Do It Yourself: Use a Bottle to Reduce the Water Your Toilet Wastes

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A half-gallon container can save you hundreds of gallons of water per year.

Every day, the average person flushes a toilet 4.5 times. For many of those toilets, each twist of the handle dumps four or more gallons of water down the drain. That’s 18 gallons of toilet water per day, per person. That means in a town of just 60,000 inhabitants, a million gallons of toilet water gets carried into sewers and septic tanks each day.

The good news is that toilets have improved. Before the mid-1990s, toilet manufacturers didn’t have requirements for water usage. Some designs siphoned away up to seven gallons at a time. But in 1992, new regulations passed, requiring manufacturers to revise toilet designs for low water usage, setting 1.6 gallons per flush as the limit. Houses and buildings built after 1994 and 1997, respectively, needed to use these new toilets. Initially, things didn’t go well—the new designs didn’t have the capabilities most people wanted, requiring an efficiency-killing second flush. Older-style toilets were occasionally smuggled in from Canada and Mexico for new home construction. Eventually, though, the designs improved and the new High Efficiency Toilets became as practical as the old style.

However, many older homes still have their original multi-gallon setup. If you have one of these (as I do) there are a few ways to lower the water they use. And while a full toilet replacement is the ultimate goal, there’s one thing you can do right now to make an immediate difference: Put a glass or plastic canister (like a water bottle) in your toilet tank to decrease the amount of water that flushes out.

This has been a common method dating back to wartime rationing, when many people used bricks in the toilet to decrease their water usage. Bricks, however, aren’t ideal for this, as they have the potential to degrade under the water and send pipe-damaging sediment down the drain. Instead, find a narrow plastic bottle that is as large as possible without interfering with the moving parts inside the toilet. Place a few heavy items inside it (rocks work great), then fill the rest with water. The added weight will help keep it from shifting around when the toilet flushes. Take the lid off the toilet tank and place the canister inside, in an out-of-the-way spot. If you put a half gallon container in the tank, you’ll save half a gallon of water per flush—or over 800 gallons per year.

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