Bye Bye Toilet Wobble

How to lay tile floor around closet flange

by Bill and Kevin Burnett, Inman News

Q: Our toilet wobbles and I have been wondering how to fix it. We are also going to replace the vinyl floor in that bathroom with tile. How close should I lay the tile around the flange?
I had this done at another house I lived in quite some years ago. I removed and reset the toilet myself without any problems. I had a contractor install the tiles, but I can’t remember how close he came to the flange. This time I am going to lay the floor myself.

A: First of all, congratulations on doing it yourself.

The short answer is, the tile should extend close enough to the edge of the closet flange to be covered by the rim of the toilet. It’s not quite that simple, though. If possible, the flange should be adjusted to be level with the finished floor.

Kevin built his house on a tight budget. Choices had to be made and he didn’t always go with what he would have liked, thinking he would replace some materials after a while. He installed cheap vinyl flooring in all three bathrooms, thinking eventually they would all be tile. The toilets he installed were of good quality for their day, but never did work that well. Plugged toilets were a regular event in the Burnett bathrooms and the plumber’s helper took up regular residence.

Fast-forward 15 years. After living with a plunger in the downstairs bath for the lion’s share of their marriage, Heidi finally had enough and gave Kevin the ultimatum: Get a toilet that works or I’ll get a plumber to do it. That’s all it took to get Kevin to replace the substandard 1.5-gallon flush toilet with a new model that actually delivers the goods in a single flush. As part of the job, Kevin replaced the vinyl flooring with ceramic tile.

Vinyl flooring is glued to particle board underlayment. When retrofitting tile we recommend removal of the vinyl and underlayment to expose the plywood subfloor. This provides a clean smooth surface on which to install the new floor.

Removing the underlayment should lower the height of the existing floor by about 3/8 inch. Ceramic tile laid on backer board (such as Durock or a similar product) increases the floor height by about 5/8 inch. When all is said and done, the top of the existing closet flange will be a tad below finished floor level if left alone. Ideally the flange should be level with the finished floor.

If your waste lines are plastic (ABS or PVC), the closet flange is probably screwed to the vinyl floor. To get the closet flange in the proper position, begin by removing the screws attaching the closet flange to the subfloor, thereby freeing up the flange. Then install the backer board. Try to cut the backer board so that the edge slips under the closet flange supporting it.

Next install the tile, getting as much purchase under the rim of the closet flange as possible. Shim any open areas under the rim of the flange with pieces of tile. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it should be firm and raise the closet flange to the same height as the finished floor. Finally, reinstall the screws securing the closet flange to the floor.

When grouting is completed, you will have a handsome and solid base for the toilet.

If the flange doesn’t move after you remove the screws, a lesser solution — but one we’ve used with success — is to add a second wax ring when installing the toilet. Take your time and make sure there is a good seal to avoid leaks.

Copyright 2010 Bill and Kevin Burnett

See Bill and Kevin Burnett’s feature,  New Cabinets Don’t Require Gut Job.

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