Since the beginning of the 21st century, push-button toilets have become a fixture in almost every bathroom – both public and private, across the UK and beyond. But they have one major flaw which sees many of them wasting between 15 and 30 litres of water a day- a flaw which might see you wishing for the return of your trusty old flush-handle loo!
Why push-button toilets are prone to leaks
Newer, push-button toilets are cheap to manufacture and generally use less water per flush. Their main flaw, however, comes from the valve system they use. These valves use a seal which is constantly below the water level in the toilet. This seal can be damaged by repeated use, hard water, grit or certain toilet deodorizers, and sometimes, the valve can simply become jammed. Failure of the seal or valve causes water from the cistern to leak into the toilet’s pan. This steady trickle of water can lead to between 15 and 30 litres of water being wasted, per toilet, per day. Across the whole of the UK, that’s 900 million litres a day!
Why have push-button toilets suddenly appeared?
It may feel as though push-button toilets have only recently appeared on the scene. They have, however, been around since the mid 19th century, and were made illegal when their water wastage was realised and an alternative- the siphon- was invented. It wasn’t until 1999 that they were made legal again in the UK and they became the most popular choice for newly built bathrooms across the country. Unfortunately, their design flaws remain unchanged since the 1860s, and even their manufacturers acknowledge that leaking is a common occurrence, with an executive of one of the leading valve manufacturers in the US responding, when asked if the valves leak: “of course they leak, that’s why we sell so many.”
Flush-handle toilets and siphons
From their invention in the 19th century, up until the end of the 20th, the handle-flush toilet was the leading toilet design, and the only one that could be legally produced in Britain. The siphon was a device invented by Thomas Crapper, originally known as the “water waste preventer”, this system worked to eliminate the waste of water using a specific design. Instead of a valve lying below the water line, the water is physically lifted up into the down leg, an action which can only be made using a flush handle. Failure of this device leads to the toilet not flushing, but leaking does not occur.
Above: a diagram of a flush-handle toilet cistern using a water-saving siphon. Image sourced: Mcgill
While older toilets generally use more water per flush, their immunisation to leaking can make them more efficient and easier to look after. They are also more compatible with water-saving devices than push-button toilets, making them easier to adapt to a more water-saving lifestyle. Interflush allows you to control exactly how much water you use for each flush, rather than using a set amount, which ultimately saves around 18% on household water bills.
Flush-handle toilets may be more expensive these days, and even difficult to find, compared to their cheaper counterparts, but in terms of economy and water-saving abilities overall, they would make a much more sensible choice for any green household.
Image sourced: Matthew Paul Argalltagspush-button toiletsaving watersiphon