Decline & Fall of the 5-Gallon Flush
December 8, 2019 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Nostalgia for the power and glory of the 5-gallon flush has driven activism and trans-national smuggling, while quantified flush power ratings and consumer satisfaction (pdf) with low-flow toilets have both risen. However, reduced water usage is challenging municipal systems' ability to transport solids downstream and replacements for flush toilets are gaining traction, at least with some researchers. posted by head full of air (71 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am fully in favor of water conservation, especially living in a place where it is desalinated at a diesel burning plant. But I do miss being able to poop without having to scrub the bowl with a toilet brush every single time.
posted by snofoam at 2:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Bowl streaking has more to do with bowl design than flush volume. US-style symphonic flush toilets have more bowl water and less streaking than European/Australian gravity flush systems, where more water is in the tank and less in the bowl.
posted by head full of air at 2:38 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


US-style symphonic flush toilets

This I gotta hear.
posted by pracowity at 2:41 PM on December 8, 2019 [34 favorites]


The gravity flush systems also rarely, if ever, clog - I've seen maybe one clogged toilet in my life. Maybe it's what I'm used to, but I'll take never clogging over never streaking any day.
posted by Merus at 2:45 PM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


I understand the desire to conserve water, but this seems like something where there needs to be some local variance based on applicable tradeoffs. There are places where water really isn't in particularly short supply, and some where it's incredibly dear, and I don't think you really want the same design of toilet in both places. Where water is plentiful, it might make sense to use a higher-flush-volume toilet so that solids are transported (especially through old pipes), not to mention the cleaning issue. Mandating low-usage toilets everywhere might not be the best approach.

I'd rather see a mandate to plumb all new construction with two parallel feedwater systems, one going to sinks and showers and such, and one going to toilets for flushing, so that it's easier to switch to greywater-reuse later on. The current building codes don't encourage this, making it nearly impossible for most people to flush with greywater (or captured rainwater, or untreated non-potable water, or surface water, or whatever) even if they wanted to.

Personally I'd be all too happy to use greywater from laundry in my toilets, but there's no way to do that without re-plumbing the entire building. We're stuck with flushing with drinking water forever because nobody mandates spending an extra few bucks on supply line when the walls are opened up during construction. IMO that's the real low-hanging fruit, and it's likely to be a lot less annoying than low-usage toilets.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:51 PM on December 8, 2019 [26 favorites]


If only libertarians ate more greens and fibre they wouldn't be passing these bowl-clogging arse anvils.
posted by scruss at 2:51 PM on December 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


I have a Toto toilet. That thing is invincible even at 1.2gpf. Let’s face it, the problem is shitty toilets not the lack of water to power them.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:57 PM on December 8, 2019 [24 favorites]


Funny, the 4 gallon flush works fine. The 4 gallons is from a 5 gallon bucket that's filled with rainwater, dehumidifier water, water from the gas furnace, or water from the discard side of the reverse osmosis system.

Most of the time less than 4 gallons does the job.

And, best I can tell, no one can claim code violations of greywater. Now, capturing roof water in some states is a crime but screw them. And screw the media who is taking this topic and making it the top of the news cycle just because Trump needed a distraction. Where was this 3 weeks ago for World Toliet Day? Or the annual 22nd of March for World Water Day?
posted by rough ashlar at 3:03 PM on December 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


Back home in Australia we used to just throw a brick in the cistern to reduce water usage with older toilets.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 3:05 PM on December 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


Your Childhood Pet Rock (peri-eponysterical?), we used to fill a two liter soda bottle with water and toss it in the tank of older toilets to reduce their water usage. I installed the cheapest low flow Home Depot toilet in our bathroom (our only bathroom) about 5 years ago. It handles what we throw at it admirably. I don't know want to know what people are doing or eating if they're having problems with their toilets.
posted by mollweide at 3:14 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


When I was in Japan, the toilet never clogged, but needed cleaning daily. I'm back in the US and while I don't need to clean that often, the threat of clogs is ever present. I'm in an apartment, so I can't change the toilet, but something in the design of the Japanese toilet was better than the US one. And the tanks looked to be the same size, so it wasn't more water.
posted by Hactar at 3:19 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't know want to know what people are doing or eating if they're having problems with their toilets.

