Switching to Low-Flow Toilets Could Save You Hundreds Each Year

A Jack Russell Terrier stand up on the toilet
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Saving money isn’t all real estate investing and promotions. It’s not always sexy. In fact, one of the easiest ways to make money at home is to get up close and personal with your toilet.

How? By replacing your old toilets that are heavily reliant on water with new low-flow (also called low-flush) toilets.

What Are Low-Flow Toilets?

Before the 1990s, the toilet game was like the early American West — untamed, with little to no regulation. But in the early ‘90s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated that new toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). Before this standard arrived, toilets could use anywhere from 5 gpf to 7 gpf, making them inefficient and expensive to use.

The original 1.6 gpf toilets were not perfect. Toilet manufacturers were forced to quickly comply with the new regulation, and their original designs were often unsuccessful at whooshing away all the waste with a single flush, meaning you had to flush them multiple times to do the job. Pretty crappy, right?

Over the last two and a half decades, however, toilet designs have become more advanced and efficient. The new gold standard is 1.28 gpf. Though 1.6 gpf still meets federal guidelines, some states, like drought-stricken California, have moved to a 1.28 gpf requirement. The 1.28 gpf toilets are called “high-efficiency” and earn the EPA’s WaterSense seal of approval.

Are They Worth the Investment?

If you’re renovating your bathroom and a trusty toilet from the 1980s is still your throne of choice, you should consider an upgrade. Why?

According to the EPA, toilets account for 30% of the average family’s indoor water consumption — and don’t forget that a portion of your water bill is actually sewage costs, or what you spit back out of your pipes. Upgrading from an old model to a 1.6 gpf or 1.28 gpf model can reduce water usage for your toilets by 20% to 60%.

Each upgraded toilet can save $110 on your water bill each year — and more than $2,000 over the life of the toilet — according to the EPA.

“They pay for themselves, and fast,” says Brian Moore, owner and master plumber of The Plumbing Express (and my dear old dad). “Even people on a well system would benefit from reduced electricity costs from the well pump not working as hard.

“I have several customers who live in a condo community who have had their condo fees rise sharply because of the cost of water and sewer fees in their county,” Moore continues. “The management office is currently trying to convince all of the residents to change out their 3.5 gpf toilets to the new low-flow toilets to cut their condo fees or keep them from rising more. There are real cost consequences of not switching.”

Some cities even reward you for switching to a low-flow toilet. St. Petersburg, Florida, for example — home of The Penny Hoarder — offers a $100 rebate when you replace a pre-1995 high-flush toilet with a high-efficiency WaterSense model.

So what’s the investment? A basic 1.6 gpf model averages $176 without installation. High-efficiency models can climb between $300 and $400, depending on the model. So if these toilets save you roughly $100 a year, they can pay for themselves in two to four years.

If you are going the federal mandate route (1.6 gpf), Moore recommends the American Standard Cadet Pro 1.6 gpf. He sees great results from Toto’s 1.28 gpf models if you’re after high efficiency. “Toto has been making low-flow toilets for a long time and was the industry leader when the federal government came out with the new mandate in the early ‘90s.” Any toilet with the EPA WaterSense label will optimize your savings.

Other Ways to Save on Your Water Bill

Low-flow toilets are one of the greatest ways to lower your water bill — but they’re not the only way. Aside from simply reducing the amount of water you use around the house, Moore has a few solid recommendations to lower your water bill.

“Changing the aerators on bathroom and kitchen sink faucets can reduce water consumption,” Moore explains. “Newer construction homes can also have greywater systems installed. A greywater system utilizes water from bathtubs, showers, laundry tubs and washing machines that have a separate drainage system that routes the water into a holding tank. The water is then pumped from the holding tank and used for flushing the toilets, therefore recycling the water.”

If you are doing multiple home renovations, you can also purchase high-efficiency washing machines and dishwashers. These are large financial investments, but if it’s time to purchase a new appliance, look for one that will net you more savings over time.

Not ready to replace the toilet? Here are some ways to save on water costs while keeping your current porcelain throne.

Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer with a real passion for toilet humor. It took everything in him not to dump a bunch of toilet-themed puns into this article.