View Full Version : Multiple issues-need advice

08-24-2012, 10:27 AM
Here's the situation:

1. Uninsulated summer cabin on lake in northern NY. Occupied up to six weeks a year in July-August, on average four to six people at a time. Bathroom about 5'x6', with stall shower, toilet and small sink, small window, no fan, low ceiling. Well water, septic system. Licensed plumber inspects, turns water on/off each year.
2. Current toilet is 30-odd year old American Standard 3.5gpf (don't have model #s) standard, round bowl, 12-inch rough, 27 1/2 inch depth. Operates reasonably well, with occasional plunging. However, when tank water is still for a week or more during hot weather, mold and other slime develops rapidly, interfering with flapper/value seal if not cleared out. No other signs of tank leaks.
3. Current toilet tank sweats considerably during hottest days, moderately during normal (75 degrees, moderate humidity) days, assuming about 20 or more flushes per day. Sweating addressed with hanging tray system below tank, but about half condensed water probably reaches the floor. Leaking water seems to be attracting ants.
4. Septic system is about same age, with about a 60-foot run and only about a five-foot drop, mostly at end nearest septic tank. Not sure of tank capacity, but fills after 2-3 weeks steady use by 5-6 people, and requires pumping out about every third year.
5. Hot water tank is back-to-back with toilet in adjacent room, through an uninsulated wall. But direct water valve to toilet is just above floor level, requiring extension/replacement of supply line to add mixing valve.
6. Will be removing toilet and flooring below it soon to inspect/treat ant problem. Will make any toilet-related changes then.

Major options under consideration:
1. Keep current toilet, connect hot water supply via mixing valve. Shut off supply, drain tank when unoccupied.
2. Replace toilet with Gerber Viper standard 1.6gpf, trusting in water mixing to address sweating issue, benefiting from reduced fill rate for septic tank but risking more backups over long run to tank.
3. Replace current toilet with Gerber Viper 1.6gpf insulated tank model, reducing sweating but possibly worsening mold-slime problem, cleanup on a Styrofoam surface.

Plumber recommends Viper with insulated tank. Nearby plumbing supply house recommends standard tank Viper, or existing toilet with mixing valve. Advice?

08-24-2012, 12:20 PM
Your options are plainly to mix the water with the hot to prevent sweating, or get an insulated tank. At 1.6gpf, you shouldn't be concerned about backups. Cold water discourages mold; warm water is where it breeds, so using a mixing valve is going to enhance your mold problem rather than retard it, but probably not immensely so.

Maybe your plumber likes the Viper, but here we like the Toto Drake. It's available through many suppliers (and online) for $200-ish. Maybe $25-ish more for the insulated tank. I'm talking about in white; colors cost more.

CST744SD is the model number for the elongated bowl with the insulated tank. [pump that in google to see what I'm talking about.] CST744S for the 1.6gpf model or CST744E for the 1.28 gpf watersense-approved model, both without insulated tank.

Look at the reviews above regarding the Drake (not Drake II, that's probably more $$ than you want for this application) [click on green "Toilet Reviews" box above]. It's the best-flushing gravity toilet out there in its price range, it's a premium product with high-quality china and a low defect rate, and simple, American-made Korky-brand parts are readily available now and into the future so when they wear out you can fix it with parts available at Lowe's or the local hardware store.

Changing the toilet should help substantially with your septic tank filling.

Query: do you have good water pressure? Do you have a lot of grit in the water? These things can affect the toilet's fill performance, so I just wanted to be sure.

Come back with questions, comments, and your report.

