Troubleshooting Running Toilets: Causes, Costs and Solutions

Remember the “dad joke” about running toilets?

“Is your toilet running?”

“You better go catch it!”

While that might induce a good-humored groan, running toilets are no laughing matter as they are not only an annoyance, but can lead to significant water waste and increased utility bills.

“Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home's indoor water consumption,” says the EPA. “Older, inefficient toilets that use as much as 6 gallons per flush also happen to be a major source of wasted water in many homes.”

When a toilet runs on its own, those 6 gallons per flush can add up in a hurry and create a shock when your water bill arrives in your mailbox.

“The average household's leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year and ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day,” says the EPA.

Understanding the causes behind a running toilet and knowing how to address the issue can save you money and conserve water.

What Causes a Toilet to Run on Its Own?

A running toilet occurs when water continues to flow into the bowl even after the flush.

If you experience a toilet with a mind of its own, then it might have one of the following problems which can cause a running toilet:

  • Faulty Flapper: The flapper, a rubber valve located at the bottom of the tank, may not seal properly due to wear and tear, leading to a constant water flow.

  • Malfunctioning Fill Valve: The fill valve, responsible for refilling the tank after flushing, can become defective or misaligned, causing water to flow continuously.

  • Float Ball or Float Cup Issues: If the float ball or float cup doesn't rise high enough, the fill valve won't shut off, resulting in a running toilet.

  • Sediment Build-up: Sediment accumulation in the fill valve or flapper can prevent proper sealing, causing water leakage.

  • Faulty Overflow Tube: If the overflow tube is not adjusted correctly, it may allow water to flow into it, causing a constant running sound.

Flappers and Food Coloring: Finding that Leak!

The EPA says that flappers are often the culprit when it comes to running toilets.

“An old or worn flapper can cause your toilet to flush on its own or silently leak thousands of gallons a year,” says the EPA. “This simple rubber device holds water in the tank, then releases water into the bowl when the toilet is flushed. Because the rubber can wear out, the flapper should be checked periodically and replaced at least every five years to ensure a good seal and avoid leaks.”

Not all running toilets make a racket that keeps you awake at night but an easy way to find out if your toilet is leaking is to place a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank.

If any color shows up in the bowl after 10 minutes, you have a leak. (Be sure to flush immediately after the experiment to avoid staining the tank!)

The Financial Impact of a Running Toilet

A running toilet can be costly in terms of both water consumption and utility bills. Here's what you should know:

Gallons Lost: A single-running toilet can waste hundreds of gallons of water per day. On average, a running toilet can waste up to 250 gallons of water daily, amounting to nearly 7,500 gallons per month.

Rising Utility Bills: With the cost of water constantly increasing, a running toilet can significantly inflate your monthly utility bill. The wasted water can add up to a substantial amount of money over time, potentially costing homeowners hundreds of dollars annually.

The Water Scrooge, water conservation experts figured the cost of a running toilet with this formula:

  • Figure your total cost of water plus sewer based on the per one hundred cubic feet cost.

  • One hundred cubic feet is equal to 748 gallons of water.

  • The average medium-sized toilet leak will waste 250 gallons of water per day.

In Texas, where average water plus sewer rates can cost up to $4 per one hundred cubic feet, a running toilet can cost up to $50 extra a month on your bill or $600 over a year.

How to Fix a Running Toilet

Fixing a running toilet can be a simple DIY task. Here are some steps to help you resolve the issue:

  • Check the Flapper: Inspect the flapper for any signs of damage or wear. If it appears worn out or doesn't create a proper seal, replace it.

  • Adjust the Fill Valve: Ensure that the float ball or float cup is properly adjusted. If the water level is too high, adjust the float mechanism to lower it.

  • Clean the Fill Valve: If sediment buildup is suspected, turn off the water supply to the toilet and remove the fill valve cap. Clean the valve and remove any debris or sediment.

  • Verify the Overflow Tube: Check if the overflow tube is correctly placed and adjusted. It should direct water into the bowl, not the tube itself.

  • Call a Professional: If DIY attempts fail or if you're unsure about the problem, consider calling a professional plumber who can diagnose and fix the issue.

While the days of stopping a running toilet costing just $3 at the home improvement store are gone, thanks to inflation, it can still be an inexpensive fix with toilet flapper replacements running between $5 to $15.

“Replacing a flapper is a quick and easy fix that will save water and money. If you need more help, you can also consult your local hardware store, home improvement, retailer, or a licensed plumber,” says the EPA.

Family-owned and operated Pilot Plumbing is here to help you stop your running toilet in the North Houston and Montgomery County area with timely but cost-effective service … and any “dad jokes” are completely optional!

Call today to schedule your service.

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