Toilet won’t flush

Toilet won’t flush? There are several possible reasons why nothing happens when you pull the lever or push the button on your loo. In this article, we’ll explain the common faults and how they can be fixed.

Contents – toilet won’t flush

Toilet cistern overview

In order to understand why your toilet won’t flush, you need to know a little about the components inside the cistern.

A typical British toilet uses a plastic siphon to draw water out of the cistern into the pan. Pulling the flush lever on a toilet raises a plastic diaphragm in the bell of the siphon. The diaphragm lifts a body of water up to the neck of the siphon, where it then spills over and down through the outlet. A siphon effect is created, and the rest of the water is drawn out of the cistern. While the plastic diaphragm is flexible enough to allow the moving water to pass by it, it is supported underneath by a plastic frame. This ensures it has the rigidity to lift the water above the water line in the cistern.

As for the filling of the toilet cistern, this is usually controlled by a ball valve. This uses the water level to open or close a valve by means of a plastic float. When the water level in the cistern falls, the valve is opened, replenishing the cistern with water for the next flush. In the event that the ball valve fails, an overflow pipe will allow the excess water to drain out of the cistern.

No water

If your toilet won’t flush, the very first thing to check is the contents of the cistern. Take the lid off and have a look inside – is there actually water in there? Take a look at the ball valve. Has the arm become jammed upwards? Gently moving the arm up and down may make the water flow again.

If the arm moves freely but the cistern does not refill, then the water supply to the cistern has become interrupted. There is usually an isolation valve on the supply pipe, which is operated by a blade-edge screwdriver. Double check that this is open – the notch in the screw on the valve should be in line with the pipe. If it’s closed and there’s no reason not to open it, give it a quarter turn with a screwdriver.

Toilet cisterns are either fed from the mains or from the cold water storage cistern in the loft. The cold water storage cistern may also supply other cold outlets in the bathroom. It will also supply the hot water cylinder.

Check the other bathroom cold taps – do they work? If several other water outlets don’t work – and the kitchen cold tap does – then this suggests that the cold water storage cistern is not filling up. If you are able to go up into the loft, then take a look inside the storage cistern – there is a good chance it will be empty. Has the ball valve got stuck? Try the same thing with this ball valve and move the arm up and down. If the storage cistern starts to fill up, you have solved the problem. However, you should consider replacing the ball valve, as it may seize up again in future.

Flush mechanism components

If cistern is full of water, the next thing to consider is the flush mechanism. The flush lever on the outside of the cistern is connected to the diaphragm inside the siphon via a small chain or piece of plastic. This link attaches to the siphon via a metal loop or hook. A faulty flush mechanism may very well be the case if the flush lever feels extremely light and makes a different sound. Check to see these components have become disconnected. If they have, reattaching them should solve the problem. If they are broken, you should be able to buy replacement parts from your local DIY store or plumber’s merchant.

Broken diaphragm

If the flush mechanism works, the next suspect is the diaphragm, which may be the case if the toilet will only flush in a certain way, depending on how hard or softly you pull the lever. A broken or punctured diaphragm cannot raise the water inside the siphon – the water simply passes through it. In this situation, the diaphragm must be replaced. If this isn’t possible, then you will need a new siphon. Either of these solutions means isolating and draining the cistern, disconnecting the pipework and unscrewing it from the wall.

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Equilibrium ball valve

An equilibrium ball valve is a type of ball valve which utilises the pressure of the incoming water to help close the valve.

Contents – equilibrium ball valve

Overview

In a standard ball valve, the incoming water enters the valve on one side of the washer only. As the water level in the cistern rises, the float raises the float arm, pushing a washer onto the valve seating, and closing the valve. Thus, the buoyancy of the float has to be sufficient enough to overcome the pressure of the incoming water.

This is where equilibrium ball valves do things differently. An equilibrium ball valve allows the incoming water to move to the other side of the washer. This keeps the water pressure equal on either side – in other words, in a state of equilibrium. By equalising the water pressure on either side of the washer, the upward force of the float only needs to be strong enough to raise the float arm. It does not need to overcome the pressure of the incoming water.

