The Miser's Guide to a Better Planet

By Darryl McMahon

Getting to the Bottom of Things - Fix That Toilet

This column was inspired by a recent incident in our home - a running toilet. About every 3 minutes, the toilet would allow a bit more water into the tank from the household water supply. How much water? I lifted the tank lid to find out. The level in the toilet tank would drop about 0.5 cm before the valve would open and refill. Not much right? 15 cm back to front and 24 cm side to side, this is just 180 cubic centimeters (cc) of water. Repeated every 3 minutes, this occurred 480 times a day, which is 86,400 cc of water a day being wasted - 86 litres.

Misers want to reduce water use, because we pay for our water, either by regional water bills, local taxes or powering our own well pump. There are lots of ways to save water in your household, but a common one is fixing a leaky faucet, toilet or pipe. Of course, you can hire a plumbing repairs and maintenance service to perform this task, but if you are a miser and moderately handy, you will want to do this yourself. You may be asking yourself, it's just a little drip, how much can that be costing me. Let's consider that 86 litres a day going down the toilet.

In Nepean, we pay for city water by the cubic meter, about 50 cents per cubic meter. On top of that, city and regional sewage charges are calculated based on this water consumption charge - an equivalent amount for the region, and 62% of that amount for Nepean. Grand total: $1.32 per cubic meter. A bargain, without question, and it will take about 11 days for the running toilet to consume that much water, but why pay for something you are not using? In this case, about $4.00 a month. All it took to fix was an adjustment to the positioning of the flapper. In most cases, the replacement parts, if required, are inexpensive.

If you are buying a new toilet, get one that has an insulated tank and is " low-flow". Why? Because it will save you money. A miser looks at more than the purchase price. 6 months out of the year we are heating our homes. The water that comes into the toilet is colder than room temperature and will be flushed out of the house. Why would we want to spend our heating dollars heating this water to room temperature?

Insulated toilets sweat less. During the summer, when air in the house is warm and humid, it will condense on the outside of the toilet. This is only increased when the toilet is in the same room as a shower which adds more heat and humidity to the air. When this condensed water reaches a saturation point it will drip onto the floor. Over time, that water can lead to rotting of the floor behind the toilet, a major repair expense we want to avoid. An insulated toilet tank will reduce the amount of energy consumed warming the water in the toilet tank, and the amount of condensation. The low flow toilet will use less water per flush, several litres less. The U.S. is in the process of switching from the old standard 4-gallon to 1.6 gallon toilets. (2.4 U.S. gallons is approximately 9 litres, which would save about $9 per month if the toilet is flushed an average of 25 times a day).

Until you install that new low-flow toilet, you can restrain your current water-guzzler with this little trick. Find a small plastic container with a tight fitting lid, something like those 1 litre plastic ice cream containers. Put some small rocks in it, to weight it, then fill it with water, and put the lid on so it will not spill. Simply filling it with water is usually not enough, being slightly lighter than the water in the tank (plastic is lighter than water, and there may be an air bubble trapped in the container), the container could move in the tank, interfering with the operation of the toilet. Place the container in the tank of the toilet, so that it will not interfere with the operation - typically on the side away from the flush lever. It is ok if the container stops the float from dropping as far is it did before. Now each flush will use a litre less water than before (assuming a 1-litre container was used). If the toilet is flushed twenty-five flushes per day, this means a cubic meter will be saved in 40 days. Do not use a brick in the toilet tank, as has been suggested in the past for this purpose. Over time it will disintegrate in the water, forming small grit particles which may wear on the flapper or seat, or prevent proper flapper seal, leading to a running toilet or need for a repair.