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Plumbing 101: Deeper Understanding Pt. 3 — The Bathroom

Plumbing 101: Deeper Understanding Pt. 3 — The Bathroom

In Plumbing 101 we looked at the basics of residential plumbing, provided a handy dandy Plumbing Glossary of Terms, and began a deeper dive into understanding soil stacks, traps, supply systems, cutting and fitting pipes, valves, and so on.

We continue that deep dive from another perspective — location — starting with the bathroom plumbing in your Decatur or Hartselle, AL home.

What follows may seem like you’re installing the plumbing system from scratch, but these are common tasks that Do It Yourselfers can do with practical assistance.

If any of these activities seem beyond your grasp or comfort level, call your Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor and tap into their repair and renovation expertise.

Setting Toilets

Whether you are buying a new home, purchasing one from another owner, or wanting to update your own, chances are you will at some point install a new toilet. It’s not hard to do. Just be deliberate and don’t rush the process.

Most toilets are assembled in two pieces: a bowl and a tank. Setting both pieces as one unit can be awkward and prohibitively heavy, especially when you’re working in small, cramped spaces. When possible, install the bowl first, then the tank.

Installing a Toilet

The fitting that connects the toilet to the waste pipe is the closet flange. In new construction, this piece is roughed-in and ready to go, so we’ll concentrate on installing a new toilet over an existing closet flange.

  • Position the closet bolts in their slots on the closet flange. This can be frustrating because the bolts tilt, wobble, and never seem to stay in place when you lower the toilet bowl,especially when you are doing the installation yourself. The bowl is heavy, awkward to hold, you’re working in tight quarters, and it’s not always easy to align the opening on the bowl with the top of the bolts.
  • Before you lower the bowl onto the closet flange, don’t forget to turn the toilet upside down and fit the wax ring gasket onto the outlet (also known as horn). Twist the sticky wax ring onto the outlet so it seats and doesn’t pop off when you flip the bowl right-side up.
  • Here’s the hard part: Set the openings on the side of the toilet bowl over the bolts and onto the flange, hoping the bolts don’t fall out of alignment. It may take a try or two and you may utter an unsavory word or three, but you’ll eventually thread the bolts through the bowl openings to secure the base to the closet flange.
  • To seat the ring better sit on the toilet and rock gently side to side, ensuring a tighter steal.
  • Here’s what most people forget or don’t do: Put a level on the rim of the bowl and shim the base, if needed. Tighten the nuts and washers onto the closet bolts but do not over tighten. You want a snug fit. Again, check that the bowl is level.
  • Once the base is seated onto the closet flange, attach the tank bolts/nuts to the bowl, uniting the two pieces. This is much easier to do, although you still may be working in tight quarters. Note: the nuts go outside the bowl so they do not rust.
  • Hook up the water line, fill the tank, and adjust the float as needed. Finally, caulk around the base, if desired.

If you are not able to lift heavy objects or are uncomfortable working in tight spaces, call your Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor for assistance.

From repairs to renovations, professional plumbers and contractors install lots of new toilets, especially more efficient (low flow) and more comfortable or taller models.

Installing Pedestal Sinks

Another popular renovation is replacing vanity sinks with pedestal sinks.

A pedestal sink can provide “open-ness” to a bathroom, particularly a small one by eliminating the bulk of vanity sink cabinetry. The pedestal sink, however, does not provide storage or counter surface.

Like the toilet, a pedestal sink is usually a two-piece unit: a stand (base) and sink. The sink mounts to a bracket on the wall and sets on the stand. (Installation Images)

Let’s assume the water supply lines, shut-off valves, and drain pipe are already in place and are in good working condition. We’ll also assume you’ve measured where you want to position the base.

  • Position the pedestal then set the sink on it to test fit where the bracket will be mounted on the wall. Make any adjustments necessary. Remove the sink, mount the wall bracket, and make sure it is level.
  • For simplicity, let’s assume the base will sit on the existing floor — or can be bolted to the floor — without need to access the subfloor or use mortar.
  • Connect the sink’s water valves, handles, supply lines, stopper, and drain piece, paying careful attention to alignment and making sure you’re not twisting or torquing any connection. This could cause a small leak if you’re not careful.
  • Set the sink on the pedestal and secure to the bracket.
  • Fit the plastic trap piece to the sink drain and adapter. If needed, add a short piece of PVC pipe to extend through the adapter. Finally, tighten the trap’s compression nuts to the adapter and drain threads.

It seems like a complicated installation, but — like seating a toilet — take your time, pay attention to existing connections, and you can install a pedestal sink. If any of this is beyond your comfort level, or you just don’t want to mess with it, call your Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or handyman to handle the installation.

Installing Vanity Sinks

If you need storage or countertop space in the bathroom, installing a vanity cabinet and sink is a perfect improvement. These are no more difficult to install than a pedestal sink or toilet.

  • You have an existing space in the bathroom that you can fill. Before you go to a home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot or to a specialty plumbing store in Decatur or Hartselle to get ideas, measure your existing space. That way you’ll know what models will work in your bathroom and which ones are too big or too small.
  • Obviously, you’ll need to remove the old pedestal or vanity sink before you install the new one. Pay close attention to existing connections. If you are not sure you can remember what connects to what, take a picture, or use masking tape to note the connections.

We’ll assume all is in order and you won’t need to repair or replace any plumbing from the wall or any connections. If so, and it’s beyond your comfort, call your Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or handyman who are experienced with bathroom repair and renovations.

  • Cut the vanity’s sink opening if it isn’t already. Center the vanity over the water lines and against the wall. Check that the cabinet is square and level before securing it in place.
  • Following manufacturer instructions to connect the spout, water valves and handles to the sink. Link the supply tee and hose assembly to the spout.
  • Attach the water supply lines to the valves if possible, to avoid reaching up under the sink later. There is very little room to work in a cabinet under the sink.
  • Apply plumber’s putty around the drain fitting to form a seal and seat the fitting in the drain hole. Add a washer and slip nut on the bottom and tighten the fitting.
  • Screw on the drain stopper coupling and its gasket so it lines up with the back of the sink. Feed the stopper’s slip arm through the faucet and connect it to the stopper coupling. Push the stopper fully open and tighten the arm down.
  • Flip the sink upright and set it in the cabinet. Glue a threaded adapter coupling onto the drain stub. Fit the trap and screw it to the adapter and sink drain.
  • Tighten the sink water lines to their shut-off valves. Slowly open a shut-off, check for leaks, then check the other line.
  • Fill the sink, check for leaks around the drain, then drain the water and check the waste line joints. This will also put water in the trap to stop sewer gases.
  • Caulk around the rim of the sink to seal out water and to finish off the installation.


Installing a vanity sink is doable for confident, experienced Do It Yourselfers, but if it seems too difficult or involved, definitely call a Decatur or Hartselle plumber or handyman with renovation and/or repair experience to do the work for you.

Next Up

We’ll stop here for bathroom plumbing. There’s more to do, like installing a combination tub/shower unit or individual bathtubs and showers. These are more advanced and may be beyond the comfort zone of most DIYers.

If so, you know the drill: Call your Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor for installation.

Next we will look at plumbing in the kitchen.