Equilibrium ball valves are useful in areas where the water pressure is very high, or for cisterns with a large diameter inlet pipe. They have also been used in order to overcome water hammer.

Types

There are several different types of equilibrium ball valve in existence. Brass 1/2″ valves are available and are similar in appearance to Portsmouth pattern ball valves. Larger bores are also available, e.g. 1.5 inch, 2 inch, and the cost of these can run into hundreds of pounds each. However, these are obviously only used for very large cisterns, such as those in communal accommodation, e.g. a block of flats.

One of the main advantages of equilibrium ball valves is that because the float only has to lift the arm of the valve and not force it against the incoming water, the arm can be much lighter and more compact in comparison to traditional ball valves. This design concept is evident in the Torbeck line of float valves. These are are intended for use in toilet cisterns.

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Cold water tank overflowing – why?

Cold water tank overflowing? If there’s water dripping – or pouring from a pipe which points out of the house at loft level or from the eaves of the roof, then one of your cold water tanks is overflowing. This could be either the cold water storage cistern, which supplies the hot water cylinder and possibly the cold bathroom taps. Or, it could be the smaller feed and expansion cistern, which puts water into the central heating circuit. In this article, we’ll discuss what to do if the cold water storage cistern is overflowing.

Contents – cold water tank overflowing

Typical cause – a faulty ball valve

The most common reason for a cold water tank to overflow is a faulty ball valve. This valve controls the level of water in the cistern via a plastic float which sits on the surface of the water. As the water level in the cistern rises, the float pushes a washer onto the valve seating – a plastic nozzle inside the valve body. This stops the flow of water into the cistern.

Foreign objects, such as grit, dirt or limescale, or damage to either the valve seating or the washer may prevent a water tight seal. General wear and tear may split or chip the edges of the valve seating, and crack or split the washer. While these components are cheap to replace, it may be simpler to just replace the whole valve. Brand new Part 2 ball valves are cheap, reliable, and offer peace of mind that the problem is fixed.

The other cause – mixer valves

The cold water cistern can still overflow, even if the ball valve is working perfectly. This situation largely depends on the configuration of your plumbing system. Did you recently have a new mixer tap or shower with a mixer valve installed? If so, is it fed by the mains? This is very likely to be the cause of the problem. The high pressure mains water displaces the low pressure water from the hot water cylinder, pushing it back into the cold water cistern. If the cistern only overflows when a certain mixer tap or mixer shower is open, then this is almost certainly the cause. Alternatively, it may be caused by a pre-existing mixer tap or mixer shower developing an internal leak. The solution is to fit a non-return valve on the hot feed pipe to the tap or shower.

 

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Calling a plumber – ultimate guide

Whether you need a plumber for a routine task, or an emergency plumber for a leak or a burst pipe, this handy guide will tell you everything you need to know about calling a plumber, no matter how big or small the task.

Contents

Before calling a plumber – do you actually need one?

This is probably the most important question – is calling a plumber actually necessary? Take for example, an overflowing toilet cistern. The toilet at this author’s home was once overflowing – a quick check in the cistern showed that the float had become unscrewed from the arm of the ball valve. Simply screwing the ball valve back on the float arm solved the problem in a matter of seconds.

For more complex tasks, you should weigh up your options. Will you have to pay for the tools to do the job? How much time will it take? While you may be able to complete the task yourself, it may be more convenient to get a professional to do it – and at no extra expense, if you would have to take unpaid time off to do it yourself.

At any rate, if you feel that your skills aren’t up to scratch or that you can’t diagnose the problem yourself, you are much better off calling a plumber. That’s especially true in the case of an emergency. And of course, there are some things which should only be done by qualified professionals, such as removing asbestos or working on gas appliances.

Work out who you’re going to call

If you don’t already have a trusted plumber saved in your phone book, finding one can be tricky. A good place to start is asking friends and family for recommendations. Thanks to word of mouth advertising, a reliable plumber will never be short of work, although there could be a wait if he’s good!

