Whether you call it the can, loo, John, porcelain throne, oval office, potty or any other moniker, the toilet — let’s face it — is not the most glamorous feature of a home. Usually when home buyers take a walk through a potential home for sale, they ooh and aah over the living room, the spacious kitchen and maybe a bedroom or two. The toilet, on the other hand, is a function of the home that doesn’t get much attention — that is, until it’s not working.
The Back Story to the Bowl
Although Thomas Crapper is thought to be the inventor of the modern toilet, he was merely a huge proponent of modern plumbing in the 19th century who also happened to have memorable last name.
The first patent for the modern toilet was actually granted in 1775 to inventor Alexander Cummings. However, several centuries prior, the Romans, India’s Harrappa civilization and the Skara Brae population in Scotland utilized modified plumbing systems. Most of this technology was lost in the Middle Ages of Europe and people then used chamber pots to dispose of waste.
Flushing Money Away
If you had to take a stab at the biggest water waster in your house would you guess the loo, or the shower? According to USGS.gov, the toilet uses the greatest amount of household water and it’s estimated that each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day. If the toilet leaks, it wastes 200 gallons of water per day.
While you could go back to the days of the chamber pot, there are a few more modern ways to save water and money. Even Uncle Sam got his hands dirty over the issue of water consumption in toilets and saving money.
In 1992, the U.S. government mandated that all new toilets had to be “low-flow” toilets, using 1.6 gallons per flush rather the previous 5 gallons or more (even though many people feel the politically correct 1.6-gallon toilet doesn’t work).
A Greener John
According to water conservationist George Whalen, switching to water-saving fixtures can save you as much as $100 a year in utility costs. Here are some ideas, from a simple homemade fix to high-end fixtures:
-Brick trick. A brick or bottle filled with sand placed in the toilet tank can take up space and as a result, cut down on 10 gallons a day per flush.
-Dual-flush toilets. Invented in Australia, a dual-flush toilet changes the water volume depending on the type of waste being flushed. The toilet uses more water for solid waste, less for liquid waste and can save 67 percent water.
-Composting toilet: This is on the far end of the green spectrum and doesn’t use any water to dispose of waste but sends waste to a composter. These cost several thousand dollars and may involve a little more involvement than the usual toilet.
-Tankless toilet: This water-saving commode relies on water from a supply line with enough pressure to eliminate waste rather than a tank of water.
-Other low-flow toilets. A complete list that received the WaterSense designation are at www.epa.gov/watersense.
Pros and Cons of a Low-Flow Can
Whether a toilet can save you money depends on whether it’s working right.
Real estate agent Toan Nguyen, who has had previous experience in plumbing, electrical work and remodeling, says “green” toilets will only save you money if other elements are not a concern.
“If you live in an older house, your pipes are older, and it’s a longer run to the main sewer on the street, on a house like that I would not advocate dual flush [toilets] because there’s not enough water to get rid of waste,” Nguyen explained. “If there’s not enough force, it can create a sewer problem.”
A dual-flush or low-flow toilet will work best where there’s gravity to help it along, says Nguyen. Otherwise, consider the possible long-term issues with sewer blockage.