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Home > Resource Conservation > Water > Toilet 

Resource Conservation: Water: Toilet

pics of sinks
It is estimated that toilet use comprises about 27% of the total water used in a typical household. We all gotta go, but do we have to use so much water?

 

Overview:

When looking at water efficiency of toilets we need to consider the different factors that make up the toilet. They are:
  • Water Source.
  • Toilet Type.
  • Use And Use Habits.
  • Repair.
  • Disposal Of Used Water (effluent).
  • End Of Life Disposal Of Toilet.
We cover all of the above points on this page.
      Older toilets (made before 1994) were manufactured to use 3.5 gallons a flush. Many attempts to conserve water up until that time caused lower performance or even damage to the toilet.
      Newer toilets are designed to use about 1.6 gallons a flush and still maintain the standards set for 3.5 gallon/flush toilets. With these units, water is sent down to the bowl and/or to the sewer in a different way than the older toilets.
This newer design (pressure-assist) can save a bunch of water over the long run and the sewers will still keep flowing.
     You may not need to run out and buy a new toilet to enjoy water saving. If your 3.5 gallon per flush toilet is in good working condition there are inexpensive ways to convert your toilet to a lower consumption of water. With these conversions you may be able to see a return on investment in just a few month (see "Green Calculator" below).
     People have not stopped there, some manufacturers are testing/selling models that are below 1.3 gallon/flush that still meet the standards. The EPA has a program called WaterSense that shows a lot of the exciting work being done in the field of water conserving toilets. We suggest you check it out for more information.
     Who knows, perhaps some day, a flush might mean no water (or energy) use.

Energy Efficient?

Toilets are all about conserving water and saving money on your water and sewer bill. Right? Not exactly. There is a power component to this discussion.

The Water Source:
Water comes from a water source. That source could be a river, lake or a well. It is filtered and pumped to our homes and businesses. After the water is used, it goes to a treatment plant so the water can be returned back to the environment. In some communities, pipelines are built to carry water great distances to the town, this requires even more energy. Our water and sewer companies spend a lot of energy filtering, pumping and treating the water in that process. These are the indirect power costs of the water systems in our cities.

How Much Saved?
The national average energy use for water is 1,500 KWHR per million gallons. For waste water treatment that number is 1,800 KWHR per million gallons. Our estimate is that if every toilet used ½ the water per flush, the water/sewer companies would have to pump 14% less water into our homes and process 14% less water at the treatment plant.
     The best estimate we could come up with is the indirect power saved would be about 12.4 KWHR savings per person per year (and a bunch of water). In large communities, that is millions of dollars saved by the water/sewer companies.
     The water saved can be quite large. If your toilet was manufactured between 1980 and 1994 chances are it is 3.5 gallons a flush. Going to a modern low flow toilet can bring that to 1.6 gallons a flush (with some models at 1.3 or even 0.8). Assuming each person flushes  the toilet about 5 times a day, that is a savings of about 3,600 gallons (5,000 for a 0.8 gallon/flush model) per person per year. 
How Does That effect Me?
Let's be truthful. It may not. However, we would like to point out a few things that might happen.
     If enough people conserve water on their toilet and in general, water and sewer companies save money. They save money in several ways. They save money by using less energy. Over time, the current water sources may have more water in them. This may lessen the need for expending more money looking for more sources of water farther and farther from the point of use (you). This saves them capital costs.
     How does this save money for you? Well, you ever notice your water/sewer bills keeps going up? Usually, that means the company has to spend more and more money trying to get water to and from your home (business).

The Technology:
How can the newer toilet use so much less water? The engineers at toilet companies got to work modeling how the water flows through the toilet and to the sewer. They have come up with many ways to get less water to go through the system and still get you "business" to the sewer line.
     One of these ways it to change the water flow from all gravity to a pressure "assist type" of system. This toilet compresses a pocket of air when the tank is refilling. When the toilet is flushed it uses that pocket of air to pressurize the water going into the bowl. Therefore, the toilet requires less water to do the same job. Some of these units will be a little noisier that the old toilets but it may not be very noticeable.
     The ultra low versions of toilets (0.8 - 1.3 gallon/flush) have other design features and possibly an extra pressure-assist unit in the trapway of the toilet (trapway is between the bowl and the hole in the floor).