PS Obviously a bleach-based in-tank bowl cleaner will eliminate your slime problem. but it will destroy the flapper and other rubber parts of your toilet, so it's a conundrum. All warranties are voided by in-tank bowl-cleaners. So, assuming you need a methodology that doesn't involve bowl cleaner: Have the plumber give you a quarter-turn ball stop on your toilet water supply if you don't have one already, and get yourself one of those piston-like toilet tank water-suckers (look up "Last Drop Suction Gun" online and you'll see what I mean; you can get it for about $20; amazon has it from some dufus for $120; don't do that.). That way, when you leave for the week, quick 1/4-turn of the stop valve on the water supply, flush the toilet, use the piston thingy to suck remaining water out of tank, leave lid off, and it should be in good shape when you return. (Or, if you're of a different mindset, buy the Drake, get yourself a supply of 4 or 5 Korky "Fits Toto" Flappers at Lowes for $10 each and keep them in the drawer at the house, along with at least one Korky 528MPK Max Performance fill valve from Lowe's, and maybe a couple of good tank-to-bowl washers, and use the bleach tabs to your heart's content, just replacing the flapper when it starts leaking... Of course, because the flapper WILL start to leak with this setup, you probably want to kill the water at the toilet when you leave for the week so you don't have a runaway toilet between visits. By the way, this isn't a completely-insane idea; there was a recent post I read from someone who decided that they couldn't live without bleach-based bowl cleaner and bought a supply of the Korky flappers because it's the most-resistant to chlorine, and she just replaces the flapper as needed. She may be less happy when it comes time to replace the flush-valve gasket and/or the tank-to-bowl washers, because those involve removing the tank...)

PPS Gary, who is a real expert, makes a good point below about low-flow toilets being very resistant to sweating. The reason that I'm thinking you are probably one of those who actually might need an insulated tank or mixing valve is that I am imagining a group of people doing activities together, returning to the vacation cabin together, and lining up to use the bathroom one after the other, maybe flushing a couple of times each. In other words, maybe ten flushes in a half-hour. If your tank is sweating so much now that you need a system to catch the drips, I'm thinking that there's a lot of moisture in the air and that your usage patterns plus very cold well-water may combine, even with a low-flow, to cause the tank to sweat.

Gary Swart
08-24-2012, 03:06 PM
The reason you get condensation (sweating) is that when you flush the present water hog toilet, it empties the entire tank of 3.5 gallons of water. Therefore, 3.5 gallons of fresh cold water comes in to refill the tank. A low flow toilet has about the same amount of water in the tank, but only uses 1.6 or some even only 1.28 gallon per flush, leaving the tank about half full of water that is at or near room temperature. The incoming refill water, 1.6, mixes with this tempered water. This means condensation is largely or completely eliminated so an insulated tank or tempering valve is pretty much unnecessary.

As pointed out, a Toto Drake would be a far better toilet than the Gerber.

08-24-2012, 06:09 PM
Six people, one toilet, cold well water, no a/c, whether it is insulatd or not, you'll probably get condensation unless you add a mixing valve to temper the water So, given that, I'd go with a better low-flow toilet. And, to help extend the life of the septic system, I'd probably go with a 1.28g flush toilet rather than the 1.6. Toto has announced a new 1.0g flush version, but not certain when it will become actually avalable on the market. As said, the newer toilets do not empty the tank, thus mixing the somewhat tempered water with the colder incoming water. But, if it is flushed often enough with little time in between, it will still get cold enough to condense, insulation or not. The insulation only slows heat transfer, not stop it. (subtle difference in concept - there is no such thing as cold, only absence of heat - the isulation slows the migration of heat into the tank, not stop the cold from getting out! If the water absorbs more heat than the air can transfer to the tank, then the tank will get colder).

08-24-2012, 07:55 PM
Jim, the poster is also concerned about the relatively-flat slope of his main waste pipe and whether low-flow will cause waste backup. I know Terry has said that generally-speaking this is an unnecessary concern, but I'm wondering about this poster's particular situation with less than 1.6gpf.

08-25-2012, 07:20 AM
Jim, the poster is also concerned about the relatively-flat slope of his main waste pipe and whether low-flow will cause waste backup. I know Terry has said that generally-speaking this is an unnecessary concern, but I'm wondering about this poster's particular situation with less than 1.6gpf.