I feel like I heard at some point that the early toilet models right after the US mandated 1.6 gallon flush were not good at all. If someone happens to have a home or apartment built around that time, it's possible that those poorly designed toilets haven't been replaced.
posted by jcreigh at 3:26 PM on December 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


No 1: I don't have a ton of opinions about low-flow vs 5-gallon toilets, as long as they actually flush the waste down. Shower heads, on the other hand, I have removed from older apartments to reinstall in new ones. Nothing worse than a shower that feels like it's peeing on your head.
No 2: eponysterical
posted by Mchelly at 3:26 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


jcriegh, that's a good point. I should have specified more recent low flow models. We were specifically warned by several people not to buy the cheap Home Depot models, but it's been fine for us as the single toilet for a family of three, including a teenage boy.
posted by mollweide at 3:31 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Immediately post- 1992 EPA 1.6 gallon flush standard, a bunch of poorly designed toilets hit the market. By 1999, when the user preference study I linked to was released, most low flow toilets outperformed old models.

Of course, ceramic appliances last practically forever (unless you live in Glasgow). A friend had a 1928 apartment whose original Standard Ejecto toilet's 10ish gallon flush was a thing of majesty and horror.
posted by head full of air at 3:33 PM on December 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


I would consider paying a not inconsiderable sum to have a Standard Ejecto branded toilet in my house.
posted by mollweide at 3:35 PM on December 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


Donald Trump weighs in.
posted by TedW at 3:54 PM on December 8, 2019


I don't know how all these people got Donald Trump wedged into their toilets, or why.
posted by Not A Thing at 3:58 PM on December 8, 2019 [25 favorites]


If only libertarians ate more greens and fibre they wouldn't be passing these bowl-clogging arse anvils.

This kind of snark really isn't useful. Really.

I went around with a few on this topic a few years back. Here's the thing. If your low flow toilet doesn't work well enough, for whatever reason, it is not progress. People are aware that old toilets use a lot of water. The key is to price water accordingly. This puts the incentive on lower consumption, and consumers have to weigh the choices to decide what needs to be changed. Nobody wants to flush money down the toilet. Yet, that's what happens when your toilet isn't suitable for your needs- it often ends up using more water than it might have with an older toilet.

But pricing water accordingly runs into opposition often from the same people who are most active about pushing low flow toilets. Because it puts the hurt on low income people. These are both justifiable concerns. Yet if water is indeed such a precious resource, it needs to be treated as such.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:05 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


The key is to price water accordingly. This puts the incentive on lower consumption, and consumers have to weigh the choices to decide what needs to be changed.

What about the poor who are the most disproportionately unable to soak an upfront purchase of a more efficient toilet and are more likely to rent leaving them at the mercy of a landlord? It's just one more thing to cost people money for being poor.

By bringing up minimum standards we do make progress. It's just it's not in every area simultaneously or trade offs have been made that not everybody agrees with. Look at the malaise era of cars for example. Without the initial push of CAFE and everyone having to go through the same pain we were able to unilaterally drag fuel efficiency up instead of auto makers playing chicken waiting for someone to make the first "bad" fuel efficient car.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 4:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


The key is to price water accordingly.

While I'm all for internalizing environmental externalities, you don't solve efficiency with consumer pricing. Just to pick the simplest example, landlords have zero incentive to install low-energy or low-water appliances when their renters are paying the utilities, for example.

More importantly, if you are going to fix water pricing, you would start with the incredibly low (if not free) prices that agricultural and industrial users pay for water, which dwarfs household water consumption. Household use is a small fraction of the total, and toilets are just a portion of that. You won't get there by raising water prices.

Back to the toilets, as everyone has noted, modern low-flush toilets are fine, but there were quite a few years when they weren't great. I've had to live with some of those era toilets, and hated it. It is terrible when you have to warn every guest about the toilet, terrible when every morning involves plunging, etc, and of course the landlord never cares.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:20 PM on December 8, 2019 [28 favorites]


I don't get why low flow toilets are chosen instead of dual flush, which are all over Japan. One flush level is not appropriate for both tasks. Better to be able to use a bigger flush only when you really need it rather than using a number two rated flush energy single time.
posted by antinomia at 4:27 PM on December 8, 2019 [12 favorites]


The key is to price water accordingly.