If this route doesn’t come up with any names, the next step is to search online. You should do as much research as possible in order to avoid a cowboy. The Association of Plumbers and Heating Contractors (APHC) and CIPHE, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, are trade bodies for the UK plumbing and heating industry, and they maintain a list of registered plumbers. You can check if there’s anyone local to you by entering your postcode.

The independent UK consumer magazine Which? has a “Trusted Trader” scheme which scrutinises tradesmen and endorses them with its logo if they pass their assessment. Another good place to turn is Checkatrade.com, which is an index of tradesmen vetted and monitored by the site. It also encourages consumers to leave a review of the contractor they have hired. It goes without saying that for boiler work, you need someone who is on the Gas Safe Register. You should also keep an eye out for credentials provided by boiler makers themselves, as some of them offer an accreditation scheme. If your boiler was manufactured by Ideal, then it makes sense to choose an Ideal certified plumber.

Once you have got some possible names to call, do a bit of extra research and google them. Do they have a website or a Facebook page? While not every good plumber has the time to maintain a presence on social media (or the need, due to work via word of mouth), a plumber who takes pride in his work may share some photos of his recent projects, accompanied by positive reviews. You should also keep a close eye out for the reviews which the plumber would prefer that you didn’t read.

Write down the task

Before calling a plumber, it is a good idea to write down as much as you can about the problem or the task. Not only will this prevent you from forgetting anything on the phone, it will also help the plumber to prepare for the task effectively. Don’t forget to mention how long the problem has gone on for, as well as anything you have attempted in order to fix it.

Research!

If your issue isn’t urgent, it goes without saying that you should do some research before calling a plumber. For example, there are several modern solutions for replacing an old gravity-fed shower. While a good plumber will talk you through the different options and explain what is and isn’t possible based on your individual system, it is a good idea to enter this conversation with an idea of what you are looking for. The clearer your end goal is, the better the plumber will know how to meet your expectations.

Researching a task online may also give you an impression of how much it will cost. This should be very useful for larger projects, such as a new bathroom or a new boiler. These obviously require more labour and expensive components.

Make the call

Once you’ve done these things, it’s time to start calling. Explain the issue and how you would like it to be resolved. While the plumber may be able to give you a rough idea as to how much it will cost, he will not be able to give you an exact price until he has seen for himself what is required. However, he will be able give you his hourly rate and initial call-out charge, and also an estimate as to the cost of parts and equipment. He may also have a set price for certain tasks, such as an annual boiler service.

You should find out if the plumber has insurance, and if that insurance covers adjacent properties, such as your neighbours. You should also find out if the plumber guarantees their work, and if their guarantee is backed up with insurance. An insurance-backed guarantee means that their work is still covered, even if they go bust. Also, don’t forget to ask if they are a member of the aforementioned trade bodies.

As long as the work isn’t urgent, you should contact and compare at least three or four different plumbers, and ideally ask them to visit and give you an exact quote. This is important because there is no standard industry rate for plumbers. You should therefore do as much as you can to make sure the quotes you receive are competitive. Finally, do not rush into anything. When calling a plumber, a good one will understand that you may need the time to think things through. You may also need to discuss things with other members of the household.

Getting the work done

Once you know which plumber to hire, you should make an agreement in writing as to what you are expecting. This agreement should ideally be in the form of a written contract and should contain a clear description of the project, the agreed price (most likely the initial quote) and rate, and the start and finish dates.

You should also agree on the payment method, as you do not want to try to pay for the work on a credit or debit card only to find out that the plumber only accepts payment by bank transfer. Once the work has been completed, this could put both parties in an awkward situation, depending on your finances.

Depending on the scale of the project, the plumber may ask for an initial deposit to cover materials and fittings. This is a reasonable expectation if the project is large, e.g. a new bathroom. However, you should never pay a large proportion or the full cost of the work up front.

Once you’ve signed the contract, you should be able to relax in the knowledge that the task is in safe hands. When the work has been completed, don’t forget to ask for a Work Completed Certificate. This may be necessary in order to demonstrate that the work complies with local building regulations. Good luck, and don’t forget to stock up on tea and biscuits!

