Old low-flow toilet doesn't save water

Check water level in tank before purchasing a newer model

Q: I am having a problem with a 20-year-old toilet. Most of the time when I flush (holding the handle down for the entire flush cycle) the water swirls and swirls (with little effect). Thus, I continue to flush it two or three times.

I am not sure if this is correctable, and I really don’t want to call a plumber if it is something I can fix myself. I am also concerned that I am using lots of water that would not be necessary if it only needed one flush.

A: Twenty years puts your commodes in the first generation of 1.6-gallon-flush toilets. Older toilets were 3.5-gallon-flush models. Low-flow models were a product of legislation to conserve water. As far as we’re concerned, the jury is out on whether the legislation was ill-conceived. Two or three flushes were almost always required, which defeated the purpose of saving water.

When Kevin built his home in 1993, he installed three new middle-of-the-line low-volume toilets. The darn things never did work properly, requiring multiple flushes to deliver the package. For the next 15 years, a "plumber’s helper" stood sentinel next to each of these toilets.

One of our readers was more blunt: "It takes multiple flushes, and then sometimes a plunger and more flushes. This uses far more water than one big flush from an old-fashioned toilet. Are there any powerful yet water-saving toilets?"