The cost of leaving your toilet running

Whether you live with a large or small family, take a look at your water bill next time and see how much water you use. If the numbers are higher than usual or have steadily increased, don’t ignore those figures. The reality is there may be a leak in your home, and toilets are one of the biggest culprits.

Keep in mind that seasonal changes may also affect your water usage and cause spikes in those billings. For example watering the lawn in the summer, being home more often, or owning older and less energy-efficient appliances. All these things can increase the amount of water your household uses, but don’t eliminate other possibilities. To be safe, track your water usage for the day from showers, the toilet, or running the dishwasher. If the figures don’t add up to how much water you are using, you likely have a leak. Start by checking the toilet, as leaks there are common and can become a very costly problem if left unchecked.

Facts about running toilets

Big or small, a leak is just money wasted by sending water down the drain while pushing up those monthly bills. Leaks aren’t always noticeable and might be from something small such as a chain stuck under the flapper. According to EPCOR, this alone can increase your water bills by nearly $11 a month. Medium leaks, such as a broken flapper or overfill valve, will waste even more. If left unchecked, a big leak can waste upwards of 33,600 litres of water per day, which equals about $4,500 in extra billings over the course of a month.

Easy to catch signs, such as actually hearing a running toilet, or a loose handle, can be caught and fixed early. The bigger problem lies with a running toilet that goes unnoticed, usually because the signs aren’t found until too late. Other times, it is noticed but ignored as a minor annoyance. Prevent unwanted and unexpected water bills by fixing the problem immediately.

How to spot a running toilet

The problem with a running toilet is it isn’t always immediately noticeable until the problem has become much worse. Avoid wasted dollars by knowing how to tell if you have a running toilet.

Listen for running water: The quickest way to know something is wrong is to listen to your toilet after it is flushed. If it continues to make noise long after, there is water still running, meaning the tank can’t fill up. That can be a problem from a buildup in the tank affecting the parts inside or from a leak. If you have a noisy toilet, don’t ignore the sound and wait for it to stop. If there is a leak somewhere, it means that money is being lost as a result.

Look for moisture or stains: Have you noticed condensation building up around the base of the toilet? Or have stains started to appear on the floor around the toilet? If yes, it’s a definite sign of a leak and, unfortunately, an old one. Stains on the floor mean water has been damaging the floor for some time and is only now showing itself. Any water around the base also means there’s a definite leak and is a common problem among both older toilets and older models.

Don’t ignore the signs

Even if you only suspect a leak, always take the time to check right away. Not addressing the issue can lead to it worsening and racking up costly water bills and repairs. An easy test to check for a leak is to add a few drops of food dye into the water tank and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Then check the toilet bowl and see if the colour leaked in, if it did, you have a leak. Beyond checking yourself, call in a professional for a second opinion and a professional inspection. If there is a leak, they’ll catch it before it worsens.

Causes for different leaks

Once you’ve spotted a sign of a leak, it’s time to localize the source of the leak. With toilets, the problem is the flapper, the water supply line, or the wax ring. Always start by turning off the water supply to your toilet and then empty the tank before you begin.

Leaky flapper: The flapper is a seal that sits on the flush valve, which blocks the opening between the toilet tank and bowl. When you flush, it lifts and releases the water from the tank into the bowl and then seals again once empty. As the flapper starts to wear out or becomes too old, water starts to get past the seal resulting in a running toilet. This is typically the most common reason for a running toilet, especially in an older home with older toilets. Years of wear and tear will eventually show, so if you buy an older home, ask about the age of those toilets.

Worn out fill valve: If the flapper is working fine, but your toilet is still running, it likely means the issue is with the fill valve. As its name suggests, the fill valve is responsible for refilling the toilet tank after it has been flushed. If the valve is worn out or becomes misaligned, the tank can’t fill properly causing it to run continually.

The fill valve float is a black ball that floats on the surface of the water and lets the valve known when the tank needs refilling or not. If it becomes stuck or misaligned, the tank will perpetually refill. The excess water will then run into the overflow and your toilet will continually run. Other times an old fill valve will eventually corrode or develop mineral buildup, which will affect how well the valve works. Realigning the float or replacing the fill valve will fix any running sounds.

Old toilet handle: Old toilet handles are another culprit for causing your toilet to run. If the handle has become corroded or stiff from age, it will stay stuck in a  downward position long after the toilet has been flushed. When this happens, the toilet flapper is perpetually stuck in a lifted position causing the tank to constantly try to refill. Jiggling the handle will temporarily fix the problem, but to avoid wasting water it’s necessary to replace the old handle.

Water supply line: The pipe at the back of the toilet connecting to the wall is called the water supply line. Leaks from here can spring up for several reasons but are all easy to fix. Either, the washers inside the pipe have worn out or broken. If water is dripping from the pipe, it’s likely a crack has opened up. Otherwise, it’s a matter of loose nuts needing tightening, either against the toilet bowl or against the wall. Before buying an entirely new supply line pipe, inspect each part to isolate the leak’s real cause. Most of the time, the fix will be simple, without having to spend more money than necessary. A crack in the pipe itself, though, will need to be replaced entirely.