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Polytank feed and expansion tank (4 gallon/18 litre)

The Polytank feed and expansion tank is a feed and expansion tank produced by Polytank Group Ltd, the British manufacturer of water tanks and cisterns. As the name implies, the tank is designed to be used as a feed and expansion tank for open-vented central heating systems. It is suitable for new properties or as a replacement header tank on an existing installation. It has a capacity of 4 gallons / 18 litres.

Polytank feed and expansion tank

The tank is supplied with a snap-on lid, ensuring that dirt, insects and rodents cannot get inside, and a screened warning pipe fitting and washer, which also protects dirt and debris from entering the cistern via the overflow pipe.

You’ll also find a 15 mm Part 2 ball valve and a plastic float, and also a float valve backing plate – a small piece of plastic fitted to the ball valve shank, which protects the tank wall from the upward force of the float.

There’s also a insulation jacket for preventing heat loss, and a length of string for tying the insulation jacket around the tank. A service valve which would allow you to isolate the ball valve with a screw driver is unfortunately not included, however this can easily be purchased separately for a couple of pounds.

The tank is factory sealed, and all of the fittings are to be found inside the tank itself.

Note that while the capacity of the tank is listed as 4 gallons / 18 litres, the feed and expansion tank should never be full to this capacity when cold. The water level should be only slightly higher than the outlet at the bottom of the tank. This is so that the water in the central heating system has room to expand.

Standards

The Polytank 4 gallon/18 litre feed and expansion tank is WRAS approved, and is manufactured to BS4213:2004 and in ISO 9001:2008 approved factories.

Dimensions

Length: 480 mm
Width: 250 mm
Height: 320 mm
Weight: 2.2 kg

Where to buy

The Polytank 4 gallon/18 litre feed and expansion tank is available B&Q, which offers free delivery on orders over £50 and a click-and-collect service.

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Surestop stopcock

A Surestop stopcock is a stopcock produced by Surestop Ltd, a UK company which specialises in making easy to use stopcocks that are designed to prevent water damage to properties.

Unlike traditional brass-handle stopcocks which may leak or jam, Surestop stopcocks are operated via a simple rocker switch, similar to a light switch. Not only does this make them extremely easy to operate, it also ensures that the water can be turned off quicker in the event of an emergency. The control switch can be situated on the valve itself, or some distance away, making the valve even more accessible to operate.

Surestop stopcocks are also ideal for people who may find it difficult to operate a traditional brass-handled stopcock, such as the elderly or the disabled.

Contents

Overview

Surestop stopcocks are operated by the pressure of the mains water itself. When the rocker switch is pushed, the valve harnesses the pressure of the mains water to push a diaphragm against the valve seating, stopping the flow of water. This means that they do not require any batteries or their own electricity supply.

Surestop stopcocks are available in 15 and 22 mm pipe diameters, and they are also available as a “remote” version, where the switch is connected to the valve by a length of of tubing. This means that the switch can be mounted in a convenient location some distance away from the pipework, such as in the kitchen wall above the kitchen worktop, or towards the front of a cupboard near the door. The standard length of tubing is 2 metres; however it is possible to purchase tubing in 6 metre lengths, offering greater flexibility in terms of switch position. It is also possible to buy Surestop stopcocks which will connect to MDPE, the blue plastic pipework situated underground which supplies cold water to a property.

All Surestop stopcocks are WRAS approved, and can be used as a complete replacement for a traditional brass-handled stopcock, or in compliment to an existing valve. They are limescale resistant, and according to the manufacturer, can be installed by the average DIYer in as little as 45 minutes. All Surestop stopcocks are produced at the company’s factory in Birmingham, and Surestop reports that every stopcock is tested with 14 bar of pressure to verify that it works effectively.

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Why is there hot water coming from the cold taps?

Hot water coming from the cold taps – it may seem bizarre, but it can and does happen. On some occasions it is due to a hopeless plumber – this author once encountered a toilet which had been plumbed into the domestic hot water supply. Residents of the house could flush the toilet and watch the gas meter go up as the boiler heated the water to fill up the cistern again!

