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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.