Saturday, February 6, 2010

Plumbing – Caulk Toilet at Floor


There is one issue I count on being different on the residential and commercial properties I inspect. The requirement is clearly the same on both. Commercial building toilets will, most likely, be caulked at the floor and single family residential will not.


Why the difference?

It’s simple, an anticipation of enforcement of codes or a lack thereof. Most builders will not acknowledge such but they default to the minimum of enforcement or generally accepted practice rather than the requirement of codes or manufactures recommendations. Many builders and subcontractors actually learn code when their hand is smacked for failing to meet it not from their foreknowledge of the requirement. Hence no enforcement leads to a failure of compliance. This is an easily observable primary example of this issue. Walk into your bathroom. Is your toilet caulked at the floor? Most likely it is not. Should it be?

When conducting a home inspection I handle this differently depending on the home. On new construction I write up “Toilet Not Caulked at the Floor” as a “repair” item. However, on lived in homes I write it up as a "discretionary improvement". When I started in this business I wrote them all up as a repair item. Why the difference? You can’t imagine the flack I have taken over this. Most homes new or existing, in my service area, have un-caulked toilets. Many home inspectors simply ignore this issue because of all of the flack and conflicting opinions. I call that a cop out on the part if the inspector who should know better than to ignore such an issue. Some counties code enforcement inspectors require that toilets be caulked and some ignore this. You might be surprised to observe that large builders who work in multiple areas usually have their toilets caulked while local builders might not only ignore this but may be vehemently opposed to this practice. I have found the difference interesting and have been observing it for many years. Why the difference? I have found it to be simple. Large builders, working in many areas of enforcement, tend to function at the most restrictive, following codes more closely to keep their employees and sub contractors, who function in the different areas, from having issues with the enforcement officials. For example in my service area I will usually find new construction, in most counties, with un-caulked toilets with the exception of Guilford County where they are much more likely to be caulked. Wonder why?

Why are some builders and homeowners opposed to caulking toilets? The primary excuse is leakage or more correctly easily observable leakage. The thought is if the joint is open water from a leaking wax seal will run out onto the floor making the homeowner aware of a leak before the floor is damaged by rot. Interestingly a small open area in caulk at the rear of the toilet will easily accomplish this although most will refuse to caulk at all. Is there interest in observing a leak or simply their bull headed refusal to change their long standing practice of not caulking toilets?

Why should toilets be caulked at the floor?
  1. Although our inspections are not code enforcement inspections we must consider code issues, especially on new construction, even though we do not write them up as such. The International and Uniform codes clearly show a water-tight seal is required where plumbing fixtures meet floors and walls. Since issues found on new construction are the responsibility of the builder, who is responsible to meet code requirements, enforced or not, I choose to designate this as a repair item which is easily justifiable under current code requirements. On lived in homes this falls on the homeowner who isn’t responsible for meeting current code requirements and most likely required by code or not, at the time the home was constructed, the generally accepted local practice was not to caulk the toilet. Hence the difference as an improvement recommendation.
  2. Manufactures recommendations include that plumbing fixtures should be sealed where they meet floors and ceilings. Interestingly, by default, manufactures recommendations carry the same weight as code in most municipalities. Surprisingly, to some in most situations, where manufactures recommendations exceed the written code the code enforcement official will demand the more excessive be followed. Codes even state where an issue is not addressed in the code that manufactures recommendations are to be followed. That gives the manufactures recommendations the force of code.
  3. Often below a second floor toilet you will observe a stain on the first floor ceiling. Has the toilet leaked? Not necessarily. Where do you think the mop water, water dripping from bathing or leaking at a shower curtain goes when it runs up under an un-caulked toilet? Through the opening in the floor at the pipe and to the ceiling below.
  4. Have you ever noticed or cleaned the obnoxious build up in the joint at an un-caulked toilet? Think that might be a sanitation issue? The Health Department does. Wouldn’t it be easier to caulk the toilet rather than cleaning the open joint over and over on your knees with a tooth brush (hopefully not the one you use later to brush your teeth)? On second thought if you are willing to clean the joint with a tooth brush and then brush your teeth caulking the toilet will not be high on your list of things to do today.
  5. Many experienced plumbers have observed that toilets caulked at the floor are less likely to have leaking wax seals. Why could that be? Easy, Caulking reduces the potential for movement limiting forces on the seal which might cause it to leak.
Is your toilet caulked at the floor? Would you desire for me to write this issue up on a home you are purchasing? Do you think your builder should caulk your toilet?

20 comments:

  1. Is a faulty wax seal something that should have been looked for in an inspection?

    I live in a unit below another where his wax seal was leaking and caused mold and ceiling damage to my unit. The previous owner (single guy) was rarely home and rarely used that bathroom. New owner (couple) used home like normal residents. Problem showed itself (nasty looking) within a month of new owner moving in.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, but often difficult to know because sometimes there isn't visible evidence. Sounds like there may have been no visible evidence when your unit might have been inspected but that it showed up later in your unit below a leak in another unit above yours. If there was no evidence in your unit when it was inspected and the unit above yours wasn't part of the inspection how was the inspector to know about a leak which would occur later? We might be good but we are not psychic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just a little clarification. I'm the unit below. The unit above me was inspected, and leaked into my unit a few weeks later. There are no other units above.

