Water-efficient toilets: Stop flushing money down the drain and conserve now!

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Atlanta residents are no strangers to droughts and the consequent water shortage issues. Did you know...

Atlanta residents are no strangers to droughts and the consequent water shortage issues. Did you know that the biggest water waster in the house is typically your toilet? Older toilets, typically found in homes built before 1992, can use up to 7 gallons per flush; and worse, if they are leaking, they could leak up 250 gallons of water a day! So, what is something that you can do to help fight the shortages? If you haven't already, you can upgrade your household toilets to new water-efficient toilets or waterless alternatives. A professional installation will take care of any silent leaks, and a new toilet will lower the per flush water consumption. So, what are the latest options?

Types of high-efficiency toilets

There are many different types of high-efficiency toilets (HET) on the market today for residential use. These toilets use between 0.25 and 1.60 gallons per flush (gpf) depending on the flushing mechanism employed in the design. Each type comes with its advantages and disadvantages, and they can all be divided into two categories, non-electrical and power-assisted.

Non-electrical Toilet Options

  • Single-flush: This is the most common and inexpensive type of gravity-assisted toilet that uses a single flush expending between 1.28-1.60 gpf and gravity to dispose of waste. While these toilets are low-cost and easy to repair, some models don't flush as well as some of the other HET options. Also, they can have potential tank condensation problems.
  • Dual-flush: A dual-flush toilet has two handles or buttons for flushing solids at 1.6 gpf versus liquids at 0.8 gpf. This is a slightly more expensive option than a single-flush system, but it overall uses less water with the dual option.
  • Ultra-low flow: These toilets have various design features that make water consumption as low as 0.25 gpf. Although water usage is low, there is a reduction in flushing ability, often requiring multiple flushes to dispose of waste.
  • Toilet sink combo: This is when a sink unit directly drains into the toilet unit, recycling the sink water to supply the toilet for flushing. While this is a good way to recycle water, the sink can only be used after flushing when it automatically shuts on and then off.

Power-assisted Toilet Options

  • Vacuum-assisted: These toilets have an inner tank and a mechanism that removes the waste by suction. They are more expensive than gravity-assisted toilets, but less expensive than pressure-assisted toilets. These toilets offer a strong flush and are easy to repair. They are the quietest of the power assisted toilets. They use about 0.8-1.6 gpf depending on the model.
  • Pressure-assisted: These toilets have a pressure tank that uses the water line pressure to compress air pressure to aid with the flush. They use about 1.0 gpf, but they have the strongest flushing power of all the options. They are the most expensive and difficult to repair. Unfortunately, the air pressure also comes with a price--a very noisy flush.
  • Tankless-toilet: These toilets use about 1.6 gpf and attach directly to the supply line. A pump addition supplies the pressure needed to help expel waste from the bowl. These offer a powerful flush; however, they are more difficult to install because of necessary adjustments to the line to accommodate the installation.

Factors to consider when choosing water-efficient toilets

  1. Style features: These refer to the design, color, shape, noise level (pressure-assisted toilets), rough-in (distance from the wall to the center of the outlet pipe) and height of the toilet. Keep in mind that round bowls have better flush performance and higher bowls tend to clear waste easier.
  2. Waste removal and gram rating: Since the key goal is waste removal, you will want to select a toilet that flushes satisfactorily. A gram rating refers to the toilet's ability to flush solid waste, so look for this rating under a toilet's technical specifications. A rating of 500 or higher is indicative of a good functioning toilet.
  3. Labeling: Look for toilets labeled high-efficiency and marked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "WaterSense" label. These toilets have had the most exhaustive testing to assure proper flushing and maximized water conservation.
  4. Consumer reviews: One of the most useful tools when purchasing any product is consumer ratings. You can use these to gauge a toilet's functionality, operation and reliability.

Waterless alternatives

Lastly, there are a number of unconventional toilet systems available today that do not use any water at all. However, there is usually a tradeoff with each of these alternatives, making them impractical for general residential application. Some of these options are below.

  • Composting: A composting commode empties waste into a reactor tank for composting. These need a high degree of responsibility, knowledge and maintenance, or else there are some unpleasant consequences and health ramifications. While this is a completely green solution, if not managed properly, it becomes a health hazard.
  • Incinerating: These commodes use an electrically powered and/or fuel source to turn human waste into ash. Waste goes into an incinerating chamber where it takes about 90 minutes to become ash. During the process, the unit cannot be used, resulting in a possibly crucial disadvantage. The ash needs frequent clearing and the chamber cleaning for proper functioning.
  • Oil-flush: These units use mineral oil to flush waste to a separation tank. In the tank, the oil separates from the waste and re-circulates to the unit, leaving the waste in the collection tank. A septic professional must keep up these tanks and empty them from time to time.

Leaky toilet tip: Sometimes toilet leaks are not noticeable, so you can use a leak detection tablet or a few drops of food coloring to test for those bothersome silent leaks. Put the tablet or coloring into the toilet tank and wait for about half an hour, and then check the toilet. Do you see coloring in the bowl? If you do, then you have a leak! Call a plumber to help diagnose the leak and repair the toilet.

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