New, efficient toilet 
ends saturated water bills

By Jeffrey Fazio
Home & Real Estate Columnist

A little over a year ago, when I became a first-time homeowner, I started to learn about all kinds of bills that I had never dealt with as a renter. The one that really stuck out for me was the water bill.

Our borough bills us monthly and always rounds our water-odometer up to an even 1,000 gallon mark. "Water-odometer?" Is that even a word? Well if itís not, it is now, at least for this column as I am really a "car guy" and that word makes plenty of sense to me.

Although this rounding up means sometimes we are paying for more water than we have actually used in one monthís time, it just ends up being pre-paid for the following month. It all works out in the end, as they say.

Itís not the rounding up of the bill that fixated my attention to this matter, but rather the sheer quantity of water being used. Our monthly water bill was typically showing 4,000 gallons. 4,000 gallons?!

My mind could not comprehend how two people could possibly use that much water inside of 30 days, especially without owning a clothes washer. How could we possibly be using an average of 133 gallons of water per day? Granted, I had no previous experience to gauge this on, but that just seemed completely ludicrous.

So I started calling every homeowner I knew to inquire about their water usage. I asked coworkers around the proverbial water cooler what their water status was. It seemed everyone I spoke to could not relate as they either had a septic system or were billed quarterly and never really paid attention to their usage.

This was amazing to me. People can tell you right off the cuff how many miles per gallon their car gets, how many cigarettes per day they smoke or how many cans of beer per night they drink, but ask them about their water gallons per month and itís like you asked them what grade they earned in second-grade math. They didnít know and they didnít care.

So off to the neighbors I went, as I at least knew they were being billed the same way we were. The young couple next to us never saw over 3,000 gallons in a month and they do a load of laundry almost every day. The couple on the other side, with a young daughter, clothes and dish washers was also not seeing more than 3,000 gallons per month.

My fear seemed to be correct. There is no way two adults were using that much water. I called the water bureau and they suggested we look for leaks. In particular they mentioned the toilets.

We hunted everywhere and there simply were no leaks. We tested both toilets by putting food coloring in the tanks and waiting a few hours to see if the dye leaked its way into the bowl. Nothing. Nada. No leaks.

My mind became frantic picturing multiple holes in the main water lines under the house spraying water out in every direction like an underground lawn sprinkler. Of course these day-nightmares (not day dreams!) ended with a huge sinkhole swallowing up the entire house as the last broken pipe sprayed an endless supply of water at me.

Struggling to get back to reality, the only thing that kept creeping into my thoughts was the sheer amount of water that the toilet in our primary bathroom used. When you flushed it, it looked a lot like Niagara Falls. I clearly recall the first time I flushed that toilet. I jumped as I thought it would overflow based on sheer volume of water that was coming from it, but it never did.

To make matters worse, not only did this toilet seem to release half of Blue Marsh Lake when the handle was depressed, but it did a very poor job of, shall we say, evacuating the complete contents of the bowl. It was like David Copperfield met Howard Stern for a dirty magic trick. No matter how much water you sent through, you couldnít make everything disappear.

Obviously the first thing to try was reducing the amount of water in the tank. With a quick adjustment to that floater-stopper-mechanism-thingy we immediately saw a reduction in the amount of water used, but we also noticed a corresponding reduction in its already poor efficiency of clearing the bowl. This simply would not do.

I started to consider the possibility of installing a new toilet myself. From what I could tell, this endeavor would not be too difficult, but was still somewhat intimidating as I had zero experience working on a house. How different could a house really be from a car?

The crazy water bills kept coming and I finally could not stand it any more. I ran off to the local home supply store and dropped $100 on a plain, no frills white toilet that uses just over a gallon of water per flush. It took me less than an hour to install and I could not be happier with the results.

Only once in the last six months, after we had a house guest, have we had a water bill over 2,000 gallons. This has resulted in a savings of about $20 every month. If youíre quick with the math, youíve probably already realized that the new toilet has already paid for itself.

So, how much money are you flushing down the toilet?