Check Your Toilets!! Save Water, Save Money!
Updated: Feb 19
by Katie Rygg
We have a very wet back yard. (Wait - stay with me! This article is actually about toilets!) It only dries out after weeks of minimal rainfall and very warm days. We've been trying to solve this problem and it was proposed that we might have a broken irrigation line. So back in mid-March, I started tracking our daily water usage. After a week and a half, I crunched the numbers for the first time: an average of 218 gal of water/day. This seemed way, way too high! This leak must be a bigger problem than I realized.
I wanted to know how much my family of four might be expected to use inside the house every day - what was our estimated baseline?
My husband and I moved here from California in 2016 when they were still in a multi-year drought. We've dropped the extreme conservation of those last few years in CA but we're probably more frugal than most people in water-rich upstate NY. We do have a toddler that likes to play in the water while she washes her hands and we're still working on getting her to turn off the water in a timely way but other than that, we're probably average to slightly lower than average water consumers.
This graph shows how freshwater is used in the US.
Nationally, Americans use an average of 80-120 gallons per day, 70% inside the house. New Yorkers do a bit better than average:
In trying to calculate our estimated water usage, we looked at typical indoor water-use sources and volumes (from EPA.gov):
showers: A standard shower head uses 2.5 gal per minute. 10 minute shower = 25 gal. A low flow shower head uses 1.75 gal per minute. You can look at your shower head to see the flow rate printed on the back.
baths: When filled to capacity, a standard bathtub holds 42 gal. Most people use about 30 gal of water for a bath.
toilet flush: The average person flushes the toilet 5x per day. Toilets built before 1982 use 5-7 gal/flush. Now toilets are designed (and federally mandated) to use 1.6 gal/flush and the newest designs allow a flush at 1.28 gal/flush.
clothes washing machine: a new standard top-loading machine uses 23 gal/load. An Energy Star certified front-load washer uses 13 gal/load. Older models use 31-40 gal/load.
dishwasher: the average dishwasher uses 6 gal/load. Older models require 10 gal/load. Energy Star certified dishwashers may not exceed 3.5 gal/load.
faucet: washing hands, boiling water for food/coffee, drinking water, etc. This amounts to about 15-20% of daily water usage.
So using this information, I was able to determine a really rough estimate for our family of four per day:
We continued tracking our daily water consumption. For 30 days in March and April, we actually used an average of 219 gal of water - each day. (I am so embarrassed to admit this all by the way but would like others to learn from this experience!) At this point, I was really frustrated about all that water that I assumed must have been leaking out of a broken, underground irrigation line. By my estimate, we should only be using around 130 gal a day - not 220! That's a huge difference!
We then had the man from the irrigation company come out to check out the system. We went to the basement to look at the water meter. The red triangle was turning, indicating flow through the meter. That meant water was being used in the house at that moment. He closed the valve to the inside of the house and the triangle stopped turning. He opened the valve to the outside line: still no movement. That meant no leak outside. The problem was inside the house. He asked if I'd checked my toilets. I hadn't - but I was very skeptical. I've had leaky toilets in the past and they are noisy. I've always noticed the shhh-ing sound and fixed the problem quickly. But I wanted to be polite so I went to the bathrooms and checked the toilets. I listened, nothing. Then I took off the tops of the tanks and that's where I found the problem.
In the first two toilets, the water level was a full inch below the top of the overflow pipe - as it should be. In the third, the water was right at the top. I stared at it to see if there was any motion and even then, it looked like the water was just at the top. It was completely silent and I couldn't see any movement in the surface of the water or in the toilet bowl, but when I shut off the water to this toilet and checked the leak detector, red triangle on the water meter, it had stopped moving. This toilet was the leak!
I tried moving the water level adjusting clip attached to the float to lower the water level, but it kept slipping out of position. We decided to replace the guts of the toilet tank. (This one was almost 20 years old and was apparently overdue). Then I continued to track our daily water usage after the repair. Even through the last few hot, dry weeks when we've been watering plants outside every day, we've been averaging only 120 gallons/day.
Our silently leaking toilet, slowly losing water every minute of every day and night, amounted to about 100 gallons of water lost every day.
The Monroe County Water Authority is charging $3.53/1000 gallons of water (plus the delivery base fee). Let's assume this leak went unnoticed for a whole year. That would be a loss of $129 for the year and 36,500 gallons of clean water that will now have to be treated at the waste water treatment plant.
So please, check your toilets!! Save water, save money!
I also learned this great trick to save even more water. If you have an older toilet or think you can get away with a smaller amount of water/flush, drop in a container of water or gravel into the tank to take up some of the volume. Save water every time you flush!
Do you have suggestions for our readers to live more sustainably? Please email ColorPenfieldGreen@gmail.com so we can share your ideas in future blogs and newsletters!