You know, libertarians always spout this bullshit when they are confident it won't actually happen. It's a policy position that has no real cost. But if you actually ever tried to impose real costs, they invariably squeal like the Republicans they really are and veto it. That's why we don't have carbon taxes today.
posted by JackFlash at 4:31 PM on December 8, 2019 [21 favorites]


Yet if water is indeed such a precious resource, it needs to be treated as such.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather live in a world where my tax money is used to just buy everyone an efficient toilet instead of a world where water is priced such that people always have to worry about how much their next flush will cost.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:33 PM on December 8, 2019 [21 favorites]


I'm living in a (Canadian) house that was plumbed, back in the 90s, with crappy low-flow toilets, one of which died under the pressure of the fecal matter produced by the guys who did my renovations this past summer.

I researched good quality low-flow flushes, they went to Rona, bought one and installed it, free of charge. It cost less than 150 Canadian. Works amazingly well, well enough that I'm going to replace the other two toilets the next time I get a plumber in.

I don't know what Trump is eating, nor do I want to, but I'm sure the White House has reasonably competent plumbers. Perhaps they could install a new-generation low-flow toilet strong enough to suck any turd into a watery grave?

Perhaps (a girl can dream) even a 280 pound orange-haired one?
posted by jrochest at 4:48 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


I don't get why low flow toilets are chosen instead of dual flush, which are all over Japan.

All (USA/Canada) dual flush toilets are also low flow. You get a "low flow" volume when you push the #2 lever and an even lower flow flush for the #1 lever. Mine the #1 lever is about 50% the volume of the #2 lever.
posted by Mitheral at 4:53 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


"Ugly bags of mostly water..."

Water is Important
posted by Windopaene at 5:02 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have potentially useful toilet advice. When I know a toilet to be unreliable (friends’ apartments), I use a strip of toilet paper, a few squares, settled onto the water surface. Poop into it. Flush. No streak. This does require some...aim, but I feel like a magician every time.
posted by bilabial at 5:11 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


Going OT, but when people are priced out of clean water and sanitation, the rich can't buy an exemption from enteric disease at any price.

Cholera and typhoid taught Gilded-Age barons this lesson, and they replaced extensive, market-based water and sanitation systems with universal public provision.
posted by head full of air at 5:14 PM on December 8, 2019 [27 favorites]


at the Kobe Honky Tonk(Japan) i would wash my hands in the next persons flush as the clean water being put into the tank was provided to me to turn grey at the top of the toilet.
posted by wmo at 5:20 PM on December 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


I don't know want to know what people are doing or eating if they're having problems with their toilets.

There certianly is some variation in what needs to be flushed. My first house the only two times I had to plunge a clog was when a particular friend was over to visit (with a probably original to the 1960s house toilet). And then the first clog in my new to me house was when that friend was helping move. But really toilets should pretty much handle everything and if one has a toilet that is constantly clogging are replacement might be a good idea. Also if you didn't install the toilet it can worth pulling the toilet and verifying that some other user hadn't flushed an action figure or a set of keys or something that is caught in the trap way and causing problems.

I pretty much never need to plunge a toilet (and doing camp work I get to experience lots of different lowest bidder toilets). My current work toilet is vintage high volume and I need to brush the bowl nearly every time. My 11 year old dual flush toilet from Costco rarely needs a brushing. Obviously toilet design is a big factor (and I'd say bigger factor than volume). I mean it's not like the plunger was only invented after the low flow toilet.

Some people are just straight up luddittes (the Cheeto obviously among them). They may have had an experience with a poorly designed toilet. Because it happened to be a low flow version now _all_ low flow toilets are crap in their mind. Or they may not have even had a bad experience personally but their friend's uncle's step brother did and because it's new or because they can "own the libs" they expend hours ranting about forced toilet updates.

These people BTW are why regulation and not just pricing is so important. Flushing water could be a $1 a gallon and the Cheeto and people like him would still be seeking out 10 gallon flush toilets.
posted by Mitheral at 6:21 PM on December 8, 2019


I would consider paying a not inconsiderable sum to have a Standard Ejecto branded toilet in my house.

Myself, I enjoy urinal branding and the various other urinals implied by the one in front of you. Like, the one at work is the Zurn Aqua-Flush. As opposed to the Zurn Red Hot Lava Flush? Zurn Mysterious Ichor Flush? Zurn Beer Flush?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


Personally I'd be all too happy to use greywater from laundry in my toilets, but there's no way to do that without re-plumbing the entire building.

