BY ROBERT P. MADER Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
WHEN IS A 1.6-gal.-per-flush toilet not a 1.6 gpf toilet? As soon as the homeowner replaces the flapper, according to the California Urban Water Conservation Council. The conservation group has appealed to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to produce a standard marking system to identify replacement flappers that accurately replicate the original flappers.
The bogeyman appears to be in-tank toilet bowl cleansers that are often heavy on the chlorine. The chemicals eat both metals and plastic, creating premature failure of both flush valves and ballcocks. The damage is most acute in toilets that aren’t flushed often, such as in guest bathrooms or in vacation homes.
The average consumer goes to a hardware store or home center and buys standard replacement products, installs them without adjusting them, and now has a 3-gpf water closet.
The consumer’s only concern is that the toilet flushes, said John Koeller of Koeller & Co., the engineering consultant for the water conservation council.
In a white paper he prepared for the council, Koeller noted: “The economics of these [toilet] replacement programs are usually based upon a 20-year (or more) functional life for a water-efficient toilet fixture. Therefore, for the projected water savings to be achieved, these toilet fixtures must perform as designed for that entire period. This, in turn, demands that flush valve flapper seals and their readily available replacements continue to function at 1.6-gpf throughout the 20-year lifetime of the fixture. Unfortunately, such performance is not a common occurrence.”
As a result, water authorities in drought-stricken areas of the country aren’t seeing the water saving they expected.
What Koeller and the water conservation council want is ambitious – a complete revamping of flush valves for each manufacturer. It remains to be seen if ASME will issue such a standard.
“It should be like auto parts,” Koeller said. “You look it up in a book and buy the right fan belt or oil filter for your car. There’s nothing like it for toilets. The new standard would require instructions inside the tank about new parts, maybe an 800-number for the consumer to call and the manufacturer will send you a free flapper.”
Some manufacturers such as Mansfield already do something similar, Koeller noted. Mansfield uses a plunger-style flush valve that uses a closure seal that’s not a traditional flapper, and the part can only be obtained from Mansfield.
“The Toto G-Max system with 3-in. opening into the bowl requires a unique flush valve, so you can’t put a typical flapper on a G-Max,” Koeller said.
“American Standard does realize that consumption can be altered without using the correct American Standard replacement part,” said company spokeswoman Norma DePalma. “American Standard’s understanding is that some kind of consensus resolution is in the works through ANSI to try to address the problem. American Standard does make new replacement part information available to consumers to call and order it.”
Fixture manufacturers started noticing rapid deterioration of flappers beginning in 1993.
Because it has a vested interest in low-flow toilets working properly, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California began a study of flappers in 1994 and completed its first round of independent testing by 1997. It concluded that certain in-tank bowl cleaners were damaging the flappers.
During the same time period, flapper manufacturers were working on new plastics to withstand bowl cleaners. When the products were retested by the MWD, most held up in accelerated testing.
“In 2000, a new formulation for the consumer product Vanish appeared on retail shelves,” Koeller wrote in the white paper. The MWD retested the flappers that had passed in 1999. “Results showed that all of the test flappers failed to hold a seal after 28 days in the accelerated environment of Vanish.”
The upshot was the formation by ASME of A112 Standards Committee A122.19.5 Water Closet Trim Project, the mission of which is to develop flappers that don’t vanish.
“From Fluidmaster’s standpoint, we’re concerned about flappers, but that’s not a catastrophic failure,” said Oscar Dufau, OEM sales manager at Fluidmaster and a member of the ASME A112.19.5 task group. “But if it taxes the inlet valve and then that corrodes, then you have a major problem because then it can flood a house. Then you end up with lawsuits and claims, especially in an apartment house.”
Fluidmaster produces both standard flappers for high-consumption water closets and timed flappers for 1.6-gpf toilets, Dufau said, although consumers may install a timed flapper but not adjust it for their particular toilets. In fact, he believes many consumers might actually adjust a timed flapper to allow more water through the bowl so the fixture flushes better.
Dufau believes an auto-parts style list of flappers may be overly ambitious because, including discontinued fixtures, there may be 200 to 300 toilet models that would use replacement flappers.
The other element working against the California Urban Water Conservation Council is the slowness of the consensus standards process. The A112.19.5 task group will probably not finish the flapper durability project until the middle of 2004. Until that work is complete, the committee cannot address a marking system for aftermarket replacement flappers.