Low Down on Low-Flow Toilets and 4 Tips on How To Install Them

Canadians harbour a deep-seated prejudice that even extends to government policy. Like all prejudice, this one’s not based in fact, yet it’s accepted as truth without question. It costs our country millions of unnecessary dollars each year while also degrading the environment. And the object of the scorn is the low-flow toilet.

Canada is the only major country in the world where you can still buy water-hogging 13 liter toilets. Canadian law and public opinion have yet to catch up with the reality that low-flow toilets really do work. The trick is understanding how to choose a good model, and when it comes to this important job, Canada is actually in the lead.

Off to a Bad Start

It’s easy to understand why low-flow toilets have such a tarnished reputation. When water conservation became a big enough issue to affect toilet design back in the mid-1980s, most manufacturers simply put smaller tanks on their 13-liter bowls and hoped for the best. And as you’d expect, this approach didn’t do anyone any good. In fact, many of the early low-flow toilets were pathetically inadequate. And if that wasn’t bad enough, some models actually used substantially more than 6 litres per flush, despite advertising claims to the contrary.

We know all this now because of a guy named Bill Gauley. When faced with the terrible performance of the first generation of low-flow toilets, he decided to take a methodical look at the situation. Gauley’s initial testing has led to the formation of Veritec, a firm entirely devoted to the testing and publication of toilet performance stats.

Technicians at Veritec use amazingly realistic cylindrical extrusions of soybean paste to test the flushing power of dozens of different low-flow toilets, with updated results offered to the public once or twice a year. The best models have proven the ability to handle more than 900 grams of solid waste per flush, while the least effective models clog on anything more than 75 grams. Download a complete report from www.homesandcottages.com and you won’t have any complaints about your new low-flow toilet.

While there’s nothing difficult to understand about the way a toilet is supposed to be fastened to its drainpipe, getting the job done in the real world can be a challenge. Replaceable bolts attached to the flange of the 3-inch or 4-inch drain under the floor, extend up into holes in the toilet base. A sticky wax ring seals the joint between toilet and flange, keeping wastewater contained on its way down and out. All this sounds simple enough, except when you run into the reality of seized bolts on an old toilet or a new one that leaks no matter what you do. This is where some tricks of the trade can help:

Trick #1: Double-Up on the Wax Ring

Sometimes, after the addition of a new bathroom floor over top the old one, the height of the toilet drain flange falls far enough below floor level to cause leaks. This shows up as wet spots around the base of the toilet after every flush or two. You know you’ve got this problem when you unbolt the troublesome toilet, lift it off and see that the new wax sealing ring you just put down has areas that remain uncompressed.

The solution is simple enough: add another wax ring on top of the first one, then bolt the toilet back down. If the shortfall above one ring seems small, slice the second ring in half like a bagel, then meld the cut piece into the whole ring before putting everything back together and checking for leaks. You probably won’t find any.

Trick #2: Sawing Off the Flange Bolts

It’s quite common to find that the bolts holding down old toilets are corroded and won’t loosen. Before you apply enough force to break the flange on the toilet drain, saw the old bolts off from the top. Most are made of soft brass, and you’ll have no trouble sawing through the metal where the nut meets the bolt just above the toilet base. A hacksaw blade taken out of its frame is a good tool for this job.

Trick #3: Go Easy With the Tank

Most toilets include a separate porcelain tank that gets bolted to the bowl assembly with a large foam donut between the two to seal against water leaks. It’s very easy to over-tighten these bolts, putting excess stress on the tank. Be careful. The only thing worse than cracking your new toilet tank during assembly is having it break unexpectedly in a year or two or three when you’re not home. Remember that it doesn’t take much bolt tension to enable the foam sealing ring to do its job.

Tip #4: Wiggly Toilet Rx

You can’t rely on the flange bolts to hold a toilet steady if it’s sitting on an uneven floor. Instead, slips some wooden wedges into the gaps around the base of the toilet, tapping them lightly until the movement stops. Trim the wedges off with a utility knife, then pack tile grout into the gap between toilet and floor. This creates a permanent, custom-fit masonry wedge that eliminates all toilet movement.

Posted on November 19th, 2010

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