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Cutting Water Utility Bills

Water makes up a substantial part of our monthly utility bill. We have old toilets we’d like to replace with water-saving ones. What options are available?—Jerry M.

Flushing toilets is one of the major water-consuming activities in the homes of most families. Most older toilets use 3.5 to 5 gpf (gallons per flush) of water. Some of the very old ones, many of which are still in use, consume as much as 7 gpf. You can identify these by a large, tall toilet tank.

New toilets, by law, cannot use more than 1.6 gpf. With a modern bowl and internal plumbing designs, these new water-saving toilets flush effectively. Some FloWise models by American Standard use as little as 1.28 gpf with standard gravity flush technology.

People know old water-guzzling toilets can increase their water bills, but often they don’t realize these toilets may also increase their heating bills during winter. Each time you flush an old toilet, the tank is refilled with about 5 gallons of cold water from a municipal supply or well. During the summer, the cold water actually makes the toilet tank sweat.

As cold water rests in the toilet tank, it draws heat from the bathroom as the water warms to room temperature. Water has a high heat content and absorbs a lot of room heat. This is why water is often used as an effective heat storage medium for solar heating systems. Your furnace or heat pump has to run longer to replenish the heat the toilet tank water absorbs.

You have many toilet options, ranging from relatively standard 1.6 gpf gravity models to no water at all. “Gravity” is the pressure of the weight of water during the flushing action. When a gravity model is flushed, water going into the bowl is used to clean the sides of the bowl. Most of the water flows down inside the back of the toilet.

Most low-cost toilets at retail stores are 1.6 gpf gravity designs. These are typically two-piece toilets with a separate tank that bolts to the bowl, and are more common and less expensive than the designer one-piece toilets. Being in two pieces, they are easier to carry and install for do-it-yourself projects. The water usage for one- and two-piece models is the same.

One design uses pressure-assist for a flush with low water usage. The water pressure compresses air trapped in a vessel inside the tank. When you flush the toilet, this pressure assists gravity to create an effective flushing action inside the back of the toilet. The flush is rapid but is louder than a standard toilet, so you may not want to install this option by a bedroom.

The following companies offer water-saving toilets: American Standard, (800) 442-1902, www.americanstandard-us.com; Biolet, (800) 524-6538, www.biolet.com; Briggs Plumbing, (800) 627-4443, www.briggsplumbing.com; Microphor, (800) 358-8280, www.microphor.com; and Saniflo, (800) 363-5874, www.saniflo.com.

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