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Reyne Stapelmann: Concerns with Low-Flow Toilets in Older Homes

A reader contacted me regarding my article reporting the plumbing fixtures replacement law that becomes effective Jan. 1, 2017, and requires residential properties in California that were built prior to 1994 to be in compliance.

While doing a remodel, she had a low-flow toilet installed in her home and ended up with the toilet backing up and flooding her bathroom.

Indeed, Lowe’s Home Improvement Center says, “Waste drains beneath the toilet need to slope between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch per foot for the water to carry solid waste to the sewer. If they’re too steep or too level, the flow of water allows waste to collect in the pipe and that means clogs. Some old houses, for reasons of age or builder error, may even have a 'negative slope' where water stands in the pipe. Waste is carried away only by the force of gallons of water flowing through the system courtesy of an older toilet.”

Only some older toilets have this problem, and they recommend checking the following before installing a new fixture:

» The original toilet backs up occasionally, even when solid waste isn’t being flushed. The problem may be caused by a clogged waste line rather than the toilet itself.

» After lifting the toilet off the floor for other maintenance, you shine a flashlight into the drain and discover standing water in the waste line. Even if it’s just a little, that’s a warning sign the system has developed a negative slope.

» In either case, you’ll need a professional plumber’s services to correct the problem. If your plumber says the line may or may not work for a low-flow toilet, consider installing a fixture with a pressure-assisted flush. These use water pressure to charge a compressed-air tank inside the toilet tank. When flushed, they release the compressed air to drive water out of the bowl fast, forcing it down the drain and into the main sewer stack quickly enough to carry off solid waste.

The law also states that the law shall not apply to any of the following:

» a) Registered historical sites.

» b) Real property for which a licensed plumber certifies that, due to the age or configuration of the property or its plumbing, installation of water-conserving plumbing fixtures is not technically feasible.

» c) A building for which water service is permanently disconnected.

As you can see, it is very important when changing out these fixtures that you consult with a licensed plumber who warranties his or her work.

Reyne Stapelmann is a broker associate with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, California Properties and the 2015 president of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. Contact her at [email protected] or 805.705.4353. The opinions expressed are her own.

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