Dear Umbra,

I live in an apartment. What can I do to reduce the amount of water that is flushed in the toilet? The landlord will not fix it.

Audrey
Brookline, Mass.

Dearest Audrey,

Ooh, more toilet talk.

I quote USA Landlord, which supplies landlords and tenants with water-saving devices: “This really is a landlord no-brainer!” And I append, “Especially if he is paying the water bill.” But even if your landlord won’t help, you can adapt your own toilet, and it won’t cost much — maybe $12 max. (If you don’t know how toilets work, go take the lid off the tank and watch the mechanisms move as you flush before you read the rest of this answer.)

Waste not, want not.

Photo: iStockphoto/Donald Gruener.

The first thing to do is check if the tank is leaking. Remove the top and squirt some dark food coloring into the water. Do not flush. Wait 15 to 30 minutes. If the food coloring ends up in the toilet bowl, your tank water is continually running into the bowl, which means the water in the tank must continually be replenished, and is being wasted. Go to the landlord and tell him the toilet is actually broken.

If you have no leak and your toilet is not low-flow (most older models aren’t), you can save water by adding a device to the tank that will take up space. You could just put a milk jug full of water or pebbles in there, but there are also products with cutesy alliterative names, like Toilet Tummy, Toilet Tank Bank, and Little Cutesy Wutesy Poopsy Flushy Wushy. (OK, I made that one up.)

Another approach is a fill cycle diverter ($1), which attaches to the incoming water valve and diverts water from the overflow pipe back into the tank. It sounds complicated, but I’m sure it comes with instructions, and few things are less mysterious than a toilet.

I’m most curious about the Frugal Flush Flapper ($6) and similar products. You see the flapper in the tank? It covers the opening after the bowl has filled. Apparently these newfangled flappers flap down sooner, and can turn a 3.5-gallon (or more) flush into a 1.6-gallon (low-flow) flush.

All of these adaptors should be available at your local hardware or plumbing shop. Many cities and counties offer free water-conservation kits, so give a call over to the city water office and see what you can get. And good for you.

Flushy wushily,
Umbra