Toilet talk

Flushing and water waste

Fancy flushin’

Fancy flushin’

Photo courtesy of caroma dorf

Sustainable Space columnists Lori Brown and Greg Kallio are professors in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management at Chico State University.

Flushing facts
The environmental benefit produced by one simple sustainable choice, such as installing a water-saving fixture, may seem insignificant when considered individually; but, when calculated for an entire household, total occupancy of an office building, or an entire city, the benefits are much more impressive. One of the largest water wasters in the home is the toilet—especially older models. Toilets account for nearly 30 percent of residential indoor water consumption. Toilets also happen to be a major source of wasted water due to leaks and/or inefficiency.

Bathroom breakthroughs
Water conservation measures have come a long way since the early-’90s, so checking the year that your toilet was manufactured is a good place to start to determine whether it should be replaced. Models manufactured before 1992 use 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush or between 17,000 and 34,000 gallons per year. Then, the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which mandated that the common flush-toilet use only 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf).

By replacing your 3.5 gpf (or greater) toilet with a 1.28 gpf high efficiency toilet (HET), a family can save more than 17,000 gallons per year. Because the water savings through replacement is so significant, “toilet rebates” for replacing older, inefficient toilets with low-flow or HET models (using 1.6 gallons or less per flush) are now available throughout the country.

Money back
The Sacramento County Water Agency, for example, offers a $175 rebate for residential customers and $200 for commercial customers if they purchase models designed to use only 1.28 gallons (or less) per flush. Closer to home (i.e. Chico), Cal Water offers rebates on qualified water-efficient appliances through participation in Smart Rebates, a statewide program administered by the California Urban Water Conservation Council.

Residential and commercial rebates are posted on the Cal Water Web site ( Most rebates are available until funds are depleted. New rebates are frequently made available, so be sure to check the Web site whenever you are considering purchasing a toilet, washing machine or other water-using hardware or appliance. Additionally, some Cal Water district offices may have showerheads, faucet aerators and other water-saving devices available at no charge.

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Water wisdom
To help consumers and builders make smart choices when purchasing and selecting water-consuming flush-and-flow fixtures, the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program is the place to turn to for advice. WaterSense, a partnership program sponsored by the EPA, seeks to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by promoting water efficiency and enhancing the market for water-efficient products, programs and practices. Consumers can identify water-efficient products by looking for the WaterSense label (pictured).

According to the program’s Web site (, giving your bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by installing WaterSense-labeled toilets and faucets—or faucet accessories—can save more than 11,000 gallons annually. With reduced water bills, the upgrade could pay for itself in a few short years, and continue to save water and money for years to come!

Substantial savings
Over the course of your lifetime, you likely will flush the toilet nearly 140,000 times. If you replace older, existing toilets with efficient models, you can save 4,000 gallons per year. If learning more about high-efficiency toilets interests you, check out Caroma Dorf, an Australian-based company and world-wide leader in high-efficiency dual-flush toilets and reduced-flush innovation. The company’s Web site ( offers an easy-to-use water-savings calculator and a quick YouTube search for “Caroma Innovation Story” will provide you with an interesting video detailing just about everything you might want to know about the history of “the John.”