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How I cut my water bill in half
Water is a precious commodity, why flush it away?
Three years ago, I was using an average of 6,200 gallons of water a month for an average water bill cost of about $78. And I live alone.
$78... more than I actually was spending on gasoline every month! That is a lot of water. Enough to fill a 12-foot swimming pool every month. And, as it turns out, most of it I was simply flushing away.
You see, my now-105-year-old house, which didn't even have indoor plumbing until 1958, had one of those old-fashioned big ceramic toilets, the kind that practically makes a roar when you flush it. And flush it I did... I flushed it every time I sat down. Whenever I blew my nose, I threw the tissue in there and flushed it. I flushed Q-tips and cigarette butts. I flushed it a lot.
Using 5.2 gallons of fresh, clean, precious drinking water with every mindless flush. What a waste.
Well, frankly, I rather liked that old toilet... it was big, it was kinda classy looking, with those smooth somewhat-curvy lines of the 1950s to it. It was well-built - the tank cover alone weighed nearly ten pounds! And it had some history - that toilet had been happily flushing away fresh drinkable water for fifty years.
And it had to go. Whether I liked it or not, it had to go. You see, the company I worked for at the time had just cut all our hours in half, and I needed to find ways to lower my cost of living and fast - despite good earnings, I had next-to-nothing in my savings account, and nothing, not any bill, not any expense, was so sacred it could not be reduced. But at the same time, I really didn't want to change my lifestyle too much - after all, I'm in my forties, I'm kinda set in my ways, I've worked since I was 14, and I deserve to live comfortably, right?
Besides, we were in the middle of a drought, and my town was begging us every month in huge bold letters on our wallet-draining bill to conserve water.
Ya, right... but not at the expense of over, as it turns out, of nearly 2,500 gallons of precious drinking water every single month. I knew the toilet was, without a doubt, responsible for a big chunk of my monthly water bill, and I knew it was time to trade it out for one of those wimpy, whiny, effeminite-looking low-flow toilets. Time to get a toilet that would never flush right the first time, that had no power, no guts, no glory.
Time for me to learn just how wrong I was. Low-flow toilets are actually really cool! And they don't have to be expensive at all!
Off I went to Home Depot and Lowes to go check out ... toilets. I must admit, it was a little embarrasing at first, for some weird reason, to find myself chatting to a man half my age about what I was looking for in a toilet! And very odd when he actually invited me to try them out. No, he didn't mean actually USE the displayed toilets, but just to sit down on them and find one that feels "comfortable and relaxing" - his words! As he put it, "you don't buy a car without test driving it first... think of how much time a day you spend sitting on this thing! They don't call it a throne for no reason at all!"
So I sat down. On just over a dozen different models at two different stores, and found one that felt ... comfortable. Gosh, that sounds so weird when talking about a toilet! But honestly, he was right - I needed to find a model that wasn't too short or tall, that wasn't too narrow or wide, and, most importantly of all, was easy to install, since I was doing this work myself.
Oddly enough, the most expensive models weren't the most comfortable - one of them, the tank cover felt like it was jabbing me in the back. Another one my feet didn't touch the floor when I sat down on it. A third one - the most expensive one actually - cracked when I sat down on it. Talk about embarrassing! Hey, I know I need to lose a good 20 or 30 pounds, but sheesh, break a toilet?? Yikes! The sales clerk at that store assured me that it wasn't my fault, it probably already had several cracks from many, many test drives... I hope he was right.
The model I decided on was made by American Standard, and retailed at the time for $168. I saved $33 by using a 20% coupon I had received by joining Home Depot's garden club (free to join, find more at their website). Hauled the dang thing home, and then experienced the fun of installing it.
Well, actually, I should say the "fun" of UNinstalling the old toilet. Remember, that thing had sat there unmoved for fifty solid years. On the positive side, scraping the caulking away from the base at the floor was easy - most of it just peeled easily away with my hands, it was so aged. The bolts that held it in place were so rusted, I couldn't turn the nut at all to remove it, however, by simply rocking the toilet back and forth a little bit, both bolts just broke. Then I tried to lift the dang thing away.
Not happening. I may be a woman, but I'm pretty strong. I can haul a 50-pound bag of dog food from the car to the kitchen without running out of breath. I managed to haul the new toilet into the house from the car - it wasn't easy, even in a box it's pretty awkward, but I did it. This thing wasn't going anywhere.
