Chicago Plumbers Explain Ghost Flush

Updated November 15, 2011

Chicago plumbers explain why a homeowner's toilet trys to flush on its own.

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My toilets occasionally sound like they're flushing on their own. Is this an indication of a problem? - Marilyn Banks

Greg Hannah, owner of highly rated Hannah's Plumbing in Berwyn, Ill., says it's a sign of a leaking tank, usually through a deteriorating flapper or a refill tube located too far down in the tank. "The tank is constantly trying to refill itself, which is why you hear the sound," he says. "You can waste an enormous amount of water that way, increasing your water bill by one-third."

Fortunately it's not a complicated fix. It only requires repairing the flapper or adjusting the refill tube. Hannah says the cost of this repair is likely to run between $65 and $150, although it can be more if you have an exotic or older toilet that requires the plumber to make a special trip for parts.

Mark Sperry, service manager with highly rated plumbers Fettes, Love & Sieben Inc. in Chicago, says you can test the problem by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the coloring leaks into the bowl, it's probably the flapper; if not, it's probably the refill tube. "You want there to be a little bit of an air gap between the tank fill level and the end of the hose," he says. "Whichever one it is, you'll want a licensed professional to fix it. You can get into a lot of trouble if you don't know what you're doing."

He agrees the fix isn't likely to take much time. "Nine times out of 10, we'll have the part for your toilet on the truck when we get there," he says.

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