Wj, you're exactly right.
I am very concerned that less gpf will cause backup problems in the waste line that will be far worse than the benefits of less water use and lesser fill rate for septic tank. I'm assuming that gpf rate is reduced by the presence of the insulation, meaning that a standard 1.6 gpf tank with insulation would actually be 1.2 or less. After a drop of maybe two feet from the toilet into the ground, the slope of the pipe is close to zero for the next 30 feet or so. That's a bigger concern than the sweating and slime, and large trees and rock make it impractical to re-route the pipe.

Curious about recommendations to use bleach to combat tank sludge. Thought that was verboten in septic systems. We even avoid using chlorine-based cleaners in sink, shower, etc. Also worried about the effect of any tank cleaner product on durability of the Styrofoam in insulated tank.

Understand your collective views about Drake vs. Viper. I recognize that a one-toilet situation in remote area means reliability is important, but plumber is a vet with lots of experience with summer cabins in the area, and he says he is very happy with Viper, and the local supply house that handles both brands agrees. Will defer to local preference if I replace.

Re tank sweating, I have read all other posts here on this topic, and understand the thermo effect means some sweating is inevitable. We have dealt with this for years, and main reason to address now is that drips are getting into flooring and seem to be attracting carpenter ants. Whatever else we opt to do, will probably add some sort of skirting around toilet, in addition to catch-tray.

Finally, while I'm OK with draining tank between visits, we do have visitors who won't wish to deal with a complicated procedure. Probably shutting off water supply and flushing is as far as they will go. Will newer 1.6 gpfs empty all the way down to flush valve opening simply by holding the lever down? Would insulation in bottom of tank mean that that insulated models would drain more completely that way?

Thanks again. Very helpful.

08-25-2012, 08:49 AM
Query: do you have good water pressure? Do you have a lot of grit in the water? These things can affect the toilet's fill performance, so I just wanted to be sure.

Sorry, missed this one the first time.
Water pressure is OK, I believe around 30 psi, but certainly enough to fill the tank reasonably quickly after a flush. When cleaning the tank, don't notice grit, although it could be suspended in the mold/slime and not that noticeable.

08-25-2012, 10:27 AM
So...the "Viper" works better in the mountain air than it does anywhere else?

So...that the plumber is happy with the toilet (and his profit on it) means...anything? What do his customers tell you? Bet you haven't spoken to any.

I let my family plumber talk us into a beautiful and horrible-functioning Kohler low-flow that I ultimately ripped out and replaced with a Toto following the advice here. Wish I had known about this place sooner.

If you are concerned about how guests are going to react, that's all the more reason to buy a toilet that everyone loves, not just your plumber.

As to your other questions: A 1.6gpf toilet with an insulated tank uses 1.6gpf in the flush. Just uses a higher percentage of the water in the tank than in an uninsulated tank.

I'm not saying that you should use chlorine bowl cleaner; I'm actually saying you probably should not. Just giving you options if the mold/slime is really bad. It is an option, however, that will cause all sorts of collateral damage and reduce the service life of your toilet's moving parts (and maybe insulation). As to the septic tank, if it's a normal septic tank that empties the processed water into a leaching field or other area, how long it takes to fill really isn't an issue; our septic tank only "fills" after we pump it, then stays full for years thereafter, and as new waste comes in, processed effluent comes out. Our tank was recently evaluated by an engineer for the city, and received an A+ on its design and operation. I say this because we are absolutely indiscriminate about the use of bleach; I think our cleaning person uses a bottle a week doing laundry, and the tank is fine. I think people get too paranoid from all those Rid-X commercials about the need not to harm the digestive bacteria. I saw a piece from the EPA or some such at one point which said that like half a poo was more than enough bacteria to get the digestive action going in a septic tank; it doesn't take much. As to whether a few cups of bleach could kill all the bacteria in the tank and interfere with its operation, ask yourself this: Would I stick my feet in the "clean" side of the tank after pouring in a few cups of bleach, on the basis that that killed all the bacteria? Of course not. People less practical and more paranoid than I may tell you something different, but there's a difference between "best practice" and "practical".