However, hot water coming from the cold taps is no laughing matter. Not only is it a waste of money, the consequences can be deadly. The cause is usually a failed immersion heater thermostat.

Overview

In a typical open vented hot water cylinder – that is to say, a hot water cylinder fed by a cold water storage cistern – the hot water is heated via one or two large elements known as immersion heaters. The immersion heaters may be the only means of heat, or they work in compliment to a heat exchanger inside the cylinder: a coil of pipe which carries hot water from the boiler.

Each immersion heater is equipped with a thermostat, which turns off the electricity to the immersion heater when water inside the cylinder reaches a preset temperature (usually 55 – 60 degrees Celsius). This thermostat is located underneath the metal cap which covers the top of the immersion heater, and should not be confused with the thermostat that is strapped around the outside of the cylinder.

The problem of hot water coming from cold taps or cold outlets occurs when the immersion heater fails in the ‘on’ position. This will heat the water up in the hot water cylinder indefinitely. This extremely hot water expands up the expansion pipe and vents back into the cold water storage cistern. But since the hot water cylinder is supplied with water from the cold water storage cistern, this effectively creates a loop whereby the water in the cold cistern is being heated by the immersion heater.

Since the cold water cistern usually supplies the cold taps in the bathroom, this is why a failed immersion heater thermostat will result in them delivering hot water. The kitchen tap will be unaffected as it is supplied from the mains. However, even in households where the bathroom cold taps are supplied from the mains, you may still notice this problem in the form of exceptionally hot water from the hot taps.

Danger

If left long enough, a failed immersion heater will bring the water to a boil, including the water in the cold water cistern in the loft. The danger of having up to 50 gallons of water at a rolling boil in the loft speaks for itself. While most modern plastic cisterns are able to accommodate water at such temperatures for extended periods of time, there have been incidents where improperly supported plastic cisterns have split, dumping a quarter of a ton of boiling hot water onto residents below, seriously injuring them or even killing them. In once instance, the cistern was installed on a wooden door laid across the joists.

Signs

As well as hot water coming from the cold taps, there are other warning signs which may be indicative of this problem. As mentioned by the Health and Safety Executive, keep an eye out for:

  • Excessively hot water coming out of the hot water taps;
  • Excessive noise or ‘bubbling’ from the hot water cylinder;
  • Steam/moisture in the roof space.

Solution

If the cause of this problem is indeed a faulty immersion heater thermostat, then replacing it with a new thermostat with a safety cut-out feature should solve this problem. The cold water storage cistern should be inspected for any damage, and should be checked to see that it is situated on a flat, stable, continuous base which supports the entire base of the cistern, leaving no part of it overhanging.

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How to isolate a toilet cistern – overflow or maintenance

Need to isolate a toilet cistern? Whether your loo is overflowing and the ball valve won’t shut off, or you turn to isolate the cistern for repair or maintenance, this guide has got you covered.

Turn off the isolation valve near the toilet cistern

This is the fastest way to shut off the water supply, although you will require a slotted/blade-edged screwdriver (the attachment on a pen-knife should be suitable for this).

Simply locate the isolation valve on the supply pipe to the cistern, and turn the screw a quarter turn so that the slot on the screw is no longer in line with the direction of the pipe. This should close the valve.

Tie up the ball valve

If there is no isolation valve, use some string or garden twine to tie the arm of the ball valve to a batten of wood laid across the top of the open cistern. In the event that the cistern is flushed, this will prevent the float from falling and opening the valve.

This method will obviously only work if the ball valve is working, and of course it cannot be used if the purpose of isolating a cistern is to replace the valve inside it.

If there is no isolation valve on the pipework near the cistern and the ball valve is not working or it is impractical to tie it up

Mains-fed toilet cisterns: turn off the mains stopcock, which is typically located under the kitchen sink. This will stop the supply of water to the toilet cistern immediately, notwithstanding any water that remains in the pipework. Note that this will shut off the water supply to every appliance in the household, including the kitchen tap.

Cisterns fed from the cold water storage cistern: close the gate valve on the supply pipe from the cold tank. Note that depending on the configuration of the plumbing system, this may also shut off the supply of cold water to the bathroom.

