Convert your single-flush toilet to a water saving dual flush with this kit
I recently installed a HydroRight dual flush converter in our upstairs toilet, and although I usually stick to energy saving topics on this website, I think most people keen on saving energy are, like me, also keen on saving water, so let me tell you about it. I’ve been quite impressed with how it works and how much water it saves us – and I think I can make a case for the notion that it saves you energy too!
First off, a caveat: if you are like my family and are already very frugal with your use of toilet water, you may not save that much water. The adage in our family is “If it’s yellow, yet it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” This has saved us many liters of water over the years, I’m sure – we might flush our toilet a mere 5-8 times a day, which isn’t much for a family of four. And given that our toilet was already a low-flush toilet (6 liters, or 1.5 gallons, per flush), we were only using at most 20,000 liters or 4,600 gallons of water a year.
The HydroRight dual flush converter kit tells you right on the boxthat it can save you up to 55,000 liters per year. That claim may hold true if one or more of the following applies:
- You have an old toilet with a large 20 liter / 5 gallon tank. These haven’t been sold in years. Newer tanks are typically 13 liter or less, and more importantly, the liters per flush droops to 13 LPF (3 GPF) for toilets currently available for purchase, and in some jurisdictions, new houses must have even more efficient 6LPF or 1.6GPF toilets installed.
- You have the wrong type of flapper installed in a 6 liter per flush toilet. This can use upwards of 15 liters per flush or 4.4 gallons.
- You have a large household, only one toilet used most of the time, and it gets flushed after every use
- Your toilet isn’t just for household use – for instance, a toilet at a gas station that is used by customers many times in a day
But even if you only save half or a quarter that much – and even if you don’t pay for water – you’ll still save money by installing a HydroRight dual flush converter. Read on to find out why.
Energy savings with a dual flush toilet
One of the things people tend to forget, when thinking about toilets, is the capacity of water in your toilet tank or toilet bowl to absorb or retain heat.
Most newer tanks are lined with foam insulation, to reduce heat transfer between the washroom air and the tank water. This is done to reduce condensation happening on the outside of the tank – but it can also save you energy. An uninsulated tank will absorb heat from the ambient air more quickly, so when you flush your toilet, there is potentially more heat going down the drain from the toilet tank. And the bigger the flush, the more heat you lose. This doesn’t matter so much when you don’t have the heat on (and when you’re air conditioning, a big flush will actually suck heat out of the house, assuming your water intake is colder than the ambient air temperature), but it can add up to a lot of heat lost in cold weather.
I ran some tests on two toilets in my own house to see how much heat is lost to flushing. The basement toilet is a standard low-flush toilet – 6 liter capacity. I measured the water temperature in the tank and in the bowl before and after a full flush, as well as the ambient air temperature. I then performed a similar experiment on the upstairs toilet, where I had installed the HydroRight dual flush converter kit. Let’s take a look at the temperature readings and differences:
The key point to note here: after flushing the downstairs toilet, the tank water drops by almost 10 F, or 5.4 C. A 6 liter tank dropping by that much means a loss of about 32,000 joules of energy, or (in terms of watt hours), enough energy to keep a 40 watt light bulb burning for almost an hour. Meanwhile, the small flush in the toilet that has the HydroRight dual flush converter installed sees a drop in temperature of only 1.6F, or only about 16% as much as the regular toilet. The end result is a significant reduction in the amount of heat sucked out of your home for a small flush. Even with the large flush, the difference is only 5.9 degrees compared to 9.8 degrees for the regular low flush toilet. This is because the HydroRight dual flush converter kit lets you control how much water is used both for the quick flush and the full flush.
Installing the HydroRight kit
Of course you’re probably wondering how easy the HydroRight dual flush converter is to install. The package claims you can install it in 10 minutes, but don’t be fooled! If you have installed several of them already, you can probably install another in under ten minutes, especially if the existing toilet is relatively new. But if this is your first time, or your toilet doesn’t exactly match what the Hydroright dual flush converter is expecting in terms of shape of the parts inside the toilet, expect it to take a little longer.
The first thing I’d recommend, if you are buying the HydroRight dual flush converter from a local retailer, and they have a no-questions-asked return policy, is to buy both the conversion kit and a HydroClean kit, which is a replacement valve kit for a standard toilet. This valve kit is also supposed to save you water by reducing the amount of water that goes down the overflow valve during refilling, and by reducing and detecting leaks on your flapper valve. Having an extra HydroClean kit around is handy if you discover partway through the installation that your existing assembly won’t work, or is too old or damaged to give a good seal; if it turns out you don’t need the HydroClean kit, just take it back. If your toilet tank is the old type with a ball cock you will definitely need a HydroClean kit to begin.
In terms of removing the old assembly, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, you have to take off the handle, because the HydroRight dual flush converter comes with its own dual-flush button that sticks out of the toilet where your existing toilet handle comes out. In my case, removing the handle involved actually breaking the handle component, as there was no way to separate the part outside the tank from that inside the tank. If you find yourself in this situation you are basically committed to installing the HydroRight no matter what – but I knew I wanted one so I went ahead.
The second removal issue has to do with things like extra lengths of chain, or automatic shut off systems. I had already retrofitted my tank with a replacement valve assembly that included an automatic shutoff system, which prevented the tank from continually running if a good seal was not obtained on the flush valve. I had to use a cable tie to tighten a component on thefill valve to prevent this mechanism from kicking in; it took me a good 15 minutes to figure out how to disable this. (Hint: there’s an assembly on the shaft of the fill valve that locks into place if the original flapper doesn’t fall back into place; I had to tie this assembly down so that the mechanism didn’t detect the situation that causes it to shut off.)