Some things I learned from living in countdown to Day Zero Cape Town:

Not all greywater is equal. Laundry greywater is closer to blackwater, it's so dirty. You can keep it for 24 hours before it becomes a serious health hazard and even before that it's pretty bad. This does depend to some extent on the design of the washing machine, I think front loaders keep some water back between washes and that brews into a lovely bacterial soup. Bath greywater is best, but in a water crisis you will be washing yourself as little as possible, using a washcloth bath and not producing enough greywater for a flush. And in general, greywater flushing means carrying a bucket. You can install tanks and pumps, but the fact that greywater can't really be stored without significant treatment or filtering means that is not practical or affordable for most of us. In a water crisis, peeing into a container and emptying that directly down the drain helps too. The "if it's yellow let it mellow" solution is highly unpleasant if you're doing it for more than a few weeks. That little verse also doesn't allow for "red". Catching menstrual blood in a small, washable container is much more manageable than dealing with a toilet if your water is limited. I could go on but maybe this is getting off topic.
posted by Zumbador at 7:12 PM on December 8, 2019 [27 favorites]


As opposed to Flushless or Waterless models.
posted by Mitheral at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Zumbador: I would love to hear more about your experiences with that level of water restriction!
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


Zumbador, me too!
posted by esoteric things at 7:25 PM on December 8, 2019


at the Kobe Honky Tonk(Japan) i would wash my hands in the next persons flush as the clean water being put into the tank was provided to me to turn grey at the top of the toilet.

You can get this in North America too. The one I have is called Sink Twice. Pretty easy to install on an existing toilet.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:21 PM on December 8, 2019


I'm sure the White House has reasonably competent plumbers

Not during the Nixon administration.
posted by bryon at 10:11 PM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


Does this mean I won't have to flush 10-15 times?
posted by lipservant at 11:32 PM on December 8, 2019


I was living in an Australian government flat when they introduced new water saving regulations to All Plumbing. It's either drought or flood here, IIRC they also said it's fine to pee in the shower if you like, settling that question forever by government mandate.

Anyhow, they changed the shower faucet and the toilet cistern. I can't explain how skeptical I was, a 'low flow' shower? A two-speed thunderbox? These are not things I would choose for myself.

But they turned out to be upgrades! The shower was better, it had more pressure and the hot water lasted forever, when it used to last about five minutes. As for the toilet, who is going to notice the difference? It does exactly the same job, unless you're neurotic about your poo, and for some fucking stupid reason expect it to go down counter-clockwise.

I guess technology has moved ahead and we can do more with less now. Some clever engineers have figured it all out. I was ready to grumble about the government invading my most private sanctuary and imposing their FASCIST WATER MEGALOMANIA. It all turned out for the best though.

It didn't cost me anything, the government paid for it. They paid for the whole place actually. I was there because I was a student at the time. They paid me student welfare and gave me interest free loans for my tuition fees. I remember the night someone smashed a bottle on my head and I had to have part of my ear sewn back on. Because I was on welfare I didn't have to pay for the plastic surgery. The government paid for it.

It's for these reasons I actually trust my government. They've been very good to me, ever since I started getting orphan's pension. If they want me to use less water, then I will be a Fremen.
posted by adept256 at 2:19 AM on December 9, 2019 [7 favorites]


Also, I saw the clip where Trump talked about this. Can't you just impeach him for being a fucking moron? That's your global representative? He sounds like a total dickwad. That's your best? How embarrassing.
posted by adept256 at 2:21 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


Anyone who decries modern toilets of any quality have never used the 1940s version of the cheapest toilet a contractor could buy. The 0.6/1.2 gpf cheapo that's in the house we rent now is a goddamned miracle compared to those ancient beasts. The ones that are actually good are like magic.
posted by wierdo at 2:34 AM on December 9, 2019


Oh ffs. THANK YOU, wonderful metafilterians, for explaining that over multiple rentals and toilets, why the daily cleaning at home but not at mom's house is true.

Look I'm not saying I eat to streak and clog, right? Often the only meat I touch is chicken breasts. But I live in a place where not even TP goes down, and that's all the toilets but the squatters. I don't have a squatter, never have, and probably won't. Even the sitter I have is like a toilet for someone who poops rabbit spheres and has a micropenis, if you don't like touching bowl. It's dual flow but the flows are "gentle poop fountain" and "lol do you just have a bucket bro".

I do the cleaning. But now I understand. It's toilet design. It's not me, it's not butt anvils, and Trump is still wrong.

