I fixed my toilet and cut my water bill by 75%

January 29 | the_kellbot
All photos by Ariel!
All photos by Ariel!
My house has five toilets. Five. I know, it's an embarrassment of porcelain riches. And they're weird toilets, with a knob on the top you pull to flush. When we first moved in some of them ran occasionally, and I knew it was wasting water, but fixing these odd-duck toilets just seemed so daunting and confusing. It's an easy problem to ignore, so we did.

When we finally got around to investigating, the problem was simple. The rubber flapper which controls the flow of water from the tank to the bowl was no longer creating a good seal. Instead it let a small trickle of water eek out at all times, causing the toilet to constantly refill itself. The fix was simple, fast, and cost us all of $10.

First, we turned off the water to the tank. Nothing bad will happen if you don't or can't, but it wastes water so it's best to shut it off. On our toilet, and most every other toilet I've seen, the shutoff valve is located behind and to the left of the bowl.

Next we removed the tank lid. Our fancy top-flush makes this a little challenging. You need to tilt the lid upwards, disconnect the flapper chain from the knob, and then shift the whole thing forward to free the latch on the back of the lid.
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At the bottom of the tank is the flapper, with the free ballin' chain now that I've removed the tank lid. The purple thing on the left is the water shutoff mechanism. As the water level in tank rises it raises the big black float below it. When the float reaches the top it pushes the gray arm up which shuts off the water. The flapper is attached near the bottom of the overflow pipe, which will carry away excess water if for some reason the shutoff fails.

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We purchased our replacement flapper at a local hardware store for about $10. The majority of home toilets use a two inch flapper like this one. It has two hooks on the back to attach to the toilet.

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Replacing the flapper was as simple as prying the old one off (admittedly challenging because it was so warped and stiff) and then popping the new one on. The new flapper snaps into place and covers the hole at the bottom of the tank.

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The next step was to reconnect the flapper to the flush knob. This was a little challenging because I had to hold the tank lid at just the right angle so that I could both get my hands in there and also have the chain reach the knob. There is a small hole at the bottom of the rod to thread the hook through. The chain needs to be adjusted to the right length. Too long and your toilet won't flush, too short and it will never stop flushing. You can use the old one as a guide,but admittedly this required a bit of trial and error.

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Once everything was reattached I put the lid back on and opened the water valve back up. After a few test flushes it was good to go. We replaced the flapper in three of our toilets, cutting our water bill from over $100 to just $30. If I'd known just how much water we were wasting I wouldn't have put it off for nearly so long.

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  1. Good for you! I hate plumbing projects, but love the sense of accomplishment when you've finished

    2 agree
  2. Ha! amazing how little things can change so much
    saving water tips: I added a bottle filled with water in my toilet tank, toilet works as well and it's that much water saved.
    Where I live you don't pay for you water. The idea to pay for something so essential seems wierd to me. On the other hand I laughed when an american friend said that in the states you PAY to full you car tires with AIR and a few years later that same old free machine needed money to start working at the gas station.

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    • Not all Americans pay for water, people in rural and suburban areas often have their own well (free water but you must maintain the well). In some cities you pay for the water by the gallon in order to support the infrastructure that brings it to you. In others it's rolled into taxes or other public utilities.

      One of the reasons we had no idea our $100 bill was astronomical was that this is the first time we've ever had to pay for water directly. In previous places it was either included in the rent or billed as a flat rate (many NYC buildings lack water meters). Now I feel silly for not fixing it earlier.

      1 agrees
      • Well water in general isn't quite free either, since you need to pay for the electricity to pump the water up into your house.

    • I put a brick in our toilet tank to save water. It feels good to find a simple fix! Good job everyone.

    • Treating and distributing water VERY expensive. Everyone pays for this in some form or another – in many areas it's based on consumption (which is a good thing, because it encourages conservation), and in other areas you'd pay through municipal, state/provincial, or federal taxes. If you have a well it's the cost of maintaining the well and treatment of the water.

      If you have access to a municipal water supply it's never free, you may just pay by a different mechanism – usually it's either included in property taxes (and therefore in your rental rate, if you rent) or a consumption-based structure, or sometimes a combination.

      And when you fill your tires you aren't paying for the air, you're paying for the electricity to pressurize and release the air, and maintenance of the machine.

      1 agrees
  3. I've never seen such fancy flushers! I wonder if there are any advantages to having a knob on top rather than the usual lever.

    • After living with these toilets for a few years I can think of many DISadvantages to having the knob on top, and wouldn't recommend them to anyone who has a choice. The biggest problem is that they're free to spin, and occasionally spin so much they shorten the chain and the toilet starts running again. It drives me nuts.

  4. As someone who once worked at a hardware store, if you're going to fix any household problem yourself, ALWAYS take the part you need to replace with you. If you cannot take it with you, take a picture, measurements, and collect as many details (model #, etc.) as possible to make for a quick and painless trip. We used to always say that it's not a plumbing job if it doesn't take at least two trips. lol

    13 agree
  5. Running toilets drive me insane, mainly because of wasted water and partially just because of the noise. We had to fix our flapper a couple of years ago. This was a very cool and useful post that I will pass onto people!

  6. Thank you! This post inspired me to try fixing our running toilet AND it worked! I'm about to do the same to the other two, I can't believe how easy it is.

  7. A word of advice: use the Corky brand flapper. I recommend the premium or ultra water saver. Spending a couple of extra dollars will give you a longer time span between changes. Dont go cheap, it can cost you in higher water bills.

  8. I lived in an apartment where my water bills were a ridiculous $80 +/- a month. 1 bedroom, just me living in it and I wasn't home a lot. My neighbors' bill (2 people, identical apartment) ran $30-$40. Had the management check for leaks and nothing came of it. I noticed the toilet ran somewhat, but it never occurred to me this could have been the problem. Grrrr.

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