Installation was fairly straightforward other than these two removal issues; to install the HydroRight dual flush conversion kit you just slide it down beside the overflow valve, and press the blue dome gasket into the fill valve. Here’s where a good connection is important and where a HydroClean kit may come in handy: if you don’t get a snug fit on that connection, water will leak out of the tank continuously and the tank may never fill. The first time I installed the HydroRight dual flush converter I probably wasted 20 liters of water because the toilet tank kept refilling every half hour or so all night long; it turned out that the gasket and flush valve weren’t seated properly to each other. This can happen with a flush valve that isn’t perfectly horizontal (some designs, like mine, have a slight angle to them), and the HydroRight dual flush converter is designed to accommodate these, but the pressure with which you have to press the top part of the converter down onto the base tends to deform either the blue gasket or the flush valve enough that you don’t get a good seal. I solved this problem first by adding a layer of vasilene to the outside of the gasket, and then by being careful not to push the converter kit down too hard.
Adjustment of the flow rate on the HydroRight dual flush converter is fairly straightforward – just follow the directions that come inside the package. You test with just a single piece of toilet paper, and try to find the minimum amount of water it takes to flush that down. I was able to get my toilet down to under a gallon for a quick flush (3.75 liters); you could probably do better than that, but since we haven’t changed our yellow-mellow policy I wanted enough of a flush to push through a fairly big wad of toilet paper. A full flush still takes the regular 6 liters.
One other thing to be careful of is that the cable that connects the button system to the upper housing mustn’t get in the way of the float. If it does, you may block the float from rising all the way to the top (the shut-off point) which can result in water running continuously after a flush, and spilling into the tank through the overflow tube.
Using the HydroRight kit
It’s quite straightforward to use the Hydroright dual flush converter once it is correctly installed. The only difference people will notice is that your flush handle becomes a button with a raised upper portion and a recessed lower portion; and you just have to remind people that pressing the raised upper portionis for a quick flush, while the recessed lower portion is for a full flush. I think the HydroRight could have been designed slightly better – instead of using a raised and a lowered section, they could have used a large and a small section, as some actual dual flush toilets use. But for a household toilet, most times the toilet gets flushed it will be someone living there who flushes it, and it doesn’t take long to figure out which button to press for what.
In terms of flushing power, the quick flush does a great job of getting the toilet flushed. If you watch the flushing action you might expect the flush won’t go down – the bowl fills up slowly, then just kind of sits there for a few seconds- but it always does go down in the end, perhaps a few seconds later than it did with the old valve (or does with the new system when you do a full flush).
I haven’t measured how much water we’ve saved – but one thing to be aware of is that if you stop practicing your water saving toilet habits after you’ve installed this kit, you may not wind up saving any water. If you’re already a radical water conserver – of the “If it’s yellow let it mellow” variety – then adding a HydroRight dual flush converter to your toilet and then deciding to flush every time will probably be a zero sum gain, or will cost you more water. (On the other hand you won’t have to see or smell it mellow!) But if the idea of not flushing every single time grosses you out, you’ll definitely save by flushing a smaller amount of water for the majority of flushes, which are for just liquids and toilet tissue.
Smart technology that pays for itself
I really do recommend the HydroRight dual flush converter if you’re trying to reduce your water use (or your heating expenses) and you don’t want the expense of buying a completly new dual flush toilet (or the expense of hiring a plumber to install it, if you’re not handy yourself). The HydroRight can be installed with no prior plumbing experience, and you can get one for as little as $30 at local retailers or $18 online (plus any applicable shipping or taxes). It doesn’t need batteries (it took me a while to figure out how they could do this without batteries) and seems to be made of fairly sturdy materials. While the manufacturer’s claims of $105 in savings per year are probably optimistic for most people, I’m fairly sure the device will save most people money within the first couple of years, and that kind of payback is not that easy to come by with other energy- or water-saving devices.
How is it working now?
It’s now June 2021 and our HydroRight dual flush converter has been performing very well. I have only one minor complaint about it, which is that very occasionally the seal that keeps the water in the toilet tank can develop a leak. This has happened two or three times so far and in each case there was a fair bit of disturbance to the toilet – meaning the toilet had become blocked (my housemates use a lot of toilet paper and we still haven’t adjusted to the flush-every-time rule) and after I plunged the toilet the leak developed. When this happens it’s usually because the toilet got jostled during plunging and the seal shifted slightly; it’s easy to detect because you hear the toilet tap keep going back on, although you might not discover it for a little while. Fixing it just involves draining the tank, and sliding the unit back down on the air stack. The first time this happened I decided to coat the valve in some vaseline to ensure a better seal, which seemed to help. So overall I am reasonably satisfied with the unit’s operation.
However I think in retrospect one could do better, and one site visitor whose company sells various dual flush retrofit kits informs me that the HydroRight dual flush converter didn’t pass their testing, and in fact that the product carries a UPC (Uniform Plumbing Code) seal that is not valid or genuine. Apparently the organization (IAPMO) that provides the seal has agreed that the stamp is there fraudulently.
The problem apparently has to do with the way the HydroRight seal works. Flapper valves are designed to seal on the flat horizontal surface where the water exits the toilet. When you remove your existing flapper valve and assembly and install the HydroRight dual flush converter, the HydroRight instead seals against the interior vertical part of the drainage hole, and this section is not normally machined and can therefore develop a leak unless you use some kind of sealant – exactly what I wound up doing by coating the sealant with vaseline. I’ve provided Amazon product links to a number of other toilet conversion kits in the right hand column of this page. I suggest you read the reviewer comments for each of these before deciding which product will work for you. In my case, the HydroRight has worked out well with a minor tweak, but there may be households where the installation results in the same kind of slow leak I describe, but where the homeowner doesn’t notice the leak for quite some time, in which case the leak will waste more water in a month than the device is supposed to save in a year!