Off I went to knock on the door of my ever-patient and tolerant next door neighbor, who I'm sure spends many an hour wondering about what that wild-haired crazy woman next door is up to now. Surprisingly, he didn't blink a bit when I asked him if he and his sons could help me move a toilet. "Sure thing, be right there!"
A few minutes later, my 5x9 foot bathroom crowded with 3 full-grown, well-fed men, myself, and two very curious large dogs wondering what all the fuss was about, my toilet was rocked, jiggled, manhandled, and finally forced, with the use of two crowbars, away from its home of fifty years.
They even carried it out to the backyard for me, to be picked up at a future date by the trashman.
Then they offered to help me put in the new toilet, which I gladly accepted. As one of them got down on his knees to scrap away decades-old gunk, goo, and assorted other items I couldn't identify if I wanted to (how'd a toothbrush get down there?), one of them asked me for the wax ring.
"Wax ring. It's what seals the toilet in place, so no sewer gases leak between the line and the toilet."
"Um... okay... be right back!" and off I ran to the local Ace Hardware to get a wax ring, fuming the whole way, why didn't the sales guy at Home Depot tell me I needed to buy a wax ring??
Fortunately, they are cheap, less than $5. Returning home like a triumphant Cleopatra with wax ring in hand, anticipating the first flush of my new throne, I was met at my own door by one of my neighbor's son's asking me if there were any mounting bolts in the box when I unpacked the toilet.
So, without even entering my house, I headed back out to Ace Hardware to pick up a few bolts, which, fortunately, they did have in stock. And fortunately, they are pretty standardized in size, too.
Just to discover both of his sons now sitting on my front porch, looking kinda grim. Okay, looking really grim. Turns out the clay sewer pipe - this is very old plumbing! - has a rather large crack in it, uncovered by the removal of all that grime and goo. But, with a few simple tools and some sort of adapter and a few other odds and ends, they could cut the pipe off and refit the top portion of it... however, to do so, they would need to tear up my floor a bit, in order to get to it. "It's simple, just a real pain to do, but we can fix it for you."
I'm telling you, I have the best neighbor's in the world. I don't want to think what a plumber would charge me for this... so off I was to Ace Hardware, for the third time in a row, to go get the various supplies needed. I love Ace Hardware. They always have all those weird odd things in stock that you don't even know what they do until you need them! And a quick side-trip to the corner store to pick up a case of beer ... might as well keep the neighbor's happy while they tear apart my bathroom!
About three hours later, and one more trip to Ace Hardware to get a new connector and adapter for the water line, my new throne was ready for use. Like three proud fathers, my neighbors guided me into my own bathroom, grinning ear-to-ear, and said, "Try it out!"
My eyes must have doubled in size, as they all started laughing, "No, no, we mean, just flush it!"
So I did, and it was quiet. I actually sat there staring at the water as it roiled down the drain, not quite believing that something so quiet could flush away a tissue, much less the biologically-reduced remains of a good Mexican dinner. But oddly enough, it seemed to be pretty powerful, only proper usage would decide!
Over the next few days, I decided that this toilet was really cool! It easily did the job it was designed for, with more than enough power to take care of the most abundant biological deposits. And it was so quiet!! My dogs sure seem to like it, as they began to drink out of it, a gross habit they never acquired with the old toilet... must have smelled bad to them.
The real question to be answered was how much water would this new toilet save me? I had to wait for two water bills to get solid numbers, and it was amazing: My usage was down 2,800 gallons of water, my bill was $53, a $25 savings, or $300 a year. This new toilet, even with all the little odds and ends I had to purchase, would pay for itself in less than a year.
I must admit that I have also stopped using the toilet as a garbage pail. Although it took me a few months, I have broken the habit of flushing sneeze-rags, Q-tips, cigarette butts, and various and sundry other non-biological-waste-related objects down my toilet. Sometimes, I even use the "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" philosophy.
A few months later, I replaced the shower head, which was probably 20 or 30 years old, and fixed a small leak under my kitchen sink. I also replaced the bathroom sink faucet with one designed to use less water. All told, over the course of seven months, I spent $342 to replace everything, and brought my water usage down to less than 2,000 gallons a month. My bill is now $36 a month - which is the minimum my town charges for water and sewer service. Total savings is $42 a month, $504 a year. Even better, I am saving more than 50,000 gallons of precious drinking water every year.
I love my new toilet :)