Thank you metafilter.
posted by saysthis at 3:35 AM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Zumbador: I would love to hear more about your experiences with that level of water restriction!

Sure, it's a pleasure. I've put a link to a blog post I wrote during the Day Zero crisis at the bottom, where there are pictures of the various contraptions and plans we still use. I hope this is OK otherwise, moderators please remove.

I'm very aware that I have a lot of privilege, which has made a big difference how I experienced water shortage. I'm white, and while I'm not rich according to myself (who is?) I'm definitely well off in comparison to most South Africans. We have enough disposable income to install a rain water tank, and we live in a free-standing house so we can install one (unlike anyone living in a flat, for example). We haven't been able to afford a pump or plumbing yet, so I've acquired ninja-level bucket skills.
Apart from what I've already noted above, flushing from the toilet's cistern is more efficient (uses less water) than pouring from a bucket directly into the toilet bowl. For that reason, it's worth getting a cistern water bank of some kind - we use one called a "waterloo" which makes it easy to pour directly into the cistern without removing its lid, and also gives the cistern a bigger capacity (this is assuming you use only rain or greywater to flush with, and not municipal water).
Another toilet related thing - most of the info available online on how to make and manage a composting toilet assumes that you're living on a farm or have a farm-sized garden in which to dispose of all the compost you'll be generating. If the worst had come to the worst we'd have been OK - we bought a rollerbin to use for poop-compost storage which would have been big enough for a month's worth of our poop (the only one we could get was bright red, which made me happy for some reason as it looks like it's intended for hazardous waste storage, so appropriate). Luckily we never had to use it and it now holds our recycling. But what do people do who live in flats, or any other high density city living? Composting toilets really aren't a solution there unless there's a system in place to remove the waste.
That's another thing. In a crisis like this, the first thing people do is to "trek laer" (that means basically to circle the wagons ) and only look after themselves. Everyone who could afford it were installing rainwater tanks, or drilling bore holes, and everyone else hoarded bottled water and water storage containers. But that fell apart when it came to sewage. You might be able to "look after yourself" when it comes to getting water in, if you can afford it, but you can't look after your own sewage (or not in an urban context). People were boasting about being "off the grid" with their bore holes and tanks, but they were very much still on the sewage grid. We need political and social solutions, run by the government, to deal with that stuff.
I was initially worried about having to manage without baths and so forth. Actually, I found great freedom in not only adhering to the restrictions, and revelled the challenge of how much further I could go, using as little water as I could, to make up for all the people who couldn't or wouldn't.
For a while that was the humble-brag at dinner parties. People would say "we're at 50 now" and somebody else would self-deprecatingly counter with "well, we're at about 23 each at the moment" (meaning liters per person per day).
Keep in mind that thousands of South Africans live without running water of flush toilets just as a normal thing so it was a humbling experience learning how to cope.
The toughest thing about living with a water crisis is not managing with less water, it's Other People. At the height of the crisis, the thing I worried about most was the amount of anger, resentment, and panic that I might have to deal with if we did have to fetch water from army-controlled water points. The kvetching and moaning about the crisis was also hard on my mental health. There were always people going on about "there will be riots" and so on.
People are incredibly good at finding reasons why OTHER people are responsible or Doing It Wrong, and rarely look to themselves. And a shortage of a resource brings out the fracture lines that you weren't really aware are there. Xenophobia got really bad, and so did the class and race divisions.
Oh I forgot to say, having a dog is definitely an asset when it comes to saving water. My Pippin was a willing helper when it came to getting so many dishes ready for washing :) I wrote a blog post about it at the time with some pictures and more examples of survival tips etc.

https://mashadutoit.com/2018/01/31/ day-zero-diary-waterwise-living-in-cape-town/
posted by Zumbador at 3:37 AM on December 9, 2019 [17 favorites]


I have a Toto toilet.

We went with the Bon Jovi model
posted by thelonius at 3:42 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also: I know this isn't the place, but can we have a talk about low pressure butt guns? Because ok, hand, soap, no TP, this is southeast Asia, fine, I get it. I'm OK. But just. I can't scrub it clean if you're dribbling, because it ends up on my hand, and then I'm over here soaping off the butt gun for the next guy too, and just, I'm spraying 10-15 times, trying to clean everything for 5 minutes after the deed, wtf. And then I have to fill the flush bucket with the scoop in it. With the butt gun.

