Repairing and Retrofitting Toilets

Leaks can be costly. A leak of only one drop per second wastes about 10,000 litres of water per year. Most leaks are easy to find and to fix, at very little cost.

Repairing your toilet…

A toilet that continues to run after flushing, if the leak is large enough, can waste up to 200,000 litres of water in a single year! To find out if your toilet is leaking, put two or three drops of food colouring in the tank at the back of the toilet. Wait a few minutes. If the colour shows up in the bowl, there’s a leak.

Toilet leaks are often due to a flush valve or flapper valve that isn’t sitting properly in the valve seat. All of these can be fixed easily and inexpensively. To get at the valve seat, which surrounds the outlet hole at the bottom of the tank, you must first empty the tank. This is accomplished by turning off the inlet tap under the tank and flushing the toilet, making sure to keep depressing the flush lever until no more water drains out of the tank. Then, holding the valve out of the way, sand the corroded or warped valve seat smooth with a piece of emery cloth. If, however, the leak is around the base of the toilet where it sits on the floor, call a professional.

Retrofitting your toilet…

Retrofitting means adapting or replacing an older water-using fixture or appliance with one of the many water-efficient devices now on the market. While these solutions cost more, they also save the most water and money. Retrofitting offers considerable water saving potential in the home and business.

When is comes to retrofitting, the prime fixture to target is your toilet. You can: 1) adapt your existing toilet in a number of ways, by installing certain water-saving devices inside the tank at the back of the toilet; or 2) if the toilet is more that fifteen years old—which means it probably uses about 18 or more litres of water per flush—you can replace it with one of the growing number of ultra-low-volume toilets that can be ordered from most plumbing outlets, and use only six litres or less per flush.

There are many toilet adaptations you can install in the tank of an existing toilet to reduce the amount of water used in a flush cycle. These devices fall into three generic categories:

  1. water retention devices;
  2. water displacement devices; and
  3. alternate flushing devices.

Water Retention Devices

The most common water retention device available is the toilet dam. A set will save about five litres per flush when installed properly. Their main advantage is their low cost (under $10 per set) and the fact that they are easy to distribute and install, for example, as part of a wider municipally sponsored retrofit program. Their main disadvantage is that they tend to leak over time by slipping out of adjustment and can slip free and interfere with the moving parts inside the toilet tank, if not routinely checked.

Water Displacement Devices

The water displacement devices familiar to most people are the plastic bags or bottles filled with water, which are suspended inside the toilet tank. As the name implies, these devices displace several litres of water, saving an equivalent amount during each flush. Like the toilet dam, most displacement devices are inexpensive and easy to install. Their main disadvantage is that they don’t save as much water as other devices and, if they are not installed carefully, they can interfere with the proper operation of the toilet.

One displacement device to stay away from is the brick! It can disintegrate inside the toilet tank, leading to excessive leakage at the flapper valve and may even be heavy enough to actually crack the tank.

Alternative Flush Devices

There are essentially two types of alternative flush devices: early-closure and dual-flush. They are usually attached to the overflow tube inside the toilet tank. In both cases, they close the flush valve or flapper after the tank is only partially emptied. In theory, this interruption in the flush cycle occurs after the bowl has been cleared. In the case of the dual-flush mechanism, the amount of water saved is dependent upon how long the flush lever is activated—a partial flush for light duty or full flush for heavy duty.

While all of the above toilet adaptations appear to work as intended when first installed, their performance may vary considerably, depending on the toilet design. The best advice is to monitor the performance of the devices periodically. If you discover that it becomes necessary to double flush the toilet, something is in need of adjustment or replacement. Remember that double flushing defeats the purpose of your water conservation efforts and is costing you money.

If you decide that it’s time for a toilet replacement in your home or business, you’re well on your way to significant water savings that you can bank on over the life of the toilet. Replacing an 18-litre-per-flush toilet with an ultra-low-volume six-litre flush model represents a 70 percent savings in water flushed and will cut indoor water use by about 30 percent.

Keep in mind that 18 litres per flush, assuming four flushes per person per day, translates into nearly 30,000 litres of clean, fresh water per year just to get rid of 650 litres of body waste. A six-litre flush toilet only uses about 10,000 litres to do the same task. Low-flush toilets are available for less than $150 at most plumbing and supply stores.

 Remember, the ultra-low-volume toilet not only uses less water, it produces less wastewater. If your municipality applies a sewer surcharge on your water bill, the investment in the better toilet could translate into a 50 percent reduction in your combined water/sewer bill. If you are on a private well and septic system, you are significantly reducing the loading on your tile field while extending its useful life.