Old low-flow toilet doesn’t save water

Check water level in tank before purchasing a newer model

Bill and Kevin Burnett
Inman News™

Q: I am having a problem with a 20-year-old toilet. Most of the time when I flush (holding the handle down for the entire flush cycle) the water swirls and swirls (with little effect). Thus, I continue to flush it two or three times.

I am not sure if this is correctable, and I really don’t want to call a plumber if it is something I can fix myself. I am also concerned that I am using lots of water that would not be necessary if it only needed one flush.

A: Twenty years puts your commodes in the first generation of 1.6-gallon-flush toilets. Older toilets were 3.5-gallon-flush models. Low-flow models were a product of legislation to conserve water. As far as we’re concerned, the jury is out on whether the legislation was ill-conceived. Two or three flushes were almost always required, which defeated the purpose of saving water.

When Kevin built his home in 1993, he installed three new middle-of-the-line low-volume toilets. The darn things never did work properly, requiring multiple flushes to deliver the package. For the next 15 years, a “plumber’s helper” stood sentinel next to each of these toilets.

One of our readers was more blunt: “It takes multiple flushes, and then sometimes a plunger and more flushes. This uses far more water than one big flush from an old-fashioned toilet. Are there any powerful yet water-saving toilets?”

We’re happy to say that over time the technology has improved. A couple of years ago, Kevin installed two replacement low-flush toilets that are performing admirably.

We think you should be in the market for a new toilet.

But there is one adjustment you can try. Check that the water in the tank reaches the line on the overflow tube. Adjust the water level by turning the screw on top of the fill valve (the pipe on the far left of the tank connected to the water line) so that the water level reaches the line on the overflow before the valve shuts off.

Also, shorten the length of the chain connecting the flush rod to the rubber stopper so you don’t have to hold the handle down to flush the toilet. If this doesn’t work, it’s time for a new toilet.

These days, every major toilet manufacturer makes a low-flush toilet that should do the job. Kevin installed American Standard models. Other well-regarded manufacturers are Toto, Eljer, Gerber and Kohler. For comfort, we suggest spending a little more on an elongated bowl and more height. Expect to spend $200 to $600 plus installation.

Copyright 2011 Bill and Kevin Burnett