Trump... May actually have been right. Just, about butt guns. Can we get some spray in the butt gun department please?
posted by saysthis at 3:46 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I have to tell you about a recent Australian innovation. Every year after you turn 50yo, the government will send you a letter. In it is a piece of paper for you to wipe your bum with. You then send that back to the government. This is for the early detection of bowel cancer.

Yes, you smear the governmental letter on your butt and send it back. It's like a libertarian's dream.

Yet now, we are developing IoT toilets which collect data about pH and volume etc., which are a data goldmine for doctors, an indispensable diagnostic and pathology tool. These toilets will soon screen for bowel cancer. It's one of those cancers where the symptoms are invisible until it's too late.

People dismiss IoT toilets as a novelty, but this is a life saver.

In case you doubt it, here is where an Australian can request a screening kit. With which you send poo back. It could save your life.
posted by adept256 at 3:58 AM on December 9, 2019 [6 favorites]


I understand the desire to conserve water, but this seems like something where there needs to be some local variance based on applicable tradeoffs. There are places where water really isn't in particularly short supply, and some where it's incredibly dear, and I don't think you really want the same design of toilet in both places. Where water is plentiful, it might make sense to use a higher-flush-volume toilet so that solids are transported (especially through old pipes), not to mention the cleaning issue. Mandating low-usage toilets everywhere might not be the best approach.

Except that with climate change comes more extreme weather everywhere, and that means severe droughts in places that never experienced them. Based on annual rainfall, Atlanta would appear to be a place where water really isn't in particularly short supply, but in 2007, in the midst of the worst drought ever, Atlanta almost ran out of water. It was down to 30 days supply when the rains finally came. We all need to be prepared for this. There is literally nowhere this can't happen:
The drought has afflicted most of the Southeast, a region that is accustomed to abundant water and tends to view mandatory restrictions as government meddling.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:17 AM on December 9, 2019


People dismiss IoT toilets as a novelty, but this is a life saver.


S m a r t p i p e
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:44 AM on December 9, 2019


I'd rather see a mandate to plumb all new construction with two parallel feedwater systems, one going to sinks and showers and such, and one going to toilets for flushing, so that it's easier to switch to greywater-reuse later on. The current building codes don't encourage this, making it nearly impossible for most people to flush with greywater (or captured rainwater, or untreated non-potable water, or surface water, or whatever) even if they wanted to.

Personally I'd be all too happy to use greywater from laundry in my toilets, but there's no way to do that without re-plumbing the entire building. We're stuck with flushing with drinking water forever because nobody mandates spending an extra few bucks on supply line when the walls are opened up during construction. IMO that's the real low-hanging fruit, and it's likely to be a lot less annoying than low-usage toilets.


Extensive greywater networks seem like a good idea but are not as easy in practice.

On major issue is that over time, people will inevitably cross-connect them which means that drinking water is contaminated with greywater. We can regret that fact but that is the operational experience in the orderly, rule-following Netherlands so I think we can assume it will be the same elsewhere. (This is especially serious in The Netherlands because we don't use tertiary treatment in our water supply system which means that the water that comes out of the tap is just water (great) and no disinfection byproducts (yay!) and therefore has no remaining disinfection capacity (requires great care being taken with distribution pipes.

Specialist local networks for irrigation are much less risky and using greywater for one's own lawn is much less risky, but a truly parallel system with two systems of pressurised water just isn't a good idea. The infrastructure cost of installing that system is also substantial since greywater needs to be at least partially treated. I think it makes sense only in the most exceptionally water-stressed areas and even then only after all other measures are exhausted.
posted by atrazine at 6:31 AM on December 9, 2019


T adept256 or they'll sell that info to your insurer to jack up your rate and at the same time leave huge security holes that expose health data to people you don't want to have it. Offsourcing health information to tech companies who have never proven themselves to have a good track record on data security or long term maintenance of firmware for their products is asking for trouble.
posted by Ferreous at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


people will inevitably cross-connect them

Yup. That was the reason given in the Plumbing and Fire protection engineering class.

And you can't say 'plastic for one, metal for the other' as older buildings have iron, copper and plastic. (for a brief time Copper was cheap so you can find waste stacks made of copper)

If one wants to pressurize your grey water Harbor Freight sells a pump for $150. That's kinda pricey JUST to move some water about for a system you'd have to get a variance to install with all of the fees of applying for the variance.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2019


I want a toilet that runs off the bathroom sink wastewater, which would help make up for having a toilet with a larger than Lilliputian flush.

