Of toilets and pandemics
May 6, 2020 7:37 AM   Subscribe

I hear water running. It sounds to me like what you hear when a flapper needs to be replaced, in that it's intermittent, but I can't even tell for sure whether it's my condo or my neighbor's. The sound is in the wall, not coming from the toilet itself.

I replaced the flapper in the toilet I was suspicious of, but it didn't help. However, the last time a plumber was here, he said I should replace that toilet altogether. I put it off because it's my roommate's bathroom and it's extremely disgusting (like I don't know if a plumber can really work in there without at least some cleaning), so I wanted to wait until she moves out at the end of June. But now I hear this water running all day, and I'm losing my mind.

Replacing the flapper is really as far as I can go on my own. (I've looked at instructions for next steps online, and I really can't do anything else.) In normal times, we're supposed to call the office if we hear running water, but right now, we're only supposed to call for emergencies.

Can I keep waiting on this? I don't see any leaks anywhere around the toilet. Is wasting water the only issue here, or can this cause other problems? I assume plumbers are considered essential services, but I don't know whether they're limited in what they can do. Also, I'm very nervous about having a repair person in the house right now.
posted by FencingGal to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
You could turn the water to the toilet off entirely and see if that stops the noise. If it does need fixing, I guarantee your plumber has worked someplace more disgusting than your roommate's bathroom.
posted by mskyle at 7:42 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]

Not to threadsit, but assume I can't turn the water off. Every time I've had a plumber in this place to fix anything, the water shut-off valve has had to be replaced first.
posted by FencingGal at 7:45 AM on May 6

Wait, repeatedly? Over how many years? Having to replace a valve that important multiple times is unusual, especially if it's a quarter-turn/ball valve (as it ought to be for a whole-condo shutoff valve.)

Anyway, you could ask your roommate to turn off the water to her toilet at that valve to check to see if it's her toilet making the noise. That should be accessible and quick.
posted by asperity at 8:12 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

If I'm misunderstanding and it's the individual valves for different plumbing fixtures that have needed replacement every time you have a plumber in: those are probably corroded compression valves. They get that way over time and you can put off replacement by closing and opening them on a semi-regular basis. If you have never done that bit of preventative maintenance, I would not recommend starting without easy access to a plumber (I did that, which is the only reason I know what I know now about valves.)

Your whole-condo water shutoff valve shouldn't be subject to the same problem, though, and you should know where it is in case of emergency. There may also be an outside multiple-unit water shutoff valve, but your neighbors probably won't like it if you try that one.
posted by asperity at 8:17 AM on May 6

If you want to see if it's your flapper, put some food coloring in the tank and wait an hour. If water is getting past the flapper you'll see it in the bowl.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:19 AM on May 6 [4 favorites]

I do mean individual valves - so valves to toilets and sinks - they've all been stuck, so I doubt the one to that toilet can be turned off (my roommate is not here right now). The water shut-off to my condo shuts off the water for all of my neighbors (it just happens to be in my unit). I am not allowed to shut it off. There is a huge fine. If I need it shut off for any reason, I have to schedule 48 hours in advance, and the condo staff has to do the actual shut–off (which I don't know if they'd even do right now). It is a huge pain, but those are the rules here.

However, I heard a loud noise like flushing, and it's actually been completely silent for half an hour now, so I'm thinking it probably is the neighbor's.
posted by FencingGal at 8:19 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]

Aw, that's a hassle. Let's hope the neighbor notices the noise and realizes it's a solvable problem!
posted by asperity at 8:24 AM on May 6

You can determine if the toilet is indeed leak from the flapper by placing some food coloring in the tank. If there is a leak the food coloring will eventually show up in the bowl.
posted by tman99 at 8:42 AM on May 6

Oh lord, reminds me of the years long off and on fight I had to get the toilet replaced. So much drama about the flapper. The flapper being replaced did not fix it in my case either, I had to get a whole new toilet.

Unfortunately, that doesn't address the issue of (a) having to talk your management into getting a new toilet (this is an apartment complex, right?) and (b) the horror of having to have a repair person in your apartment during a pandemic. I suspect that plumbers are probably still working because I suspect that is an essential service, but the real dilemma is going to be convincing your apartment management to get a new toilet because yours is running constantly. Whether or not they want to is going to be the kicker here. It took me three years and having a semi-nervous breakdown over the phone to get it last year :(

And frankly, whether or not it's up to you to risk your physical health to have a plumber in to fix the toilet, vs. your mental health of constantly listening to a running toilet. It might be worth the hell of listening to a constantly running toilet to NOT have to live in that fear of having another human in your most personal space and the health risks. I can't decide that one for you and you probably won't get to make the decision if you ask for a new toilet, but it's up to you as to whether or not it's worth asking management about.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:12 AM on May 6

jenfullmoon, it's a condo and I own it, so replacing the toilet is up to me.
posted by FencingGal at 10:48 AM on May 6

I heard a loud noise like flushing, and it's actually been completely silent for half an hour now

Then the most likely cause is just flush gear getting temporarily hung up a little on the previous flush, and the person whose toilet did that just not noticing.
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 AM on May 6

Are you sure your not hearing water in the waste line running from units above yours?
posted by tman99 at 11:19 AM on May 6

Are you sure your not hearing water in the waste line running from units above yours?

There aren't any units above mine - these are townhouses - but I'm not at all sure what I'm hearing. As I said, it's starting to seem more likely that it's a neighbor's toilet, since after a lot of water noise, it was silent for a very long time (it has since started up again).
posted by FencingGal at 11:51 AM on May 6

N'thing the food coloring in the tank to spot flapper leaks. If you don't have food coloring, some instant coffee works too.
posted by jclarkin at 2:12 PM on May 6

Is there some reason you can't . . . ask your neighbor?
posted by aspersioncast at 9:35 PM on May 6

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