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Part 1 and Part 2 ball valves: what’s the difference?

What is the difference between a Part 1 and a Part 2 ball valve? These brass fittings are some of the most common types of ball valves found in British homes. They are typically found in loft cisterns, such as the cold water storage cistern and the feed and expansion cistern. They both work in roughly the same way: as the cistern fills and the water level rises, the float pushes the float arm up. This in turn moves a rubber washer against the valve seat, closing the valve.

However, Part 1 and Part 2 valves differ in two key ways. The first is in relation to the point on the valve where water is discharged.

On a Part 1 or ‘Portsmouth’ valve, the outlet is on the underside of the valve. On a Part 2 or ‘diaphragm’ valve, the outlet is on the top of the valve. Water is directed down into the cistern via a small plastic spout which screws onto the valve body. Should this spout become detached from the valve, then water will spray up into the lid of the cistern. This water will probably leak out from the top of the cistern. If the cistern doesn’t have a lid, it will deliver a fountain of water up into the loft space!

If a Part 1 ball valve fails and the water level in the cistern reaches the pipe centre line, there will be no air gap between the valve and the water in the cistern. This means that the outlet on the valve will be completely submerged. More to the point, it means that the valve would fail a back-siphonage test. Should there be a negative change in water pressure in the supply pipe, water in the cistern will be siphoned back into the mains. This is prohibited by water regulations and should never be allowed to occur.

As for the other reason why Part 2 ball valves are preferred? That’s because they are equipped with a specifically-designed mechanism for adjusting the water level. The position of the float on the arm can be raised or lowered via a wing nut. This feature is not found on Part 1 ball valves – the only way to adjust the water level is to manually bend the float arm.

So, the difference between a Part 1 and a Part 2 ball valve – or differences, to be more precise – are pretty straight-forward. They also explain why Part 1 ball valves are poorly suited, and why it is a good idea to replace a Part 1 valve with a Part 2 valve, especially if the opportunity presents itself.

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Tank bung

tank bung is a bung used for blocking a cistern outlet, such as the outlets on a cold water storage cistern. Typically available in 15 mm, 22 mm, and 28 mm sizes, a tank bung consists of a plug made out of rubber, or made out of plastic with rubber edges, which is inserted into a cistern outlet from within the cistern itself.

Tank bungs may also be referred to as radiator bungs – they are usually the same piece of equipment. Bunging a radiator will allow for a radiator to be changed without having to drain down the entire central heating circuit and refill it with inhibitor.

Tank bungs are used when it is necessary to shut off the supply of water from the cold cistern to another part of the plumbing system (e.g. to the hot water cylinder), and a gate valve on the supply pipe is faulty or absent.

The main advantage of using a tank bung is that a tank/cistern outlet can be isolated without having to drain down the cistern in the absence of a working gate valve, potentially wasting up to 50 gallons of potable water.

Why might I need a tank bung?

As mentioned, bunging a tank will allow you to carry out work on the plumbing system without having to pour 50 gallons of water down the drain. An example of this scenario would be if you needed to replace a washer on a hot tap, but there is no gate valve on the supply pipe to the hot water cylinder, or the gate valve is faulty.

Once a tank bung is in place, it is the ideal opportunity to install a gate valve where one is missing, or to repair one which is faulty. Valves which isolate the supply of water from a cistern are required by water bye-laws.

While it may be possible to improvise a tank bung with a cork or piece of rubber, it is possible that a device which has not been specifically made for the purpose may not cause a water-tight seal. Where maintenance is being carried out on open pipework in connection to a cistern full of water, the end result could be catastrophic if the seal should fail.

Unfortunately it is not always possible to fit tank bungs due to the shape or design of the tank connector on a cistern, e.g., the presence of brass lugs on the outlet prevent the tank bung from forming a water-tight seal. In such cases, it will be necessary to isolate and drain the cistern down.

What’s the difference between a tank bung and a radiator bung?

As mentioned, there is little to no difference – both will allow you to carry out work on a plumbing system without having to isolate and drain down the relevant cistern.

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