Let’s Talk Toilets

December 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Slideshow, Tips, Water, Water Use

Toilets account for almost 30 percent of residential indoor water use in the United States. They’re also a major source of wasted water due to leaks and inefficiency. Unless a replacement has been installed, in a home built prior to 1993, each toilet likely uses 3 1/2 gallons — or more — for every flush.

Old-fashioned toilets waste water. Photo: Joe Hennager

Old-fashioned toilets use as much as 7 gallons per flush. Photo: Joe Hennager

Experts say that the minimum amount of clean water needed to meet the basic human needs of drinking, cooking and hygiene is 5 gallons per person per day. That’s far short of enough to ensure health and well-being; it’s barely enough to get by. But do we really need to flush nearly an entire day’s minimum requirement each time we go “number one”?

In the beginning of modern toilets, the 7-gallon, flushing, porcelain lavatory was the throne of choice. That was followed by the low-flush, or low-flow, toilet. Unfortunately, it often took several low-flow flushes to get the bowl clean.

As it turned out, low-flush toilets used more water than the old faithful lavatory. Enter the new and improved low-flush toilet, which was better at water conservation, but didn’t always get the job done.

In recent years, the high-efficiency toilet (HET) has arrived on the bathroom scene. Consumers now have an option to use as little as 0.8 gallons using a dual-flush toilet. The best part is that they really work.

What Are High-Efficiency Toilets?

Low flush toilets are a better option than old-fashioned porcelain thrones. Photo: Julia Wasson

Low flush toilets provide savings over the 7-gallon models. Photo: Julia Wasson

Under federal law, toilets sold in the United States today must not exceed 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). High-efficiency toilets (HETs) go beyond the standard, using less than 1.3 gpf. You can identify an HET by the WaterSense label it carries. These labels can only be used on HETs that are certified by independent laboratory testing to meet rigorous criteria for both performance and efficiency. The WaterSense program is sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Do High Efficiency Toilets Work?

Everyone is concerned about the performance of low-flow toilets. Do they clear the bowl and leave it clean? Do they stop up frequently? Unlike the first 1.6 gallon/flush toilets, WaterSense HETs combine high efficiency with high performance. Advances in toilet design permit WaterSense HETs to save water without loss of flushing power. In fact, many perform better than standard toilets in consumer testing.

How Much Water and Money Do HETs Save?

High efficiency toilets save you money by reducing your water and wastewater costs. Over the course of a lifetime, an average person flushes the toilet nearly 140,000 times. By installing a WaterSense HET, you can save 4,000 gallons per year. Young children can each conserve about a third of a million gallons during their lifetime.

If a family of four replaces one 3.5 gpf toilet made between 1980 and 1994 with a WaterSense toilet, they can save $2,000 over the life of the toilet. If the toilet being replaced was made before 1980, it uses 5 gallons per flush, so the savings will be much greater.

A high-efficiency toilet saves water and money. Photo: Caroma

A high-efficiency toilet saves water and money. Photo: Caroma

With these savings, new high-efficiency toilets can pay for themselves in only a few years. Even better, many local utilities offer substantial rebates for replacing old toilets with HETs. Rebates for high-efficiency toilets are available in many US states and Canadian provinces.

What are Dual Flush Toilets?

Dual flush toilets use 0.8 gallons per flush for liquid waste and 1.6 gallons per flush for solids. They can save up to 40% (approx. 4,600 gallons) compared to today’s standard 1.6-gallon, single-flush toilets. On an average of 4/1 uses a day, dual-flush toilets have the lowest water consumption of all: 0.96 gallons per flush.

Beware of some products that reduce the amount of water flushed in an existing toilet. Existing bowls are not designed to perform with reduced amounts of water, so the likelihood of clogging your toilet while you are trying to flush paper and solid waste increases drastically.

Select a WaterSense-Labeled, High-Efficiency Toilet

Whether you’re remodeling a bathroom, beginning construction of a new house, or just want to replace an old, inefficient toilet, a WaterSense-labeled HET is your best bet. Look for the WaterSense label on any toilet you buy.

Look for the EPA WaterSense logo on high-efficiency toilets.

Note that some manufacturers offer high-efficiency and regular-style models with very similar names, so be sure to look for the WaterSense label. A list of WaterSense-labeled high-efficiency toilets and other plumbing products is provided by the EPA.

If every home in the United States replaced just one old toilet with a new HET, we would conserve almost one trillion (spelled with a T) gallons of water per year. That’s equal to more than two weeks of the water flowing over Niagara Falls.

Andrea Paulinelli

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living