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How to Upgrade Your Old Toilet & Use Less Water

If your toilet was installed pre-1992, you could be using as much as 3.61 gallons of water each time you flush.

If your toilet was installed pre-1992, you could be using as much as 3.61 gallons of water each time you flush.

Why update your old toilet?

If you live in a home built before 1992, you probably use about 3.61 gallons of water every time you flush. Flush 5 times per day, and that's roughly 18 gallons per day, 126 gallons per week, 540 gallons per month and 6,570 gallons per year. Multiply those numbers by a family of four, and the water really accumulates: approximately 72 gallons per day, 504 gallons per week, 2,160 gallons per month and 26,280 gallons per year. That's a lot --enough to fill a large swimming pool!

Luckily, you can get those numbers down, even if you have little or no money to spend on upgrading your old toilet.


How use less water for little money

How to Make & Install Your Own Water Displacement Device

1. Add a water displacement device.

Water displacement devices are placed in tanks to do just that--displace water so that your tank needs less of the wet stuff in order to fill up.

You can purchase a water displacement bag like the one pictured right or make your own using a plastic gallon jug and sand or rocks.

Fill the empty jug halfway with rocks and/or sand, then add water. (The jug must be weighted so that it won't float or move around when water moves in and out of the tank.) Flush the toilet, and as the water drains out, position the filled jug at the end opposite the flushing mechanism.

That's it! You now have a DIY low-flow toilet. 

2. Install a fill cycle diverter.

A fill cycle diverter attaches to the fill hose inside the tank of your toilet. It can reduce the amount of fill water your toilet uses by up to 1/2 gallon per flush.

How does the diverter work? When the tank is filling up after you flush, the diverter redirects much of the water that would ordinarily drain into the overflow tube back into the tank. Diverters like the one above by Niagara need no tools for installation.

Flapper for Briggs Toilets

3. Check for leaks.

If your old toilet leaks, it could be using substantially more than 3.61 gallons of water per flush. To check it, Maggie Melin, author of the The Green Toilet blogspot, recommends adding 10 drops of food coloring to your tank. If the color shows up in the bowl after 10 minutes, you have a leak, my friend. Get busy!

First, check the flapper. Sometimes flappers become hard and ineffective over time and must be replaced. The problem could also be the valve seat. Examine it for grooves and pit marks. If it's not completely smooth, your toilet will leak--even if you replace the flapper.

4. Install a dual-flush converter.

Installing a dual-flush converter in your old toilet will allow you to control the amount of water you use per flush. Just swing the handle one way for a half flush, the other way for a full flush.

The One2flush system (pictured right) works with both 1.6 and 3.5 gallon toilets. If you have an an old 1.6 toilet, you can use a half flush for liquid waste (only .8 gallons of water) or a full flush for solid waste (1.4 gallons). And if yours is a 3.5 gallon toilet, you can reduce its water guzzling to 1 gallon per half flush and 2 gallons per full flush.

How to Install the HydroRight Dual Flush System


These simple practices will save you lots of water every day!

Don't flush your urine down the drain. Wet your plants! Human pee is full of nitrogen and other nutrients plants love.

Don't flush your urine down the drain. Wet your plants! Human pee is full of nitrogen and other nutrients plants love.

1. Don't flush so much!

Another easy way to use less water is to flush less. Some water conservationists follow this advice: "If it's brown, flush it down. If it's yellow, let it mellow."

2. Pee-cycle ... er, recycle urine.

The next time you urinate, give the toilet a miss. Pee into a jug instead.

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You can use diluted urine as fertilizer for your lawn and garden. It's perfectly safe, it's virtually sterile and it works. Once you start pee-cycling, you'll think it's the #1 way to fertilize. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) But seriously, pee-cycling really does cut down on the number of times you flush your toilet per day. For more information about urine fertilizer, as well as pee tea recipes, click here.


Replace your old toilet.

The most effective (and expensive) way to reduce the amount of water your old toilet uses is to replace it. Here are some options.

Ultra Low-Flush Toilet

1. Low-Flush Toilets

The average water-conserving, low-flush toilet uses only about 1.54 gallons per flush, according to an estimate by the California Urban Water Conservation Council. Unfortunately, some consumers find the average low-flusher a poor performer. (Where's the savings if you have to flush twice?) Ultra low-flush toilets (ULFTs) work better thanks to their design, which allows greater flushing velocity with less water.

Top-Rated Dual-flush Toilet, Phenomenal Price

2. Dual-flush Toilets

Dual-flush toilets are usually more expensive than low-flow commodes. As noted above, they have two flush options that allow you to select whether you're flushing liquid waste or solid waste. Option #1 uses less water than option #2--between 0.8-1.1 gallons per flush, depending upon the model, according to home improvement expert Bob Vila.

3. High-efficiency Toilets (HETs)

Technically, dual-flush toilets are high-efficiency toilets (HETs). But a toilet doesn't have to have dual-flush capability in order to bear the name "high-efficiency." It just has to use 20 percent less water than low-flush or ultra-low models, that is, 1.28 gallons per flush.

4. Composting Toilets

Composting toilets aren't just for camping anymore. Today, many water-wise consumers are using them in their homes. Because they use no water, composting toilets will dramatically cut your water bill.

Don't want to shell out the $400+ it could cost to own a waterless toilet? For about $50, you can make your own by following these steps from The Humanure Handbook.

Use gray water.

Using gray water to flush your old toilets is a great way to recycle.

Gray water (sometimes called graywater, grey water or greywater) is the water from your sinks, clothes washer, dishwasher, showers, etc. that (although too dirty to drink or cook with) is great for flushing toilets and irrigating your lawn and garden. With a gray water reclamation system, dirty household water is captured for reuse rather than pumped into septic tanks or sewage systems.

More Ways to Save Water


Jill Spencer (author) from United States on August 23, 2011:

Thanks for the links, Farmer Brown. The photo of Gates in the second one is a hoot! What a great project. It makes me think of those ceramic/clay water filtration systems that are being used in places where clean water is an issue. I've been thinking about researching and writing about them too. Thanks for reading! Take care, Jill

Farmer Brown on August 23, 2011:

Always wanted a composting toilet...tried it out at the Cindy Nord Center for Renewal (Common Ground).

and...recently heard this on NPR the other day!

Cool hub, Dirt Farmer : )

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