than paying a plumber. I also headed to the pipe section to look for the proper couplings and accoutrements. Of course, I have no idea what I’m doing so I just took out a ton of parts and put them on the floor and then texted pictures like this to Erik until my phone died and I was left to fend for myself in the plumbing section!

    I ended up with a four inch wye pipe with a 2″ offshoot and then because I couldn’t remember if I needed a 2″ or 1.5″ pipe to connect to the sink and dishwasher lines, I just bought a bunch of parts for both sizes. I definitely prefer to err on the side of way too many things to return than oh hey let’s run back to Home Depot four times. So $200 later, I had everything I could possibly use. 

    I bought Erik a bagel sandwich for lunch which is definitely not enough to repay him for the next several hours he spent helping me in the crawl space. I set up the light and then I clambered into the crawl space with my corded sawzall and Erik followed with his battery powered sawzall. We then spent the next fourty or so minutes crouched over simultaneously sawzalling at the cast iron pipe. It took a LOT of effort and was so very uncomfortable and not fun. And of course Erik did his section faster than me and then traded so he could finish off my cut. Apparently he’s stronger or something boring like that. Ugh!

    But then the cast iron pipe was completely cut! It was a wonderful sight to see! 4 inches over 40 mins, but hey, who’s counting? Look at this glorious exposed sewage. Just delightful!

    Then it was time to get the fittings together. Ugh. This was a gross project. First I got the special cast iron to ABS pipe couplings fit over both ends of the cast iron. That took some work to get the rubber fitting over and then I slid the double clamp over the rubber fitting and started lining up the rest of the pipes. Erik cut a short section of 4″ pipe to fit into the coupling. The wye went in next and then Erik cut another 4″ pipe section to fit the remaining part. 

    Stuffing the section of pipe into the wye and then into the coupling was a bit of a challenge. But about 5 minutes of fanangling later and I made it work. But then, of course, I had to take everything apart to glue it all. I used ABS pipe glue stuff which smells disgusting and sticks to everything. It has a ball to apply and you put glue on both ends about as wide as the radius of the pipe. 

    The rest of the pipe fit more easily together, it’s like highstakes marble races, but the marbles are sewage. Again, delightful! A 2″ to 1.5″ pipe converter went on the main wye first, then a 45° angle, then a section of 1.5″ pipe, then a 90° angle.

    That then connected to another forked wye pipe, this one was 1.5″ all around. That allowed me to slip on the original pipes from the dishwasher and sink drains into the new wye with a couple short sections of 1.5″ pipe and a whole lotta glue. 

    A bit of tightening of the coupling clamps later and the plumbing was all connected!

    Erik ran upstairs to flush the toilets a couple times and run the shower to test the lines. A couple more rotations to tighten the clamps on the sewer line later, we were leak free and basically done! I threw the rest of the dirt back into the space and called it quits. Typing this took no time at all, but in reality I climbed into the crawl space at about 12:30pm that day and came out about 4:30 and then spent and hour and half cleaning up. Not too shabby, but it doesn’t count the couple hours of digging from the day before!

    It’s funny how projects like these: gross and dirty, but quick can make you feel so accomplished. I could never have done this without my neighbor though. I simply wouldn’t have had the confidence to even try. But saving several hundred dollars sure feels good! Plus the more of these I do, the more confident I get to try this on the next round. Though I hope that next round is a long ways away!

    In the meantime, I saved a whole lot of money. At least 4-6 hours of a plumber’s work so let’s call that $400-$600. And honestly, it wasn’t all that hard once I got going. I think I could do it again… if I wanted to! Has anyone else tried plumbing things? How’d your project go? Did your DIY job hold up over time? There’s one connection I’m a little nervous about…!