New toilets will drain to the lip of the flush valve if you hold the lever down. That leaves a couple of cups of water in the bottom, because the flush valve lip isn't flush with the bottom of the tank.

08-25-2012, 03:21 PM
It's a rare situation where the waste goes all the way to it's destination with one flush, regardless of the amount of water. It's the running of the sink, washing machine, shower, etc. with continuous flows that tend to clean it out, not the individual flush. Each time it gets flushed, things move a little further along.

As long as the drain pipe has at least some slope, it should be okay. The 1/4" per foot becomes more of an issue with smaller pipe. WHen you get up to 4" and larger, less often will work. Shit doesn't flow uphill, though!

08-25-2012, 04:29 PM
You know, I looked back at the original poster's description of his waste line and I have to say I bought the word "only" without thinking about it much. He has a 60-foot run and a 5-foot drop, or one inch per foot. That's practically a water-slide. Typical grade is 2%, or 1/4" per foot. That would give you a 15-inch drop. The original poster has a 5-foot drop, or 8.3% slope over 60 feet. He shouldn't have any kind of backup problem whatsoever with his waste, even with a 1.0gpf toilet and moderate sink and shower usage.

Selfham: how do you do dishes and laundry? Do you have an indoor shower? Without them, no biggie. With them, you're golden on the eco-ist of eco-toilets.

I know you said that most of the drop is nearest the septic tank, but even if 3-3/4-feet of it is in the last few feet, you've still got a better-than 2% grade, so you're fine..

And I did a little more research on this bleach stuff, so here goes:

(1) Household bleach contains no free chlorine; it's sodium hypochlorite, which means that most of it breaks down pretty quickly into salt and water, and the rest is processed out in your septic tank. Just an interesting fact.

(2) The little actual scientific research out there (other than the entreaties by folks who are trying to sell you on buying their bacteria products) indicates that to even begin a die-off of bacteria, you would have to add about 2 gallons of household bleach at once into the septic tank, and let it sit, with no inflow and outflow for an extended period. Most people never apply a shock like this to their tank.

(3) In-tank bowl cleaners, even according to Clorox, should never be used in a toilet that is not being flushed regularly, because the bleach concentrations will be too high. Clorox figures on 10 flushes per day, every day.

But this all gave me an idea about your slime problem. Bleach is a highly-effective anti-mold and antibacterial product. Why not just, say, once a month, put the recommended sanitizing amount of bleach in your toilet (to make a solution to kill bacteria and mold on surfaces, like they do in hospitals, the proper concentration of regular-strength household bleach is 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, or 3.5 tbs for your 3.5 gal toilet). Let it sit for five minutes, maybe agitate it so it gets on all the slimy surfaces, then flush. Can't say it won't attack your flapper, most likely it will to some degree. But you're not using it to clean the bowl; you're just killing off the slime. and so you probably don't need to do it more than very occasionally. Maybe a good compromise. And 3.5 tbs is emphatically not going to harm your septic tank, unless it's a 50-gallon drum.

Hope this helps.

PS Here's our thread on the Viper. http://www.terrylove.com/forums/showthread.php?18024-Gerber-Viper Looks like a 2" flush valve. That's not going to impress you.

08-25-2012, 08:49 PM
Selfham: how do you do dishes and laundry? Do you have an indoor shower? Without them, no biggie. With them, you're golden on the eco-ist of eco-toilets. I know you said that most of the drop is nearest the septic tank, but even if 3-3/4-feet of it is in the last few feet, you've still got a better-than 2% grade, so you're fine.