But I definitely wouldn't want one of those models where the sink is directly over the toilet tank, which looks easy to make and install but awkward to use; I would want a sink that's off to the side of the toilet but feeding into the toilet tank. And I have the feeling the innards of the toilet would get gunked up with soap and toothpaste from all the sink activity.

So maybe I don't want a toilet that runs off the bathroom sink wastewater?
posted by pracowity at 8:31 AM on December 9, 2019


When a pressurized reclaimed water system (i.e. greywater or untreated rainwater) is installed in US jurisdictions, all the pipes have to be purple to prevent cross connections. Here in Oregon, any fixture using the reclaimed water must also be labeled "WARNING NON-POTABLE DO NOT DRINK" including toilets. There are quite a few toilets very visibly labeled against drinking around Portland (a few PSU buildings, Bud Clark Commons).
posted by head full of air at 9:17 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Donald Trump weighs in.

How would he know? He poops in a diaper.
posted by banshee at 9:34 AM on December 9, 2019


Shower heads, on the other hand, I have removed from older apartments to reinstall in new ones.

Tell me about it. Last week I had to have the plumbers in to fix a leak. The rental company manager had been at the last inspection all "oh, your shower head has scale on it, we should replace it". I said no thank you, I like the pressure and I don't care what it looks like. She slyly added it to the repair order anyway, and now I have this incredibly crappy cheap plastic one that drizzles. However, I have ordered a new head that advertises a removable flow controller, and I will install it and put their crappy one away for when I move out.
posted by tavella at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


You know, libertarians always spout this bullshit when they are confident it won't actually happen. It's a policy position that has no real cost. But if you actually ever tried to impose real costs, they invariably squeal like the Republicans they really are and veto it. That's why we don't have carbon taxes today.

The city I live in (actually every city I've ever lived in) has variable water prices. The higher prices are for things like swimming pools and lawn sprinkling, not for excessive toilet flushes. This is a suburban vs urban issue (not really rural because rural people spend way less on lawns and rarely have pools) where urban water use is about 190 gallons per day, and summer suburban is close to 300-400 gallons a day, with much of the difference being water use outside the home. Most houses have a 3/4" water line but the sprinkler line is typically 1- 2".

Municipal water in many (most) places are also separated between the generator (a water district) and the distributor (your city), and often the contracts were written in more flush (get it?) times where the rate is based on the max amount of water taken, and therefore drought-prevention policies are punished (or at best neutral) in terms of the amount of water the distributor is required to accept and pay for.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:56 AM on December 9, 2019


it is amazing that soiling drinking water is standard practice in the "modern" world.
i have been in a reasonbly modern academic building in northeast usa that harvested roof rainwater and used uv filtration for all the toilets. worked great in a relatively high rainfall climate.
certainly in rural and suburban areas we need more waterless composting options.
https://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/dec/09/no-flush-movement-composting-toilet-clean-water-waste-fertiliser-eco-revolution?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other&fbclid=IwAR23zsAujFk7S1k3KLr9fpQ9lKb6eJxu3_nRqxjvSpVz6kv8TxekuD0s_jk
posted by danjo at 11:17 AM on December 9, 2019


Zurn Aqua-Flush. As opposed to the Zurn Red Hot Lava Flush? Zurn Mysterious Ichor Flush? Zurn Beer Flush?

ALL HAIL ZURN AQUA-FLUSH.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:42 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yes, you smear the governmental letter on your butt and send it back

In Ontario, you get a little stick in a bottle. You poke the stick in a fresh jobby, jam it back in the bottle and mail it back. I was making little jingles about "poop by mail" for weeks after this.
posted by scruss at 2:51 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


urban water use is about 190 gallons per day

PER PERSON?!?! WTF are people doing? Even per household that seems insane to me.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:17 PM on December 9, 2019


My household (3 adults and 2 children) uses a bit less than a cubic metre (264 gallons) of water per day. Bathing, laundry, toilets, cooking, cleaning, it all adds up.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2019


I believe "urban water use" may also include commercial and industrial - in addition to residential. Restaurant dishwashing is a huge consumer, as is commercial laundry services (think uniforms, cloth tablecovers). Commercial fleets (cars, trucks) also need washing.

tavella I've totally replaced a vintage shower head at a rental (with a new one) that I've brought with me over the last few moves. Latest move, the shower didn't have a fixed head. Asked and received permission to change the handheld (and will be changing back) - but modern Waterpik shower heads are economical and even better than old school high flow heads.

My last apartment was absolute shite and built in the 80s, but the toilet there was magical - streaks directly from my butt would just slide off after a couple of normal (number 1) flushes.

The pinkish streaks (the [potable] pipes were contaminated with probably some kind of Aspergillis) was taken care of by using a (non-blue) toilet puck in the reservoir/ tank. Brown streaks are prevented by using a toilet brush with a loop/ extension for cleaning under the rim.

My current rental has an absolutely shite (Mansfield) toilet and I swear, even #1 sticks to the sides of the bowl if I don't deposit it directly into the water. Those toilet tank pucks also helped prevent a mould problem in the tanks from returning - but only after I did an extensive bioremediation.

Other senior management at work seem to think one needs to use "toilet bowl cleanser" to clean the toilet bowl. I've always just used bleach. Is "toilet bowl cleanser" a real thing?
posted by porpoise at 6:17 PM on December 9, 2019


My shower is a tiny 30 inch wide one, thus there is a limit to the amount of gymnastics I can do to expose various parts of my body to the spray, so I need a substantial amount of flow to get rid of the soap. In the meantime while waiting for my new head to arrive, I took off the bottom part of the nozzle. The flow restrictor itself is in the main part, but removing the bad shower head got rid of the extra constrictions there and increased the flow, and increased the pressure nicely even if it's in an ungraceful single stream. I like a massage, not rainfall. Plus my new one comes with a head-held addition that I can switch flow to.

I take very short showers (well, until the new head) and only every other day, so I don't think I'm wasting water.
posted by tavella at 7:16 PM on December 9, 2019


In the cities around here (San Francisco area) greywater systems are encouraged--some cities will even pay rebates you if you install them. But then again California frequently has droughts.

California's recent SB-407 law requires all toilets to be low flow (1.28 gallon or less). So all apartments are being upgraded. In theory house owners are required to update their toilets, but I don't know anyone going out of their way to do it (just don't let a city inspector use your bathroom). You'll have to replace the older toilets when you sell your house though.

That article about San Francisco's ability to transport solids downstream was written years ago, so I wonder if it has gotten worse as more toilets get replaced with low-flow models.
posted by eye of newt at 12:36 AM on December 10, 2019


urban water use is about 190 gallons per day

PER PERSON?!?! WTF are people doing? Even per household that seems insane to me.


No, that is not per person, it's for the entire household. Per person is like 50-80 gallons.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:13 AM on December 10, 2019


More importantly, if you are going to fix water pricing, you would start with the incredibly low (if not free) prices that agricultural and industrial users pay for water, which dwarfs household water consumption

You're making my point.

Water is a precious resource, or it isn't. There is very little incentive for anyone to treat it as such if it's not priced accordingly. Even if the government could magically buy everyone a low flow toilet. And sadly, being poor isn't an exception.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:29 AM on December 11, 2019


Water is a precious resource, though not nearly as precious as many of us believe. It's not as if the water used to flush a toilet disappears. Generally, it gets treated, discharged, and then becomes (part of) some downstream city's water supply.

Tutting about household water use is simply a way to avoid making the people who use a meaningful amount of water in ways that remove water from the water cycle for longer periods spend more money. Household supply pretty much amounts to a detour. Agricultural and many industrial uses actually reduce the amount of water flowing downstream rather than merely delaying it for a few hours/days.

(Obviously, there are cities, LA being the most obvious example, that pump water between watersheds, making this not exactly true, but in general it holds)
posted by wierdo at 9:20 AM on December 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


There is very little incentive for anyone to treat it as such if it's not priced accordingly.
I grew up in the land of historic watershed rights that predate the United States, which provides another model. Down there compliance is more directly disincentive-based, in that if you start taking someone else's water they will kill your family and livestock and burn down your fucking house.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:57 AM on December 12, 2019


Interestingly, it is exactly those early water rights predating the modern system that encourage the wasting of water all across the US West, because anything the rightsholders don't take is lost to them. It creates perverse incentives.
posted by wierdo at 9:03 AM on December 12, 2019


Oh for sure, the Milagro Beanfield War tries to get at that. The tensions between historic rightsholders (particularly on tribal land), corporate interests, and conservationists are just going to keep getting worse.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:12 AM on December 12, 2019


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