Bathrooms

About this section:

This page will prepare you to audit and improve the energy and water efficiency of bathrooms

How to use this page:
Read through this page to get the executive summary of each topic. If you’re interested to learn more, click on any link for suggested readings or resources, all of which will open in a separate tab (in other words, don’t worry about losing this page). You can use the “back to top” at the bottom of each section to come back to the top of the page, and then use the table of contents at right to pick and choose a topic to read. But *please note*, depending on your browser and settings, the table of contents might send you slightly below the section heading for that topic. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Auditing

Identifying the flow rate of your fixtures (usually measured in gallons per minute, or GPM) is the first step in making them more water efficient. The most common flow rate is 2.2 GPM for faucets, and 2.5 GPM for showers. We cover how to find a flow rate on a sink or shower in the Kitchen module, as well as in the related article below, so won’t belabor it here.

Toilet leak detection

The next step is to identify leaks.It’s estimated that 10% of homes in the U.S. have a toilet leak that’s more than 90 gallons per day. a huge potential cost! Checking toilets for leaks is fairly straightforward.

1. Remove the lid from the toilet tank. With two hands gently lift up on the lid and set it to the side.

2. Pour your test dye or food coloring into the toilet tank. Simply pour the entire contents of your test dye tablet, or add 8-10 drops of food coloring to the water in the toilet tank. After a few minutes, the water in the tank should change to the color of the test dye or food coloring.

3. Wait 15 minutes and check the toilet bowl for the test dye or food coloring. If the water in the toilet bowl matches the color of the water in your toilet tank you’ve got a leak. Odds are, this leak is being caused by an incomplete seal around the toilet flapper. Also, check the floor around the toilet to be sure that no water is leaking from another part of the toilet.

Once you’ve identified a leak, the next step is to see if you can identify its source. More on that below.

Sink leak detection

For sinks, all you need is a little toilet paper.

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1. Check under your sink for signs of water damage. This can include stains, visible moisture, or finishes that are “bubbling”. Use your flashlight and just do a quick visual once-over.

2. Turn on your sink’s cold water.  No need to use anything other than cold water for this test instead of warm or hot since using hot water will add to both your electric and water bills. Run it for just a few seconds.

3. Look under your sink. Take the flashlight and give the pipes and connections under your sink a thorough visual inspection. If you notice any water pooling under the sink or dripping off of the pipes odds are you have a leak. Usually, signs of a leak aren’t quite this obvious though.

4. Wipe down all the pipes and connections. Take some TP and be sure to wipe any and all connections and piping while the water is running. If at any point your TP absorbs water, odds are you’ve found a a leak. The TP will be the most sensitive diagnostic tool for the job–you may just touch the piping, but your fingers may be moist from sweat or from not drying them thoroughly prior to testing the pipes.

Additional reading:

How To: Test flow rates from plumbing fixtures

Installations

High efficiency sink faucet aerators

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Installing a new high efficiency faucet aerator is usually very simple. The aerator is the piece in the guy’s hand in the picture above. It regulates flow by putting air into the stream, thus reducing the force of water coming out (and the volume, which is important in conservation). But not all aerators are created equal. Most aerators are 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM). High efficiency ones come in at 0.35, 0.5, and 1.0 GPM. That’s a whole lotta savings, and many people prefer the feel of the higher efficiency model. The 1.0 GPM aerators tend to be “bubblers”, and look like this on the bottom:

bubbler aerator

The 0.5 and lower models come in PCA spray, which look more like this:

needle spray aerator

Installing these guys is simple–usually just screw in, screw out. There are male and female aerators, and those are helpful in certain circumstances, but in general, all you’ll need is the dual thread aerators, which fit both male and female sinks. If you want to swap out an aerator and keep the finish on the older aerator, good news–all you need to do is pop out the innards and swap them. The water savings comes from the internal part, so the housing is just for show.

High efficiency showerheads and flow valves

One of the biggest, most impactful things you can install in a customer’s home is a high efficiency showerhead. It saves water, hot water, and wastewater in volumes that are very substantial. If an average person is showering once per day at 10 minutes per shower, and you cut 1 gallon per minute, you’re looking at saving 3650 gallons of heated water per person per year with this one simple fix.