Installation:

First, we would recommend that you seek the advice of a Plumber before taking on any project that involves plumbing.
     Having said that, you may find it easy to adjust floats or do minor repairs on an existing toilet. However, installing a new toilet may be different.  You want to make sure everything is correct. There are also many "self-help" videos on the internet that can help. Here is a video on how to replace a toilet from About.com on YouTube.com.
When you have looked at some videos you may also want to think about the materials used for the installation.
     Some of the jobs you undertake will use silicon sealant. You may want to check out some of the more eco-friendly alternatives (look in "Our Picks" section below). One more quick thing, the suction system in the low flow toilets usually comes already installed in the toilet.
   
 
Many times you will want a plumber for these jobs. Go to Angie's List. To check out a plumber or contractor.

Disposal:

If your are replacing a  toilet there are specific disposal issues. We will break this discussion into a few key areas.

The Water:
The water coming in should be from a clean source. The water could come from a catchment or your city water supply. One use for the water coming in to the water closet could be from a sink. There are sinks that install on the top of your water closest that run when you flush the toilet. One product on the market is Sinkpositive. The water leaving the toilet needs to go out of your house. Try to avoid putting things other than tissue down the drain (such as cotton balls, paper towels, feminine products, etc.). National Geographic has some ideas about other uses for your greywater.

The Toilet:
Porcelain it is not that recyclable. However, all is not lost. Lovetoknow has some ideas. That site shows some other uses of a toilet. A toilet can be made from other materials (in general, porcelain is less expensive). Stainless steel is a recyclable alternative but you may not want your house to look like a prison. Contact us if you come across any further ideas. 

Outlet plumbing (drain):
In general, if you are worried about the outlet plumbing, you (or a contractor) is remodeling the bathroom. Contractors tend to have places to send old plumbing. We will not go into that here.
The Seat:
In general, you have a few options: Plastic (polystyrene), Wood (maple or birch) or Bamboo. Bamboo may be a little more sustainable option.  Bamboo and wood tend to have metal hinges. We say, most people should put this into the regular garbage.

Inlet plumbing:
There is a hose that comes up to the water closet. Sometimes plastic and sometimes flexible steel. The steel would tend to be recyclable. The other is usually a combination plastic and steal ends with rubber (not so recyclable).

Water Closet Plumbing:
This is the "stuff" inside the water closet. This stuff could be mostly metal and some rubber or mostly plastic and some rubber. See what National Geographic has to say about rubber recycling. In general, the plastic used would probably be PVC (not really all that recyclable) or some other durable plastic. The advantages are that plastic will never rust, is cheap and durable. Rubber in some cases is recyclable, but most recyclers are not set up to take rubber. Of course, metals are recyclable but over the years may fill your water closet with flakes of metal.

Our Picks:

The way we see it you have a few options. Let us discuss them before we show you our picks.

     Dual Flush Toilet:
When first introduced they did not quite have the performance people wanted. Great strides have been made. You just need to remember which lever is used for what. These toilets specify two numbers 1.6/1.0 to show the two different flush rates. 

     Low Flow Toilet We think that this toilet is simple (just one lever) and reasonable. The performance is good and will pay for itself in a year depending on how much your water costs (look at our "Green Calculator" below).
     Other stuff: If replacing a toilet or some of the other parts we encourage you to consider "greener" products for those other parts, cleaners and declogers. 

     Special Note: WaterSense is a program from the EPA that approves water conserving fixtures. Some of the toilets we recommend may not have that seal. Check here to see their standards.

At this time we are not covering composting toilets. We may in the future. In the mean time, check out what TLC says about them.


  • Low Flow Single Flush Toilet: Most of the models are 1.6 gallon/flush models that have high ratings from Consumer Reports. We also have a selection of 1.3 gallon/flush WaterSense approved toilets. We tried also to have a few colors and elongated or round bowls. These models are "pressure-assist". Some with a 2 3/8 inch trapway, there is little that will clog these toilets.
Toilet pic
  • ECO-BOND: In place of silicon sealant you may want to consider using ECO-BOND to seal the toilet and other plumbing projects.
ECO-BOND sealant
  • Dual Flush Toilet: We have a couple of some of the highest ranked American Standard dual flush toilets. They are rated at 1/6/1.0 gal a flush and have the WaterSense seal. Mostly with a 2 inch trapway. These models are "pressure-assist".
dual flush toilet
  • Toilet Seat:  You can choose many types of seats. They should be comfortable but we think wood or bamboo are your more sustainable options. Polystyrene can stay in the land fill for decades or centuries.
Toilet Seat
  • Dual Flush Conversion Kit:  This unit is made for single flush toilets (either 3.5 gallon/flush or 1.6 gallon/flush). Included is all you need to conserve more water without throwing out your current toilet. This turns your single flush 3.5 gallon/flush toilet into a 2/1 toilet and your 1.6 gallon/flush toilet into a 1.4/0.8 toilet. Usually pays for itself quicker than a new toilet.
Dual flush Conversion Kit
  • Other: We make available other materials for servicing or installing toilets. Go to the Amazon store to see some of the other products.


