The strong push for environmentally-friendly products has led to a market saturated with products that claim to be “green” in one way or another. Most of these products cost a premium compared to traditional products, and rely on two main selling points to entice customers.
The primary selling point is their ability to recoup the customer’s initial investment through energy savings over the long term. Second, their environmental friendliness imparts warm, fuzzy feelings for those who want to feel like they’re doing their small part to lower their carbon footprint and help combat climate change.
Do low-flow toilets meet these selling points?
Low-flow toilets first surfaced in 1994 when the U.S. Federal Government mandated that toilet tanks not use more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. While manufacturers were able to meet the government’s new standards, the toilet technology of the time led to frequent flushing problems, including clogging.
The result was that early low-flow toilets often had to be flushed twice to get everything down, which, quite literally, flushed some of their effectiveness down the toilet. Have low-flow toilets improved since then? Are they worth the investment, and do they really reduce energy and water usage and save money? The answer is a dramatic yes.
Standard toilets use anywhere from 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush (GPF), which is why in homes with no water-conserving toilet fixtures, the average person flushes 20.1 gallons of water daily. Just cutting that in half can save thousands of gallons of water per person per year, saving hundreds of dollars annually in the process.
A study by Northeastern University’s Vladimir Novotny found that standard toilets without any water conservation functions accounted for 26% of the water usage in single-family homes in the U.S., while homes that did use water-conserving toilets including low-flow toilets reduced their water usage from toilet flushes to just 10% of their total household water usage.
Measuring flushing performance
Of course there are still degrees of flushing prowess when it comes to low-flow toilets, as not all are created equal. The most commonly used toilet performance test is the Maximum Performance (MaP) test, developed in 2003 and endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency, consumer groups, manufacturers, and retailers.
The MaP test, jointly developed by Canadian and American plumbing and water specialists, is the most realistic test for the real-world demands toilet fixtures will be facing. MaP-approved toilets are capable of flushing 350 grams of waste in a single suck, more waste than is required in 99% of toilet flushes. MaP testing has been performed on some 2,600 toilets and this data can be viewed online.
Low-flow toilet maintenance
Toilet leaks are all too common, and having a leaky toilet can drip-by-drip minimize some of the gains achieved through low-flow toilet usage. A good way to test for leaks is to add a little bit of food coloring to the water in the toilet tank and check for any leaks into the bowl.
When leaks are present, the nuts which connect the tank to the bowl should be removed, the washers replaced with high-quality washers customized specifically for the toilet in question, and the nuts replaced and tightened. Another coloring test should confirm that any leaks are now a thing of the past.
Companies are quick to jump on trends, and it can be difficult to cut through the hype of what’s legitimate and what’s just having a label slapped on it to sell more product. Yet while some “green” technologies offer minimal energy conservation, low-flow toilets are not one of them. In fact they should be at the top of any homeowner’s list of upgrades, assuming those upgrades are intended to save money and conserve energy, something low-flow toilets do in gallons.