    I'm wondering too about the caulking the toilet. The builder (10 yrs ago) caulked all around the toilet. If there had been an escape route, perhaps the water would have been easier to find. Makes me wonder if I should cut the caulking of mine to create an "escape hatch" (to prevent the same thing happening to me). What are your thoughts on the preventative step?

    ReplyDelete
  4. There may have been no evidence of a leak at the time of the inspection, especially if the toilet was caulked and hadn't been used. Ideally when the toilet is caulked at least a one inch gap should be left at the rear so you can see a leak. However, based on the floor construction it could have still leaked on you without any evidence of a leak at the floor above. Unfortunately there isn't a good way, that I am aware of, to know that a toilet seal is leaking before it shows up on the ceiling below. Sorry, not a perfect world, sometimes nasty things drip of our head.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Janice, I don't allow comments on my blog which link to business's of which I am not familiar.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I see both situations here in San Diego; caulked and not caulked. I agree with your justification that caulking is a sanitation issue. For added support on tile floors I prefer grouting the junction between the toilet and floor covering.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You must be really a keen observer I must say. Caulking a toilet is very easy you just need the right tools and prepare the proper procedures.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Having had a leaking wax ring on a newly installed toilet in the past, I would say I prefer a non-caulked. I am not someone who has any "skin in the game" so to speak -- I just think it makes sense. The plumbing fixture is sealed to the surface at the wax ring, don't you think? The floor should be water tight up to the flange, so fugitive water from mopping shouldn't get through the floor...

    I feel the same way about tub spouts, too -- the pipe should be sealed at the wall, and no caulk should be put around the outside of the tub spout.

    I liken both of these situations to caulking around an escutcheon plate -- in reality, the rest of the toilet (or tub spout) is just a decorative piece covering the mechanism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We had an uncaulked tub spout in an apartment once. My wife had put one of those 'Under the Sea tub spout covers' on our tub to protect our young toddler in the bath from potentially banging his head on the hard metal spout. Of course, the toy Fish head spout opening wasn't large to expel all water when the faucet was full on - creating pressure which pushed the water against the wall and into the wall cavity. Our downstairs neighbors came ringing quick. Had that spout been caulked, that wouldn't have happened.

      Delete
  10. I just read a FB post from a handyman friend who was livid about having to clean up the mess under a toilet that had been caulked, but apparently lacked a functioning wax ring. His SHOUTED advice to his FB friends was that they should NOT caulk (and I would imagine, certainly not grout) between the toilet and the floor. Thankfully, his readers reminded him that little boys will definitely get pee into the gap between the fixture and the floor if not caulked. Glad to find your post so I could give him another perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You should caulk the front and sides of the front part of the pedestal. Leave the rest caulk-free from 4"- 6" IN FRONT of the bolts on back. When boys, small and grown, use a toilet they sometimes miss! Caulking the front and front-sides will prevent a careless pee from going under, but the sides and back of the toilet can still breath. Another tip I have is to use caulk that matches the floor as close as possible. It looks a lot better than using caulk that matches the toilet.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hello, I am a Master Plumber in Denver Colorado and have 30 years in the trade. There are a couple of good reasons for caulking the base of your newly installed toilet that I would like to comment on. Number one is to keep urine from making its way under the toilet bowl creating an unsanitary condition that is not easily cleaned. Secondly, caulking provides additional bonding capabilities that help prevent toilet movement which allows the wax ring seal to stay sealed longer.














    ReplyDelete
  13. I've installed plenty of toilets without caulk and without issue, but after reading this I am going to start. Starting with the last two I installed for a friend.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  15. The problem with caulking the toilet to the floor, is when your wax ring wears, it will hold the water under the toilet without ever showing you the signs until it's rotted and leakes through your subscription floor.

    I say never caulk around your toilet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe you should read the article before commenting! This is specifically and clearly addressed.

      Delete
  16. I was taught to caulk the toilet to the floor. But, after removing many toilets over the years, I decided not to caulked them anymore. If the toilet is installed right the seal will last about the same. And when it comes to clean the base with no caulk is easy. When caulk get stain it won't be easy to clean, to the extent that it would need to be removed.
    The other down side is, when having to removed the toilet, even when you think you have cut the caulk, part of the floor will lift up with the toilet.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am with the May 4, 2016 reply. Some background, I am a licensed master plumber, a licensed code official by the ICC and I started in construction as a plumber's helper for a licensed plumbing contractor in 1977. I believe that the building / plumbing code states that a fixture that comes in contact with a floor / wall must be sealed. Most properly installed toilets have a small gap between the floor and the toilet base, that is not contact and allows the plumbing fixture to be installed without caulk. Also, anyone that has ever replaced, remodeled, removed a toilet for any reason will tell you absolutely why you should not caulk it to the floor. Lastly as I mentioned in another post on this topic, if you have a large old style toilet, and it is caulked to the floor, when you replace it with a modern style with a smaller base you will have a visible caulk line left on the floor to try and resolve.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I suggest caulking the toilet. My eight year flushed the first floor toilet last night when it was clogged causing an overflow. Not only did the water flow across the floor but also under the toilet and into the basement below. If this was one of our second floor toilets it would have been a COMPLETE disaster to the ceiling below. I'm caulking all the toilets and pipes today.

    ReplyDelete

Please note that this blog is moderated and that all comments are reviewed and approved before they are displayed. NO comment with a commercial link will be accepted!