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Save Water, Save Energy

I hear water running in my toilets sometimes, but I want to keep my old toilets that flush well. Are there toilet kits available I can install myself to reduce the water use? Do they also save energy?—Don R.

Flushing of toilets is the major water consumption activity in most homes and typically accounts for one-third of the total water use. If you have toilet leakage problems that allow the water to continually run, annual water use can be substantial.

Excessive toilet water use can also increase energy bills. During the winter, the incoming water that fills the toilet tank is cold. As it rests in the tank, it draws heat from the bathroom air as the water warms to room temperature. This heat drawn from the indoor air requires the furnace or heat pump to run a little longer.

If you air-condition during the summer, there is a slight energy savings from the cooling effect of the water. Unfortunately, the incoming water temperature is warmer during the summer so the benefits are less than the energy costs during the winter. Also, a cold toilet tank during the summer often sweats and may damage the floor beneath it.

Many designs of do-it-yourself water-saving kits (prices start at only $5) are available.

Most of these kits also include new flapper valves, so installing one also often eliminates the water running problem. Most of them can be installed in about five minutes. Even the most complicated, but efficient, multiple-flush models take only about 15 minutes to install.

The basic types of water-saving flush kits are: dual-flush handles, flapper valves, water dams, and diverters. Many of the kits are adjustable so you can vary the volume of water per flush. You probably won’t be able to get it as low as the 1.6 gallons per flush on a new toilet, but your old toilet should flush well with 40-50 percent less water use.

Dual-flush kits are one of the best methods to significantly reduce water use of any old toilet while still maintaining effective flushing. The simplest designs have only five parts to install.

One type of do-it-yourself dual-flush kit uses a single-flush handle in place of the old handle and several different pieces inside the toilet tank.

Another dual-flush design uses two separate handles in place of the existing handle. One nests inside the other so it looks fairly standard. For a water-saving flush, you push the longer handle down. For a full-volume flush, you push the shorter handle down.

Inside the toilet tank, both designs work the same way. The water-saving flush only partially lifts the flapper, so it closes quickly, allowing less water to flow out. The full flush lifts the flapper the standard amount.

There are many designs of water-saving flapper valve kits. With most flapper valve designs, air trapped inside of them holds them open as the toilet tank empties. The water-saving ones allow the trapped air to empty quicker so the flapper closes sooner than normal. To install one, just pull the old flapper up over the overflow tube and slip the new one back down over the tube.

Water dams fit in the bottom of the toilet tank and spring out to seal against the sides. They effectively reduce the water volume in the tank without decreasing the water height or the flush pressure. Diverter kits divert some of the bowl water to the tank after each flush to save water.

Write for Utility Bills Update No. 546 for a buyer’s guide of 8 water-saving flush kit manufacturers. Include $3.00, a business-size SASE, and Update number. Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Go to to instantly download.

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