There are a lot of high efficiency showerheads on the market (remember, never do anything called “low flow”, they just suck, and people will hate them and feel like you’ve done them a disservice). Pono Home polled 550 customers and got a greater than 99% satisfaction rate from among 130 respondents for the AM Conservation Earth Massage showerhead, both in fixed and handheld varieties:

EM HH EM showerheads

In addition to a water saving showerhead, you might also sell customers a flow valve. These are cool devices.

flow valve Shower-Valve

They allow people to turn the water down to a trickle while they’re soaping and shampooing, WITHOUT losing the right temperature they want. If used in each shower, this device can save 4 or more gallons of heated water per shower without making the person uncomfortable or feel like they’re sacrificing. They’re easy to install…instructions below, if needed.

 

Further reading:

How To: Install a high efficiency showerhead

How To: Install a shower flow valve

 

Toilet tank inserts and dual flush toilet converters

A lot of people know that if you put a brick in the back tank of your toilet, you can save as much water as that brick displaces with each flush. Most people do not know that that brick will degrade over time, and end up causing a toilet leak! It can and does happen–little flecks of brick become lodged in the flapper and end up tearing it. So rather than a brick, a sealed glass jar/bottle can work, or a toilet tank bag insert is even better, since it is 100% adjustable.

Installing a toilet tank bag(s) is a great way to save water in the home. Here’s how.

1. Open the back of the toilet. Remove the lid from the tank area of the toilet and set it aside.

2. Fill the tank bag. Simply open the valve on the tank bag(s) and either fill them at the sink (easy) or slowly submerge it into the back of the toilet tank to fill it with water (harder). How full do you want the bag? It’s a tough question, since it will depend on a number of site-specific factors including type of toilet and water pressure in the house. Filling the tank bag(s) all the way may not leave you with enough water to clear the bowl every time you flush. If this turns out to be the case, you’ll simply pour out some of the water from the tank bag. But for now, fill it to the top and close the valve. Just remember to make sure you get all the air out of the bag, otherwise it’ll float and interfere with the flushing mechanisms.

3. Hang the bag inside the tank. The tank bag has a plastic hanger at the top. Simply loop that over the side of the toilet tank wall that is farthest away from the mechanisms in the toilet tank (to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the operation).

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4. Give your toilet a test flush. Take a few pieces of toilet paper and toss them into the bowl of the toilet. Now, give your toilet a flush. As the toilet is flushing check that both the toilet paper in the bowl and water in the tank clear fully. Also, be sure that the tank bag doesn’t interfere with any of the toilets moving parts. If your toilet is working, you’ve successfully installed your tank bag! Now grab the lid to the tank and gently place it back on top of the toilet.

5. Educate the users. The possibility that a big #2 won’t flush all the way always exists, but the possibility grows if you are reducing the amount of water used. Luckily, the toilet tank bag is easy to adjust. Simply remove the lid of the tank, open the valve of the tank bag, and push some of the water out of it. At some point, you and/or the other users of the toilet will find the perfect level for everyone in the household. Even if that’s just .5 Liters, you’re still saving half a liter of water EVERY time the toilet flushes.

A dual flush toilet converter can take a normal toilet and make it capable of flushing more for #2 (solid flush) and less water for #1 (liquid flush). There are a number of these on the market. Here, we just introduce the topic and provide an external article for one of the top brands, the Tap ‘n’ Flush.

How To: Install a dual flush toilet converter (the Tap ‘n’ Flush)

 

Repairs and Adjustments

Toilet flapper repair

The most common place a toilet will leak is through its flapper. Fixing a flapper is very easy to do, and is a big saver. Customers also think the back of the tank is gross, so they’re unlikely to do this for themselves, but it’s different water than the bottom of the bowl. Still, wash your hands after you’re done. ?

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The red piece above is the flapper.

Before continuing with the removal and installation of your new flapper valve, be sure to watch this quick video to familiarize yourself with the process:

1. Turn off the water to your toilet. The first thing you’ll want to do is turn off the supply of water to your toilet. There should be a knob located near the base of the toilet, with a supply line that runs from it to the back of the toilet tank. Simply the turn the valve to the right until it’s finger tight.

2. Flush the toilet. Now, flush the toilet and drain the water from both the toilet tank and the bowl. Doing so will make replacing the flapper valve much easier and will prevent you from spilling any toilet water.

3. Remove the lid from the back of the toilet. Use both hands to gently lift up and remove the lid that sits on top of the toilet tank. Once removed, set it to the side.

