Ask the Carpenter: How to fix a rocking toilet, redirect yard runoff

Ask the Expert

Q. The toilet in our bathroom has been rocking sideways for a few years. I’ve tried to secure it by tightening the nuts at the base, but it hasn’t really helped. Now it’s leaking. The plumber came and took the toilet off the flange. He said that we needed a new wax ring, but that the rocking stemmed from a loose flange. The bolts at the back side of the flange were secured to the wood subfloor. The front of the flange is secured only to the floor tile, and the holes have weakened over time. Looking at it from the basement, it appears that the original installer cut the hole too big and adapted as best he could by making new holes in the flange; it’s those holes that are bad. The work was done about seven years ago. The plumber said I need to hire a carpenter to add support. The plumber put in a new wax ring and reinstalled the toilet, but it’s still rocking. How would you secure the toilet?

BOB, Acton

A. You can level a rocking toilet with plastic shims, but if the toilet continues to leak, you are risking structural damage. That toilet flange needs to be securely installed to the subfloor, on all four sides, and glued to the waste pipe. I hate to say it, but you may need to take up the tile and subfloor to fix this correctly.


Q. I just read your article “Tips for dealing with a wet basement (Oct. 1).’’ My basement used to flood with several feet of water. I installed french drains and three sump pumps, including a backup in case I lose power. It was very expensive and helped the problem significantly; however, a lot water from other yards pools on my property (I’m at the bottom of a hill), plus my sump pumps drain into the backyard. What is the best way to drain the water out of the backyard? Would a swale help? Who would install that?


A. A swale redirecting the water to other lower areas or a drain basin could certainly help. Installing an open-grate drain dry well might help, too. A dry well is a passive structure that gives water a place to percolate into the ground away from the foundation. Water flows through pitched pipes and into the well, thanks to gravity. When a dry well is installed above the water table, most of the time it will contain air. This way the dry well can accept an initial rush of rainwater very quickly, until the air inside it is displaced. After that, the dry well can accept water only as fast as it can dissipate.

I’ve successfully use a swale to capture hill runoff and drain it horizontally across my yard. It is simply a shallow ditch that carries off water and uses gravity to drain. The key is to have the yard slope in the direction you need the water to go. Most swales become invisible once the grass grows in. A landscape contractor is the best person to handle this for you.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to [email protected] or tweet them to @robertrobillard. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at