Revisiting the Benefits of Toilet Brass Ballcocks

Plastic fill valves are common nowadays, but old-school materials remain valuable in the plumbing world. Here’s a rundown of the application and installation of brass ballcocks on old toilets.

Revisiting the Benefits of Toilet Brass Ballcocks

Anthony Pacilla

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Servicing an old toilet can be fun if you know what you are doing. If you are a younger technician, they can look frustrating and automatically trigger you to replace the toilet with a new one.

But did you know that there is a black market for these old toilets? If they are so old and bad, why are people paying big money to have them illegally imported? They have large volumes of water in the upper tank, flush with a lot of force, seldom clog, and lead to fewer clogs in the sewer lateral because of that large volume of water. However, the parts are not average-looking to a lot of younger technicians.

The typical plastic rebuild kits look very similar to a lot of toilets you may service, but you need to understand that every toilet was manufactured to work a specific way, with particular parts. While the new rebuild kits might work well enough, you may want to consider installing some old-school toilet parts that are specifically designed to go into these old toilets. It is a far superior product, and it can make you more money on the service call. Here’s how.

Old-Style Brass Ballcocks

Make fun of them all you want, but those old-school brass ballcocks last way longer than the new plastic ones. Water quality that will eat a brass ballcock also wears on the moving parts of a plastic fill valve. Just check out life expectancy or warranty information — brass ballcocks’ lifetime warranty versus plastic ballcocks’ 1- to 5-year warranty.

Not only do they last “forever,” but they are very easily repaired. The modern version of brass ballcocks maintains the same high-grade brass and copper structure but adds in some enhancements to delicate parts that used to break down occasionally. It is the best of both worlds. 

The old-style brass ballcocks are not so simple to install but offer additional benefits. The first benefit is the material from which they are made. They have a few working parts. They have the famous float ball that makes the lever assembly go up and down with the rising and falling water level in the tank. This up-and-down action from the lever assembly moves an additional part called the “linkage.” The linkage pulls up the seat vertically and allows water to flow into the tank, or gets pushed down, shutting off the water supply. This is where a significant benefit of the brass ballcock exists.

A plastic fill valve is an instant shutoff — the water fills up the full tank pressure until the float suddenly shuts the water off, causing water hammer and wearing on the parts of the fill valve. The brass ballcock, since its linkage opens and closes the valve, closes gradually and slowly, which is better for the internal parts of the fill valve. This is the big difference between the qualities of the brass ballcocks versus the plastic fill valves.

Installation

There is a crucial thing to pay attention to when installing a brass ballcock, and that is the “critical level.” The critical level is an imaginary line of water that must be at least 1 inch above the top of the tank overflow tube. The critical level is marked on the fill valve “CL.” The critical line is essential because it turns the “anti-siphon” ballcock into a siphoning ballcock. The ballcock will siphon water internally and cause problems.

Once you have the ballcock set with the CL level as it should be, tighten the locknut on the bottom side of the tank and determine what length float rod you need to install for the tank. Typically they come in 9- to 12-inch sizes and are threaded on both ends — one end screws into the lever assembly and the other end screws into the tank ball. 

Float and water levels will rise when the incoming water pressure increases. If the water pressure of the house is over 80 psi, you will need to bend and adjust the float arm. Make sure you use the provided locking nut to lock the float arm into place once you have it set correctly. If you do not use the lock nut, the float ball, as it floats, will spin the entire float arm. When you bend the float arm, make sure you hold onto the linkage with a pair of pliers so as not to break it. Also, think of the float ball as a way to shut off the water early or late in the refill cycle. A larger float ball will shut the water off sooner than a smaller float ball.

These units also have a water regulator built into them. There is a screw at the top of the valve that regulates how much water it will put out.

While brass ballcocks may not be a popular choice nowadays, their quality and longevity of service should be noted. In the harshest water conditions of the mid-1900s, they somehow managed to last 50 plus years and can still be routinely found in operation today.

About the Author

Anthony Pacilla is a registered master plumber for McVehil Plumbing in Washington, Pennsylvania. He has 23 years' experience in the plumbing and HVAC trades, and has a bachelor’s in business and economics from Thiel College. 



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