Water Works – how a quick toilet tune up can save the planet!

How much of the earth is covered with water? A third? A half? No, three quarters of the planet we live on is covered with water. We can afford to waste a little, right? Take a bath, switch on a hose, crack open a hydrant – we have so much water we’re drowning in it! Erm, no, not really. Have you ever asked yourself how much of that water is fresh, drinkable water? Of those billions of gallons we have on the planet, only 3% is fresh water, and only about one third of that is fit to drink. That small supply has to be enough for every person on the earth, and the number of people populating the planet is growing all the time.

A question we must ask ourselves is – can we survive without fresh water? If the answer to this is ‘no’, then conserving water should be a priority in every home before we are forced to. The first place we can look at to start conservation is the very pace that we flush water down the drain – literally! A toilet is a ‘must have’ for most people, but because it is plumbed in to the drinking water supply of a home it can be a terrible strain on the water shed. If we need to make savings – down the toilet is the first place we should look!

Here are a few ways to be water wise and tune up your toilet:


A toilet can leak up to 100 gallons of water a day – and some of these can be invisible. To find out if you toilet has a leak put food coloring, colored drink mix or coffee in your cistern. DO NOT FLUSH. Leave it twenty minutes and if the water in the bowl is discolored when you return, you have a leak. Fix the leak as promptly as you can, which doesn’t have to be expensive, as there are some great DIY resources on the internet.

Whilst you have the lid off your cistern, check and see if the ball cock is set appropriately. The ball cock is the mechanism that shuts off the water when the tank is full. If it is set too high, or works loose and becomes too high, it will not shut off the water when the tank is full and water will continually run down the drain through the over flow pipe. You will be able to see the water level when you lift off the lid and that water level should be lower than the top of the over flow pipe.


If your toilet is a pre 1980 model it probably has a large capacity tank which is not necessary for a great flush. By displacing some of the water in the tank you’ll still have an effective flush, but with less water use. Gravel or small stones in a zipper style plastic bag placed in the tank will easily displace the water without causing dirt or debris to clog up the system. If you put too much in you can adjust a necessary to get great flow and remove any … well, stubborn waste.

You can also set the ball cock to stop filling the tank so high. If you lower level the ball cock it will trip the stop mechanism when the tank is less full and you will achieve the same effect of displacement – without stones in your system.

If you have a toilet that really needs replacing, consider a low flow one that reduces water usage by 34% or more, at the same time looking modern, stylish and an attractive way to remove what comes naturally.


Live by the rule, ‘If it’s brown, flush it down. If it’s yellow, let it mellow’. It’s simple math, by reducing the amount you flush your toilet – you save water. Many times flushing the toilet is a habit rather than a necessity, so know when to flush, and when to hold.


If you are very handy around your home, or are looking to build yourself a new home, consider diverting your greywater into your toilet tank. Greywater is used water that is still is able to be repurposed from other activities round the home, like clothes washing and shower water, which can be used to flush your toilet before it goes into the sewer system. Rainwater can also be diverted into a holding tank for flushing, reducing your hydro foot print even further.


The ultimate way to conserve water is to build a composting toilet. These toilets are simple in construction and collect the waste to be disposed of other ways. By composting the solid waste into ‘humanure’ you get a great garden treatment for free, and the liquid waste is also a rich source of nutrients for the soil. Lime and sawdust can be used to keep the aroma under control, which are also garden friendly, and these are great for rural areas and off grid applications.

By taking a few moments to do a health check on each of the toilets in your home you could save gallons of wasted fresh water; water that could be used more efficiently. Tuning up all your water guzzling appliances and practices will reduce your hydro footprint as small as possible, keeping drinking water where it needs to be and saving a beverage or two for the future.

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