Mysterious toilet problems. It flushes, but not quite enough


A few weeks ago, I got a very disturbing call from my tenants. They called on a Friday afternoon, saying that their toilet wasn’t flushing at all, and hadn’t been for FOUR DAYS. They had already called a roto-rooter type drain person over, thinking that they had clogged the pipes, and a hundred dollars later, nothing was resolved. Also, the guy they called simply told them that the problem was that “the toilet was old.”

Two things wrong with this. First, I was relatively upset that my tenants were calling service-people to the apartment without my consent. I certainly couldn’t reimburse them for unauthorized repairs — it could have very well been something that I could have fixed myself, with little out-of-pocket expense. (It turns out that they weren’t looking to be reimbursed — they actually thought it was in the lease that they were responsible for coordinating and paying anyone having to do with clogged drains/pipes etc. ) Also, they seriously waited four days?? DAYS? If my (only) toilet completely stopped flushing, I would be taking action within hours, certainly not days.

The second thing wrong? I, in a relative panic, called my (very handy) boyfriend to come over to look at the toilet right away. I literally left work, still wearing a suit and heels to go check out this toilet issue. I’m expecting something catastrophic and gross — after all, they said that hadn’t been working for FOUR DAYS. Surprisingly, the toilet was pristine and empty. Yep, it still flushed, just not as strong as it had in the past. And they claim that there was a dramatic difference about four days before. Comparing it to my toilet downstairs, they seemed fairly equal. I don’t pay that much attention, however, to the power of the flush of my toilet. Boyfriend thinks that it isn’t flushing quite up to par either. We checked out the mechanics of the actual toilet, though, and everything seems to be working just fine.

Theory #1
There was a big ice storm that came through approximately four days before they called me about the toilet — if enough snow/ice blew up into the vent stack on the roof (which allows air into the plumbing system, allowing it to drain, flush, and all of the other things that we take for granted), that would cause a problem with both toilets — more on the second floor (tenant) toilet than on mine. If that was the case, all we needed to do was wait a week or so until we got some nice warm spring weather that would cause the blockage to melt.

But, alas, spring came and my tenants tell me that there’s no change. If it’s not a vent issue, we really have no idea what the issue is. Although, to me, it looks like the toilet is fine, and I’m kind of irritated with the way that they handled telling me about it, I do still have a duty to try to resolve the situation. So, I called the plumber. He’s coming tomorrow, I’m hoping for good news.


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5 thoughts on “Mysterious toilet problems. It flushes, but not quite enough

  1. Good thought — no kids, though. The tenants had thought that they’d accidentally flushed down a contact case or something, but they tell me that the Roto Rooter guy snaked the whole thing out and that didn’t seem to be the issue.

  2. If the drain vent was blocked, then all drains in the house (sinks, bathtubs, washing machines) would likely be affected. Not totally blocked thought, they would just occasionally suck air to correct for the vacuum that has formed (like big bubbles in a water cooler)

    If it is a really old toilet, your city most likely offers a rebate to replace it with a modern toilet with a flush volume of no more than 1.6 gallons. Look into it.

    I love your blog, glad to see an update. My fiancee are buying in July for the first time, and we’re looking at a duplex. Your blog has been an invaluable source for info.

    Keep it up!

  3. Dunno if it’s worth it or not to just replace the toilet, but we’ve had good luck with the Glacier Bay $88 AIO toilet from Home Despot. It’s a ‘tipping bucket’ design, only uses 1.0-1.3 gallons per flush, and is really simple.

  4. We rent and had a similar problem. The landlord had placed a new, smaller tank on an old, existing toilet base/bowl. The new tank did not work with the old bowl. The resulting low force would flush only liquids, not solids. (sorry to be graphic) Landlord replaced the old bowl with a new one, and the problem was solved.

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