Wax ring: Have you noticed moisture constantly building up around the base of your toilet and even on the floor? That is particularly a problem because if left alone, it risks mould growth as well as water damage to the floors. The likely culprit, in this case, is a leaking or old wax ring. The ring itself helps both prevent water from leaking out of the toilet when flushed and keeps sewer smells out. Wax rings can have a long lifespan of around 30 years, so they don’t need regular replacing unless something goes wrong. If your wax ring is leaking, immediately turn off the water supply and don’t use the toilet again until the problem is fixed.

Solutions for a running toilet

Depending on the source of the leak, the type of repairs and costs will vary. Some repairs can be DIYed, while others are best left to a professional. Even if a repair can be DIYed, it may be better to leave it to a professional, especially if the problem has been ongoing.

Replace your toilet: It may be that the most cost-efficient solution is to invest in a newer, upgraded toilet model. If leaks are commonly happening or the source of one is because of an old toilet, invest in a new toilet. Not only will you save money from future leaks, but newer models are much more water-efficient. You’ll save twice as much money on monthly water bills with a new toilet than by repairing your old one.

Fix the flapper: If the issue is because of a leaking flapper, you can easily do a DIY repair. First, turn off the water supply and empty the toilet tank. Then, remove the old flapper and replace it with the new one. If you’re not sure about the right model, bring your old flapper to the store to match it. Once you’ve attached the new flapper, turn the water back on and test it by flushing a few times. Make sure the chain isn’t too loose or long; otherwise, it can get trapped under the flapper and stop the seal from working.

Replace the wax ring: Replacing a wax ring requires a bit more work since the toilet itself needs to be removed first. That can be DIYed as well, but if you’ve never replaced a wax ring, leave it to a professional. Turn off the water supply and drain the toilet before you start. Remove the nuts attaching the toilet to the floor and move the entire toilet to the side. From here, you can remove the old wax ring and apply a new one. If there is any damage, such as cracks or grime buildup, this will need to be fixed and cleaned first.

Once done, put the toilet back in place and rock it gently to help the wax ring seal firmly again. Reattach the nuts and then check on your toilet periodically after some time to make sure there are no new leaks. If there are, the wax ring likely didn’t air seal properly, so readjust the toilet to secure the seal.

Water supply line: If a leak isn’t obviously coming from the water supply pipe, start by tightening the various nuts. It’s likely that one of the nuts has come loose and is causing the leak. If this doesn’t stop the problem, turn off the water and check the washers inside the pipes. Sometimes the washers have come loose or have broken and must be replaced. However, if the leak is coming from the pipe itself, there’s likely a crack somewhere along the pipe. In this case, you’ll need to buy a brand-new supply line to replace the old one.

Check for other leaks

If you noticed your water bill steadily creeping up even before your toilet started running, don’t ignore the signs. Just because your toilet is fixed, doesn’t mean there may not be other leaks in your home. Even a dripping faucet can add up in costs and increase those water bills between $8 to $120 per month. Every source of a water leak is money wasted, which is why you should always check for other sources.

Leaky faucets: Bathrooms, kitchen sinks, the laundry room, anywhere with a sink, is a possible source of a leak. Faucet leaks are typically from eventual wear and tear on different components. If the leak is from the head, it may be from a buildup of calcium or a broken washer. Leaks from the handles or base of the sink mean the rubber washers inside have worn out. Both of these are common problems, but luckily are just as easily fixed. You can either DIY the repairs or let a professional handle it for you.

Showerhead: Showers alone use easily use around 2.5 gallons of water per minute, making them a significant source of water consumption. Add a leaky showerhead, and that’s roughly another 2 gallons of water lost for every ten drips per minute alone. Like sinks, the source of the leak may be a worn-out rubber washer. Otherwise, a buildup of calcium in the head itself may also be the problem. In this case, remove the showerhead and soak it in a white vinegar solution for a few hours. That will help dissolve any buildup and should stop any future leaks.

Other ways to save on water bills

In addition to simply repairing a leak, there are other ways to help save on those monthly water bills. For your showers, install low-flow heads. These alone can save upwards of 40% on water consumption, as they restrict the water to 2 gallons or less. Sinks and faucets will benefit from adding a faucet aerator to help save water. The addition is a small screen that adds air to the water flow and breaks it into individual streams. That helps use less water, but without losing that high pressure. As for toilets, either a newer model alone can help save water, or invest in a dual flush toilet. Depending on your flushing needs, you can control how much water is used for each flush.

As a bonus, saving on water expenses also helps save on monthly energy bills. Since less water is used overall, it means less energy is needed to heat the water. You’ll start to see savings all-around your home, making it more efficient and comfortable overall.

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