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Stores are flush with water-saving kits

Question: I always hear water running, but I want to keep our old toilets. I hear that the new low-flow toilets don't flush well. How can I fix the water leakage in my old toilets? Are there kits I can install to decrease the amount of water I use per flush?

Answer: Flushing toilets is the major water consumption activity in most homes. It uses 18{ gallons per person today, representing 26.7 percent of water usage, and costs the typical family up to $200 per year. If you have leakage problems that allow the water to run continually, the annual expense is even greater.

There are many types of do-it-yourself water-saving kits (prices start at $5) that can save up to $100 per year on your water bills. Installing one often takes care of eliminating the water-running problem, too. You can install most in about five minutes.

The basic types of water-saving flush kits are: dual-flush handles, flapper valves, water dams, and diverters. The leakage problem you have is either a leaky ballcock valve or a leaky flapper. A water-saving flapper will solve the latter, but you will need a new ballcock to solve the former.

A dual-flush kit is one of the best methods to significantly reduce the water usage of any old toilet while still maintaining an effective flushing action. These kits (some have only five parts) provide a low-water usage flush for liquid wastes and a standard volume flush for solid wastes.

Some do-it-yourself kits use a single-flush handle in place of the old handle. Push the handle down for a water-saving flush or lift it for a full flush. Another design uses two separate handles. Push the longer handle down for a water-saving flush or the shorter handle for a full flush.

Inside the toilet tank, both designs work the same way. The water-saving flush lifts the flapper only partially, so it closes quickly, allowing less water to flow out. The full flush lifts the flapper the standard amount.

There are many designs of water-saving flapper valve kits. They all allow the air trap inside of them to empty quickly so the flapper closes sooner than normal. To install one, just pull the old flapper up over the overflow tube and slip the new back down over the tube. You can fine-tune some of the flapper kits to get an effective flush with the least water usage. Some designs have a tiny adjustable hole at the bottom. By varying the hole size, the flush water volume can be controlled.

Water dams fit in the bottom of the toilet tank and spring out to seal against the sides. They effectively reduce the water volume in the tank without decreasing the water height or the flush pressure. Diverter kits divert some of the bowl water to the tank after each flush to save water.

Write for (or instantly download at Update Bulletin No. 546, a buyer's guide of eight water-saving flush kit manufacturers listing design types, water savings, installation instructions, toilet troubleshooting and water-saving guides. Include $3 and a business-sized, self-addressed, stamped envelope. Send to James Dulley, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer and do-it-yourselfer. Send questions to him at the address above or visit his Web site at to download bulletins, tour his energy-efficient home, post questions and find information.