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Plumbing solutions leave you flush with cash

In the universe of home-repair projects, toilets are always a popular chore.

"From what I understand, the most frequently tackled do-it-yourself project is toilet repair, because people can do it," says Greg Wisner, senior market researcher at Fluidmaster, a manufacturer of toilet parts.

Plumbing problems aren't so popular. And they often can be expensive. So Bankrate asked some plumbing experts about the best ways to avoid doing business with them.

Good equipment definitely helps. Manufacturers and plumbers say the right toilet, and even the right $5 toilet part, can save you plenty in both plumbing calls and water costs.

Cheap and easy solutions like testing your toilet paper and rearranging where you store your makeup can help prevent plumbing traumas, says Jeff Waite, owner of Hawkeye Sewer & Drain in Iowa City, Iowa.

"I tell people to use common sense," Waite says. "It's not a question of if a toilet or a drain will clog up; it's a question of when."

Still, it pays to know when you are in over your head, says Wisner.

"There are a lot of cases where the smartest thing to do is call a plumber," Wisner says. "If you ignore aging parts and years go by, you can have a leak or even a flood, and that can get expensive."

A leaking toilet can mean 100 gallons of extra water use every week, according to estimates on Fluidmaster's Web site. talked with the experts -- a plumber, a toilet manufacturer and a toilet-parts maker -- to get the latest and greatest in money-saving plumbing wisdom.

What's new in toilets?
"We've come a long way in toilets," says Stephanie Simons, senior market analyst for toilets and bidets at Kohler, a manufacturer of plumbing fixtures.

"You'll get toilets that use a lot less water," Simons says. "If you're looking back to the 1980s through the 1990s, we were using 1.5 to 3.5 gallons, and now we're mandated to use 1.6 gallons.

"And some are using 1.1 or even 0.8 in a dual flush."

What's more, Simons says, in some areas of the country, consumers can qualify for rebates if they purchase water-efficient toilets.

But even if you don't get a rebate, she says you can save big on your water bill.

"You can save thousands of gallons of water by switching to a 1.1," Simons says.

Fluidmaster estimates that switching to a 1.6 gallon toilet from an older toilet will save 350 gallons of water a week. As for the cost of a toilet that flushes less water, "you can find a toilet like that at Home Depot for $199," Simons says, noting that water-saving toilets don't necessarily cost more.

Not everyone is a fan of the new low-flow toilets. Waite says water-efficient toilets mean new problems. "The orifices are smaller, so they clog and have problems," says Waite. "An old myth is to put something in the tank to dispense the water. Don't do that with the new low-flow toilet. That will conserve it, or make you use less water, but it will cause more problems for you."

"When you don't have enough water, you cause clogs," says Waite, whose plumbing business serves over 10,000 accounts. "The toilet cannot flush consistently."

Make your toilet last longer
The easiest thing to do is avoid using damaging cleaners, say all three experts.

Drop-in tablets that contain chemicals can degrade parts of the tank over time, says Simons.

"A good way to avoid having to replace the flapper is to avoid those bleach tablets," she says.

Next: "Put a handful in the toilet. Stir it up. ..."
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