Power outages are a common phenomenon in many places any time of year, but they are more dreaded during the winter. Toilet and sewer clearance issues are among the many problems power outages bring about, and the question, can you flush the toilet when the power is out? will always be on your mind, even long before the power loss.
Depending on where you live and the type of hot water heater and other systems you have in place, there are different ways to find an answer to your power outage and toilet functionality worries.
Can you flush the toilet when the power is out? The short answer is yes, and the extended version of it is that it depends on the type of toilet you have. While you can flush a gravity-fed or standard toilet even when the power is out, you can’t flush a pump-assisted toilet or an upflush toilet more than once during a power outage.
Other factors that may affect whether or not you can flush a toilet during a short or extended power outage include the waste’s final destination and the kind of place where you live. We will explore all these three factors in this article, so be sure to read to the end.
Toilet Problems Caused by Power Outages
Prolonged power loss leads to two devastating toilet problems in a toilet or sewer system that relies on electricity to function. First, toilet overflow is a common risk if you keep using the toilet. The repeated usage causes waste to pile up, and it can flow over easily.
Secondly, an electric sewer system might have a sewer backup if you continue using the toilet during a power loss by manually filling the toilet tank or pouring water using a bucket.
Even when the toilet flushes, the waste might build up in the sewer since the pump is not working anymore to help clear the mess.
In traditional gravity-fed and electricity-assisted toilets, foul odor is a glaring problem. Waste piles up, and bacteria multiply during repeated toilet usage and toilet overflow or a sewer backup.
Do Toilets Work without Electricity?
A gravity-fed toilet will always refill during a power outage as long as you still have enough water flowing in your tanks. Refilling will only fail if you run out of water in a pump-assisted water supply system, such as drawing water from a well.
The refilling functionality in a conventional toilet is a purely mechanical process that commences after you flush the toilet and drain water out of the toilet tank. The process will always happen if you still have a city water supply and the toilet system is working properly.
An electric toilet won’t refill during a power blackout since it relies on electricity for both refilling and flushing.
Types of Toilets You Can Flush Without Power
As mentioned, you can always flush a gravity-fed toilet during a power outage. The toilet relies on water pressure and gravity to flush the waste into the sewer system, and if the system also relies on gravity, you can keep using your toilet all the time.
The weight and force of the water as it leaves the tanks when you push down the flushing button or lever forces the waste past the toilet U-trap and further down into the gravity-reliant sewer system.
Types of Toilets You Can’t Flush Without Power
If you use a pump-assisted, macerating, or upflush toilet, you will only be able to flush just once during a power outage. These types of toilets require an electric pump to channel water into the sewer system, which is usually uphill until it flows into the other gravity-reliant plumbing.
While you might manage to flush the waste out of the toilet bowl, your joys will only be short-lived as you have to overcome gravity to force the waste out of the system, something you can’t do without the electric pump.
Flushing a Toilet Depending on Water Source and Waste Destination
If your house connects to the municipal water supply and sewer system, you have no cause for alarm about flushing your toilet during an outage.
Municipal water supply and sewer systems are usually gravity-dependent, meaning water is available even during power outages. The sewer system will also work all right throughout any period of short or prolonged power loss.
You can also flush the toilet when the power is out if the waste goes into the septic tank with a downhill or level drain field since the disposal system will be relying on gravity for the water to carry the waste away.
However, a septic tank with an uphill drain field makes it impossible to flush the toilet during a power outage. You must wait until the electricity supply resumes for the pump to work.
Alternatives When You Can’t Flush a Toilet When the Power is Out
Several measures come in useful when you can’t flush a toilet because of a power outage. The method you choose depends on the integrity of your waste disposal system, how long the power loss lasts, and your prior preparedness. Here are a few measures to consider.
Lining the Toilet with A Trash Bag
Although not the best choice due to hygiene and waste disposal problems, you can bypass the toilet flushing problem by improvising using a trash bag lined inside the toilet bowl. The setup is more suitable for solid waste, so you should pee in a different toilet.
After use, you should cover the waste with a sizable layer of sawdust and some bleach before covering the trash bag to keep away foul odor. Disposing of the bag will depend on how well your waste disposal system handles such unpredictable occurrences.
Pour Water Out of a Bucket
Once you are done using the toilet, you can flush down the waste by pouring water out of a bucket into the toilet bowl. However, this only works best for gravity-fed sewer line systems.
Fill the Tank Manually
Filling the toilet tank manually is another viable option. You can fill the tank to the appropriate water level using a pitcher and then flush the toilet the usual way using the flushing lever or button.
Use Your Backup Water Supply or Gray Water
If you have some water stored in rain barrels or spare bathtubs, you can use it for toilet flushing through the manual tank refill or bucket water measures. Gray water from washing clothes or cleaning utensils can also be used for toilet flushing when the power is out.
Bottom Line: Can You Flush without Power?
It’s still possible to flush a toilet when the power is out. It all depends on the type of toilet you use, the type of sewer pipe system, and your home’s water source.
A power loss won’t stop you from using gravity-fed systems, but you’ll be out of luck with pump-assisted toilets and sewer systems.