4. Remove the old, worn out flapper valve. Now that you’ve drained the water from your toilet, it’s time to remove the old worn out flapper. In most cases the flapper valve will be made of a flexible rubber and is attached to a couple of pegs on a central column in the back of the toilet. Simply slide the two arms off of the pegs. If your flapper valve is made of a stiff plastic, gently lift up on the arms and the flapper valve should click out of place. The flapper valve will also be attached to an arm in the back of the toilet by a small metal chain. Simply remove the clip that attaches the chain to the arm.

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5. Clean the flapper valve’s seat. Next, you’ll want to ensure that your flapper valve will have a solid seal. To do this, take a rag and wipe away any reside that may have accumulated on the seat for the flapper valve.

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6. Install the new flapper valve. To install the new flapper valve all you’ll have to do is reconnect the chain (which should have come with your new flapper valve) and clip the arms of the valve back into place.

7. Turn on the water and test the new flapper valve. Now all you have to do is test the valve to ensure that it’s working properly. Turn on the water to the toilet by turning the control valve to the left and watch as both the toilet bowl and tank fill up. If after filling both the bowl and tank the water stops running, and you see no drop in water level in the toilet tank, than you’ve installed your new flapper valve successfully! Just to be sure, go ahead and give the toilet a flush. You’ll also want to watch the chain that’s connected to the arm in the back of the toilet as it’s flushing. If the chain is too long it can get caught and cause the toilet to run continually. If you experience this problem, try shortening the length of the chain.

8. Place the lid on the back of the toilet. Simply replace the lid, and you’re all done.

Toilet supply line repair or replacement

One area that a toilet may be leaking is the supply line. It either needs to be tightened or replaced, typically. If there is water or wet spots or water stains underneath your supply line area, odds are, you might have a leak there. To make sure, you might want to clean and dry the whole area, and then come back in 15 minutes or so and check to see if visible signs of a leak have come back. You can also, at that point, run a dry piece of toilet paper over the area, much like checking under your sinks for leaks, and if the toilet paper is damp, you may very well have identified a leak.

Not sure where the supply line is? Check out the following image:

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Typo is theirs, not ours! 🙂

Now, not all supply lines and valves will look like the one featured above, but they all work in the same way. To help you get a better understanding of how this process will work, be sure to check out the following video before beginning the removal of your old water supply line:

1. Turn off the water to the toilet and flush it. Turn the water supply valve to the right until it’s finger tight, then flush your toilet to drain out the water. If you don’t remember to flush the toilet, you could end up dumping a bunch of water all over your bathroom floor later on the in the process. Also, it may be a good idea to soak up all the water that has leaked out onto your floor if you haven’t already. Bathroom floors can be slippery when wet.

2. Loosen and remove the old supply line. Take your wrench and loosen the hex-nuts that connect the supply line to both the supply valve and toilet tank. Remember, it’s righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. Once the hex-nuts are loose the old supply line should easily lift free.

3. Put the new supply line into place. Take your new stainless steel supply line and attach one of the ends. It doesn’t matter which end you choose (supply valve or toilet tank), simply line it up and use your fingers to tighten the hex-nut into place. Now, attach the opposite end and use your fingers to tighten the hex-nut into place. The advantage of using a stainless steel supply line vs. a plastic one is in the supply lines flexibility. If you were installing a plastic line you’d have to cut it to size, however that means you’ll run the risk of cutting the line too short. By using a stainless steel line you’ll avoid that problem all together, and you can simply bend the supply line to fit. Now that the supply line is in place, take your wrench and snug up each of the hex-nuts. This will help to ensure that you have a water tight seal between the supply line and both the supply valve and toilet tank.

4. Turn on the water to the toilet. Now that your supply line is in place, all that’s left is to turn on the water and make sure that it’s working properly. Turn the supply valve to the left until you start to hear and see water filling the toilet tank. As the tank is filling, be sure to keep an eye on your supply line and look for any leaks. If you notice that you’re line is still leaking, it’s likely that you haven’t tightened the hex-nuts all the way. Simply take your wrench and tighten the hex-nuts into place.

Wax ring replacement

Now, if a toilet appears to be leaking from around its base (where it connects to the floor), you might have a leak in the wax ring. When I said earlier that people think the water in the back tank is gross, wait til you ask them about the wax ring and the grime that builds up under the toilet.

