Yes, you can box in a toilet cistern.
There are a few good reasons to do this but there are also one or two downsides. We will discuss the pros and cons later in the article but first, let’s go into a bit of detail of what is and isn’t possible.
The type of toilet pan that you have will determine whether this job is feasible or not. Basically, a low-level toilet pan is suitable for this process while a close-coupled toilet is more problematic.
With a low-level cistern, the pan and cistern are installed separately from each other. The two items are connected via a flush pipe. This runs out of the bottom of the cistern and into the back of the pan.
Usually, the toilet is mounted in front of the cistern by a few inches. This is perfect for a boxing-in project as it gives you room to manoeuvre without having to change any pipe work.
If the back of the pan is in line with the front of the cistern or slightly behind it then the toilet pan would have to be moved to enable the cistern to be boxed in. The only alternative in this situation is to cut the boxing-in material around the pan itself. But this can have other drawbacks as we will see in the close-coupled situation.
The position of the pan connector is also an issue. They can be straight (if the pipe exits the room horizontally through the wall) or bent (if the pipe exits the room vertically down into the floor).
The boxing will just need 1 hole cut into it if the pan and connector are all in front of the cistern. The cutting will be more complicated if not.
The cistern sits on a shelf at the back of the pan with this design. There is no gap between the front of the cistern and the back of the pan. So, to try and box in this type of cistern would involve cutting the material to fit around the complex curves of the pan. This has a number of problems.
Trying to cut around curves is tricky and would require accurate cutting to ensure there were no big gaps. But even if this were achieved it would make the removal of the front part of the boxing nigh on impossible.
The boxing material could also start to impinge on the toilet seat mechanism. The hinges are sited at the back of the pan right in front of the cistern. They need to be clear of the box work and far enough away to ensure the toilet seat stays up when required.
It is not usually viable to box in a close-coupled cistern. You would be better off buying a back-to-wall pan and a hidden cistern.
Lever Or Push-Button
Cisterns are operated by a direct mechanical control. This would usually be in the form of a cistern lever in older designs. Most levers will have a long enough reach to pass through the extra thickness of the boxing material. But if the distance is too great extended levers are available.
Push buttons are used on more modern designs but are also more of a problem because the standard buttons are not easily re-sited.
It is easier to just buy a new concealed cistern flush valve in both these instances. These valves have two advantages.
They will come with their own push-button mechanism. So you can site it on the front of the boxing with no issues.
Secondly, this type of flush valve will usually be removable. A base plate is fitted inside the cistern and then the valve slots down into the plate. This enables you to remove the valve from the top of the cistern without having to remove the front boxing.
Making The Boxing
The level of carpentry skills that need to be deployed will depend on the placement of the toilet.
It is possible to fix battens to the walls on either side of the toilet and then fix a panel directly to these in a narrow cloakroom.
Where the toilet is on an open wall a wooden frame will need to be constructed. This will need to be reasonably solid but it is not load-bearing. The frame is there to hold the panels used for creating the boxing. So the whole structure is just decorative.
Covering The Boxing
The framework will need to be covered in plywood, plasterboard or some other panel material. The top panel needs to be hinged or removable so that access can be gained to the cistern.
A modern concealed cistern will enable most plumbing repairs to be carried out from above. But if you are using an old cistern with a syphon this will not be the case. So you should ensure that the front panel of the boxing is also removable. It is preferable to make the front panel removable regardless in our opinion as you never know when you will need further access.
It is possible to tile onto plywood but you need to use special adhesive and grout. Plasterboard is more suitable for tiles but it is not as structurally sound as plywood.
You could also cover the boxing in a modern waterproof panelling system such as bathroom cladding. These are made from PVC so are not really structural. They would need a ply backboard to give sufficient rigidity. There are some new, heavy-duty panels available that are a lot more sturdy and might be able to be used without the need for a backing board.
Boxing-in a cistern is a worthwhile task if it is possible.
The resulting finish looks very neat and it hides all of the pipework associated with the toilet and the cistern. But there is another benefit: extra storage.
The space inside the boxing can swallow up quite a lot of clutter. It is a perfect space for hiding away cleaning materials, bottles, wipes, brushes and disinfectant. The photo above shows that there is quite a lot of useable space inside the unit that helps to keep the room clutter-free. You can never have too much storage! But if you do, read our blog post: Bathroom Storage Ideas for more inspiration.