This is a pretty spartan vacation cabin. No dishwasher, washing machine, etc. Just kitchen sink plus toilet, shower and very small bathroom sink. Shower rarely used with lake nearby. Use lots of disposable plates, cups to minimize dishwashing. I would guess that water usage is 60% toilet, 30% kitchen sink, 10% shower/bathroom sink.
Re the septic run, I asked the guy who put it in for more info. He said the run was one of the worst he has installed in the area, and is actually slightly uphill in one section, due to a large hemlock tree. Says he thinks he used 6" diameter pipe for that reason. He thinks a 1.6 gpf toilet would still work, but he also said "Hang on to the old one. This is a crap-shoot.":)

08-25-2012, 09:04 PM
Fascinating. Here's a little secret. If you get the Toto Drake, you can swap the flapper for the Korky blue "Fits Toto" flapper that is supposed to be used in their older Power Gravity toilets. BLUE Korky Fits Toto Flapper (http://korky.com/Flapper2022BP.html) That flapper drains more water from the tank. (It floats more.) Using it, you will lose about 2/3-3/4 of the tank volume in the Drake. It turns the Drake flush into a complete monster; it would probably swallow a tree branch. I did the experiment with one of my Drakes, just to see, and I was freakin' amazed how what was already a hugely-powerful flush just demolished as much Charmin Ultra as I could fit in the bowl. I used it for a while because it eliminated the need to even think about dividing the session into two flushes. However, I felt guilty about the water use, and it bothered me to see the extra water just float through the bowl on refill, so I swapped back to the red flapper in a couple of days. But I wanted to know personally how it really worked since we talk about it very occasionally on here. (Of course, if you do this you lose the "sweating" benefit of a low-flow, but I think you were hosed on that anyway.) In any event, maybe the safest bet is a new uninsulated Drake and a mixing valve, with the blue flapper in a drawer.

08-25-2012, 09:15 PM
But this all gave me an idea about your slime problem. Bleach is a highly-effective anti-mold and antibacterial product.

"Anti-bacterial" comment got me thinking...
Wondering whether any manufacturers apply the same anti-bacterial finish to the inside of their tanks as the do to the bowls, or whether there is an after-market spray product that would have the same effect? Seems that slime/mold would be less of a problem if it didn't have surfaces to easily adhere to and breed from inside tank. And, that Styrofoam would be significantly worse in that respect than standard porcelain tank? All of these factors starting to make a mixing valve with existing unit (plus shutting off supply/draining tank when unoccupied) sound a lot more attractive...

Again, thanks for input. This is not a simple situation, I know, and whatever we do will have pluses and minuses.

08-25-2012, 10:03 PM
I don't think the difference in flush volume will make any difference in whether the pipes clog with your pipe situation. I'd go for a toilet that at least didn't clog or require a second flush to clear it and see what happens. if I had problems then, I'd consider changing the flapper valve. A plumber can't do that, and you shouldn't, as it would negate the federal rules on flush volume, but you do what you have to do. If you haven't had problems in the past, you probably won't with a new toilet and a lower flush volume.

08-25-2012, 10:42 PM
Jim -- some plumbers don't care, as evidenced by the following. I used the restroom in my doctor's office the other day. Kohler 1.6 gpf bowl, 2-piece toilet. Flush. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle, flow, flow, flow, emptied the whole tank, albeit slowly; pathetic flush, but lots of water used. Curious, I pulled the lid. New generic drain-to-the-bottom flush valve and flapper, and new "PRO ONLY" Pro45 Fluidmaster 400A with the red cap. The plumber apparently just responded to what doubtless were complaints about the poor 1.6gpf Kohler flush, and set it up to dump the whole tank in the bowl. I thought of telling my doctor just to get a Drake, but it was a little challenging to figure out how to tell the story without sounding crazy. So I punted. But what a sad way for the plumber to "fix" the problem; for what it probably cost to do that, he could have just told the doctor that the most-cost-effective thing to do would just be to swap the toilet for one that works. Probably the same plumber that reversed the hot/cold on the guy's $1300 faucet in the other thread. (Did you SEE that marble? That was a pricey renovation. But, hey, $50K doesn't buy you faucets in the right location. At least not in NYC, I guess.)