Can You Flush the Toilet When the Power Is Out?

Power outages are common all year round due to natural occurrences, such as snowstorms, heavy rainfall, and similar other types of disasters. While the lack of electricity might hinder your home’s functionality, the toilet should still remain functional as it’s a mechanical operation instead of an electrical one.

Regular toilets have a gravity-operated flush system that isn’t hindered by a lack of electrical power. When the power is down, the water usually continues to run, and the sewage systems rely on gravity instead of electricity. While this is true for most modern households and city dwellers, there are some cases when toilets are affected during a power outage.

City Dweller Toilets

If your household is connected to a municipal or central water distribution system, you’re most likely safe from power outages. If you receive regular water bills or have a water meter connected to your home, you are probably connected to the central water grid.

Municipal water systems are designed to maintain the water pressure for toilets even in the worst power outages, thanks to central pump stations and water towers. To check if you have water pressure during a power outage, simply flip the tap in your faucet and see whether the water is running. If the water has pressure, your toilet should be operational.

However, there are some exceptions to the rule. People who live in high-rise buildings and skyscrapers will likely be affected by a power outage as these types of buildings most commonly rely on electrical pump systems for water pressure. Many buildings have water reservoirs on the roofs, especially for these kinds of occurrences, but that isn’t always the case. If your home is located on the 20th+ floor, you should treat the power outage as if you were connected to a good system.

Well Water Users

Houses in rural areas or areas that aren’t connected to a central water pressure grid use well water for their water-related needs. Electric pumps or hydrophores draw the water from the well and provide water pressure for your home. When the juice runs out, your water runs out. You’ll be free to flush the toilet with the water that’s stored in the water tank, and with luck, you’ll have enough pressure to fill up another tank, but it will be dramatically slower. After the power runs out, you’ll have no way of getting water going from the well to your pipes.

There are a couple of things you can do to keep your toilet operating in cases like these. The expensive option is to invest in a diesel-powered generator that will keep your water pumps running even if the power is out. These can cost quite a bit, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The cheap method requires you to use the gravity flush maneuver. You just need to have a couple of tanks of water stored somewhere around the house, along with a bucket. After you’ve completed your bowel-related business, fill up a bucket with water and roughly pour it into the toilet. If you don’t have water on hand, simply head down to your well and fill up your bucket for any toilet-related needs.

Some Exceptions

Up to now, we’ve cleared one thing – the toilet will flush when you pour water into it, whether you’re connected to a central grid or have a water well. But that may not work for all toilets.

For most households, the water in the drainage system flows in an uninterrupted downward spiral. You can thank gravity for this. When you pour water down the drain, good ole’ gravity will make it flow into the sewers or into your septic tank.

However, if your toilet is located at a lower altitude than the place where your waste goes, gravity can’t help you. The same is also true if your household’s waste system is below the elevation of the sewer drain or septic tank.

Upflushing Toilets

If you live in a basement-level apartment or have a toilet in the basement, you most likely have an upflush toilet or a macerating toilet. This type of toilet has its own electrical pump to guide sewage to the level that it can later flow down the sewer or to the septic tank.

You can check two things to determine whether you have this kind of toilet. Check if the toilet drain that moves through the base of the toilet stool sticks out out the back horizontally. The second thing to check is to see whether the toilet has a large box next to it that is connected to an outlet. This box houses the electrical pump that pushes the water into the drain level. Sometimes this box and the outlet can be hidden inside a wall for aesthetic reasons.

If these two things check out, then your toilet will not be operational during a power outage. It’s best that you decommission this toilet during the remainder of the power outage and use another one.

Below Grade Waste Systems

Some houses have water systems that are under the height of the sewage path. These kinds of households use effluent pumps to move water. The pumps operate 100% on electricity, and you’ve guessed it – no power, no water to and from the toilet. If you’re a homeowner with this specific setup, having a backup diesel-powered generator is a must unless you want to brave the storm and relieve yourself in a bucket. While the holding tanks are capable of storing enough water for a couple of flushes, using a toilet during a longer power outage might cause sewage to pour from the toilet and onto the bathroom floor.

Preparations for a Power Outage

If you are expecting a natural disaster like an incoming rainstorm, massive snowfall, or something similar, you should put some water aside for emergencies. This applies to both city dwellers and well water users, but well water users should pay closer attention as they are more at risk of toilet failure during a power outage. The water that you use to flush doesn’t have to be drinking water or freshwater, any plain old stored water will work.

You can store water in 5-gallon jugs that you can keep in your shed or pantry. If you don’t have any necessary kit for storage, plain water bottles will do the job. If you don’t have the space, you can simply fill your bathtub with water. Most bathtubs can hold up to 80 gallons of water which should be enough for your needs until the power is back on.

You can also collect outside water if you have a yard. 50-gallon barrels are dirt cheap to buy, and you can use them to collect rainwater. If you have a swimming pool, that water can also come in handy for flushing the toilet.

Another overlooked lifesaver is the water from the water heater. Water heaters can store from 20 to 60 gallons of water and can be easily drained by removing the hose that connects them to the water pipes. Just make sure that you let the water cool before filling your jugs or buckets.

To Wrap It Up

There aren’t any rules for storing water, and these are just a few useful tips that can help you during power outages. If you have your own methods of braving the storm, feel free to use them as you see fit.

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