Ask the Architect

Problems with rental-property plumbing


Q. We own an Airbnb upstate, in an area that has septic tanks and, on occasion, limited water supply, especially in a drought, so we turn the faucets off between guests using the place. One of the guests complained that a toilet kept running and that the plumbing made a high-pitched squealing sound. We hear the trickling sound and the squealing in the pipes, but haven’t been able to pinpoint the problem. A handyman came in and got the squealing to stop by adjusting the water pressure, he said. This worked for a short time, but then another guest complained about the same thing. Before we get another plumber, for the third time, can you explain some reasons for why this is happening? It’s frustrating to hear guests complain or ask for a reduction.

A. The first thing I did after reading your question was to go to my own toilets, open the top and examine the mechanics of the flushing. There are really only a few working parts, and I know from experience, and from talking with plumbers over the years, that the flapper, the rubber stopper that lifts up when you push down on the lever, deteriorates over time and must be replaced. The part is usually under $7, so you can get a couple at a time to save a trip.
When the flapper isn’t dropping correctly onto the ring that it seats on, there’s an improper seal, and that’s why you’ll hear the trickling sound. You should empty the tank of water by flushing, enough to expose the flapper and seating ring so you can check the ring. If it has deteriorated, it has to be carefully pried off. If you feel any resistance, call the plumber, because if you use tools the wrong way to remove the ring, you could crack the ceramic tank, and you’ll go from a $20 fix to a toilet replacement costing hundreds of dollars.
The squealing sound is partially explained by water pressure, and also by the type of fill valve, the vertical pipe and float that allows water into the tank. Generally speaking, the fill valve also becomes filled with impurities from everyday use, and the float that rises up as the water rises in the tank can be hindered over time. The parts aren’t expensive to replace, and it’s better to have the fill valve replaced than to take the time to try to clean it, try it out, become frustrated by the squealing sound of the water, under pressure, trying to squeeze up through the restricted fill tube, only to have to start over.
I wonder, though, whether you used the services of a real, licensed plumber, since I’ve never known a plumber who flunked out of potty training, and every plumber I know could have told you right away what the problem was. When in doubt, hire a professional. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.