 

Things you’ll need for the job:

  • Wrench
  • Putty knife
  • Sponge
  • Mineral spirits (optional)
  • New wax ring

Before starting the process of replacing your toilet’s worn out wax ring, be sure to watch this video to familiarize yourself with the process:

How to: replace the wax ring on your toilet

1. Turn off the water to the toilet. The first thing you’ll want to do is turn off the water to the toilet. Located near the base of your toilet there should be a knob connected to a hose, this is the toilet’s water supply line and valve. Simply turn the valve to the right until it’s finger tight.

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2. Remove the lid on the back of the toilet. Before continuing in the process it’s a good idea to remove the lid to the back of the toilet. This way you can be sure that your toilet is empty before you try to move it, and you won’t accidentally have the lid fall off the toilet when you go to move it. Thus preventing any unnecessary damage to your toilet or yourself.

3. Disconnect the water supply line. Next you’ll want to disconnect the toilet’s water supply line from water supply knob. To do this all you’ll need is a wrench, simple take it and loosen the bolt that connects the supply line to the knob. Once it’s loose the supply line should lift free.

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4. Flush the toilet. Now, go ahead and flush your toilet. This will empty most of the water from the toilet and make it easier to move. After the toilet has finished flushing, take your sponge and soak up any excess water in the toilet tank.

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5. Remove the mounting bolts from the base of the toilet. Take your wrench and loosen the two mounting bolts located at the base of your toilet by turning your wrench to the left (counter-clockwise). Once the bolts are loose lift them free from the toilet and set them the side.

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6. Lift the toilet free and place it into your bathtub or take it outside. STOP. Before lifting the toilet be sure that you’ve completed steps 1-5. If you’ve neglected to perform any of these steps you’ll likely damage your toilet, flood the bathroom and create a giant mess. If you have in-fact completed the first five steps, go ahead and lift the toilet free from the closet bolts. The toilet may be a little heavy, so it may not be a bad idea to get a friend to help you out with this. Also, be sure to grab the toilet at it’s base, not the toilet tank. Lifting by the toilet tank could damage the toilet. Once it’s free of the closet bolts, gently set it in the toilet or take it outside, this way you’ll prevent ay residual water from draining out onto your bathroom floor.

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7. Scrape away any old wax from both the floor and the bottom side of the toilet. Now that you’ve lifted your toilet free it’s time to scrape away the old wax. Take your putty knife and remove as much of the old wax as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the more you can remove the better the seal will be between the toilet and the new wax ring. It may be helpful to use some mineral spirits soaked into a rag when it comes to removing the old wax, but typically scraping should be enough.

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8. Push the new wax ring into place on the bottom side of the toilet. Now that you’ve removed as much of the old wax as possible it’s time to install the new wax ring. Simply take the wax ring and push it onto the bottom of the toilet.

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9. Gently place the toilet back into position. Now that you’ve installed the new wax ring onto the base of the toilet it’s time to put the toilet back in place. Gently lower the toilet down onto the closet bolts and push it down onto the floor, using the bolts as a guide. Once you have the toilet back in place, you’ll want to put some pressure down on it from the top to spread the wax around and make the seal as watertight as possible. You may even want to sit on the toilet for added weight. By pressing the toilet down onto the floor it will help to evenly spread the wax and ensure a good seal.

10. Secure the mounting bolts at the base of the toilet. Now that your toilet has been put in place you’ll want to secure it. Take your mounting bolts and with your fingers secure them in place. Once the bolts are finger tight, take your wrench and snug up the fit. Just be careful to not overtighten them, as doing so could cause the porcelain on your toilet’s base to crack, if this happens your toilet wont be securely attached to the floor and that could cause it to leak. So tighten the bolts evenly–a little on one side, then on the other, then back…not all at once on one side.

11. Reconnect the water supply line and put the lid back on toilet. Once the toilet is secured to the closet bolts, the next step is to reconnect the water supply line and put the lid back onto the tank of the toilet. Simply line up your toilets supply line with the water supply knob  and use your wrench to secure it in place. Once you’d done that gently set the lid back on top of the toilet tank.

12. Turn the water back on and test your toilet. Now all that’s left is to turn on the water and test your toilet. If you’ve installed the the wax ring properly your toilet should fill and flush free of leaks. If you do happen to notice a leak, turn off the water to the toilet and double check that all the bolts and lines are secure. If you still can’t determine the location of your leak, it’s probably time to call in a professional.

Education

How To: Use a sink plunger to clear a clogged drain (this is just for education–simply let people know they should try the plunger first before reaching for toxic stuff, and that there are organic drain cleaner recipes organic, natural drain cleaner recipes online.)