Look for spec sheets for these items here.
You can find these items at our Amazon.com Store.
Look at the EPA's Rebate Finder to see if your utility has rebates for these devices.

Quick Note On Savings:

In general, water is fairly cheap. However, if you have an older toilet at 3.5 gallons/flush or an even older one (4-7 gallons/flush), these systems can use a lot of water.
    Assuming that the toilet is used 5 times a day per person in your house. A house with 4 people could use almost 26,000 gallons of water in a year. Using a low flow toilet for that house may save up to 14,000 gallons of water a year.
If your costs are $3 for 100 Cubic feet, that is $0.004 per gallon. Saving 14,000 gallons in a year would save you $56 dollars. Therefore, the return on investment is a year or two for a device that will be in your home (business) years after the return.
     You can calculate your own costs using the "Green Calculator" below. 

Remember to look for rebates from your utility. 

Green Calculator:


Calculate Feasibility Of Replacing Or Modifying Toilet
Current Toilet: Proposed Toilet:
Current Flow (gal/flush): Proposed Flow (gal/flush):
Estimated Flushes Per Day: Estimated Flushes Per Day:
*Cost Of Water Per Gallon($): *Cost Of Water Per Gallon ($):
Special Note: Some cities also base there
sewer charges on your water usage. You should
include this rate into your calculation.
Cost Replace/Modify Toilet ($):
Rebate ($):
Find possible rebates here.
*Filled in amounts are based on $3.00 per 100 cubic feet. You can change these fields.
Don't know what your water costs? Try our calculator
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Is everything filled in above?
 
Results:
Yearly Water Use (g): Yearly Water Use (g):
Yearly Total Water Costs ($): Yearly Total Water Costs ($):
Yearly Water Savings (g):
Yearly Water Cost Savings ($)
Return on Investment (Years)
______________________________________________________________________________

Glossary Of Terms:

  • Aerator: A device placed in a faucet to reduce the flow rate (gpm) of the water faucet.

  • Compost: A material that provides fertilization to gardens and fields. Usually made from broken down (decomposed) organic material.

  • Dual Flush Toilet: A toilet designed to have two flush modes. The first mode to get rid of liquid waste uses less water than the second flush mode (for solid waste).

  • Trapway: A trapway is the channel in a toilet leading from the bowl to the drain in the floor. Usually specified in inches telling you the diameter of the channel.
  • GPM: Gallons Per Minute.

  • Brass: An alloy of Copper, Lead, Zinc and Tin.

  • Water Closet: The reservoir connected to the toilet that fills up when you flush. When you flush this water fills the toilet.

  • Pressure-assist: A toilet technology that adds pressure to the water going into the bowl to help clear the contents of the bowl.

References:

http://www.toiletabcs.com/toilet-water-conservation.html, Conservation, from the ABC's of toilets. taken 8/12/12.

http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/plumbing/sewer3.htm, How sewers work, from Howstuffworks.com, taken 8/12/12.

http://greenliving.lovetoknow.com/How_to_Recycle_a_Toilet, How to Recycle a toilet, taken 8/16/12.

http://www.epa.gov/watersense/about_us/watersense_label.html, WaterSense standards for Toilets. Taken 8/15/12.

http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/low-flow-toilet.htm, TLC article on "Ultimate Guide to Low-Flow Toilets". Taken 8/16/12.

http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/composting-toilet.htm, TLC article on composting toilets. Taken 8/16/12.

http://www.rivernetwork.org/resource-library/community-water-energy-savings-calculator, Community Water-Energy Savings Calculator, River Network, taken 9/15/13.

Water conserving products in our Amazon.com store.

  • Showerheads:
    Showerheads ________________
  • Sink & Faucet:
    Sink And Faucet ________________
  • Hot Water Heaters:
    Hot Water Heaters ________________
  • Toilet:
    Toilet ________________
  • Swimming Pool & Hot Tub:
    Swimming Pool & Hot Tub ________________

 

 

Check out WaterSense at the EPA: