Roll Up Your Sleeves: Toilets on the Brain

November 12, 2007

(“Roll Up Your Sleeves” is a new series measuring the impact of simple sustainable modifications for homes and apartments.)

I haven’t been able to get this out of my head for 2 weeks now since I saw it at treehugger. I’m choosing to let blogging be my exorcist so toilet-sinks are no longer on the brain. It’s just so clever! It appeals not only sustainably, but also creatively. One could see possibilities for customization that would make this appropriate for *nearly* any bathroom decor. Since the top just rests over the back, the toilet can be switched back whenever, making this a viable option for apartment dwellers as well.

Can I do it? The construction process doesn’t appear very difficult; my guess is it would take about an hour to construct and install. The materials are readily available and many could be found second-hand, especially the bowl, funnel, and copper tubing. If I were going to place a price tag on materials and effort it would be $20, which assumes 1 hour of work at above minimum wage and getting at least some of the items free or resale.

What’s the benefit? To figure out exactly how much water/money one could save from such a modification will take several assumptions. Basically the system saves water by eliminating the water needed for handwashing after using the toilet. First assumption will be how much water is used for each handwashing. The CDC recommends scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, however for a more realistic estimate we’ll assume the average person spends half that. Turning my sink on for 10 seconds releases about 1/3 gal. of water. Second assumption will be how many handwashings/trips to the toilet per day. This will vary based on the number of residents. We’ll say 10 per day for two residents. Water and sewage costs courtesy of the City of Lafayette.

1/3 gal x 10 handwashings x 365 days = 1,216 gal x $0.0075/gal = $9.12 saved per year.

Is it worth it? Depends. It requires you concede to using pipe-temperature water for your handwashing in all seasons, and to be sanitary you should always lower the lid before flushing/washing.  But 1,200 gallons is a lot of water.   3-4 hot tubs full.  Financially it would take just over 2 years to recoup your investment, less if you used your toilet more frequently. But over 5 years you would have saved $45, which is equivalent to receiving a 17% annual interest rate on that $20. Try beating that in the stock market. I for one plan on installing this modification as soon as I rent that first apartment.

If you don’t already have a low-flow toilet this is a great opportunity to do another modification. Fill a plastic jug with some gravel, a few drops of bleach, and water. Place it in your toilet tank so it doesn’t knock into any of the mechanisms. You’ll save whatever volume you put in with each flush. However, older toilets are not designed to flush with less water, even though many do so without a problem. More frequent clogging is a sign your toilet needs a full tank to flush. This classic tip will save you an additional 1,824 gallons and $13.68 a year if you use a half-gallon jug.

Photo by gregorylavoie at Instructables.


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