When you’re forced to sit in pitch darkness, you suddenly realize how much all of us rely on electricity in every aspect of our lives. While it’s true that unexpected power outages can be extremely inconvenient, there’s a good chance that you’ll still be able to at least flush your toilet during one.
The answer to the question in the title isn’t exactly crystal clear, though. As long as the water system in your house does not require electricity to run, you should be able to flush your toilet without any issues. However, a lot of toilets are dependant on a power source to run properly. In this article, I’ll be taking a closer look at both situations.
You Can Flush the Toilet When the Power is Out if…
…You’re Using a Regular Gravity-Flush Toilet
These types of toilets are among the oldest and they don’t require any mechanical assistance in order to function properly. As its name suggests, a gravity-flush toilet uses gravity and the weight of water to eliminate the bowl’s contents.
Once the siphoning action pulls the waste, toilet paper, and toilet water downward, all of these go into the toilet trap. From there, the waste goes into the drain system of your house and finally into the septic tank or the sewer lines.
When you flush a toilet of this type, the lever that is located inside the tank pulls on the lift chain which, in turn, lifts up a component called the flapper. When lifted, the flapper uncovers a valve that’s situated right below it and allows water to flow from the tank into the bowl.
All of this results in a large rush of water that effortlessly forces bowl contents into the toilet trap. No electricity is needed for this to happen, which means that you can flush a toilet of this type even when the power is out.
For more information, read our post about different types of toilet flush systems.
…You’re Using Well Water
Folks who get their water from wells typically don’t experience any immediate flushing issues during a power outage. That’s because households with this kind of water supply typically have large holding tanks.
That being said, your pressure pump and well pump do depend on electricity and will lose power in the case of a blackout. This will result in lower water pressure. However, you should still have enough water in the holding tank to flush your toilet for several days.
And once all of the water is gone, you will still be able to flush your toilet – provided you can get water from elsewhere and that you know how to flush a toilet manually.
…You Live in a Large Community
There’s a very good chance a blackout won’t prevent you from using your toilet if you live in a municipality. The reason behind this is the fact that a lot of municipalities often store water in large tanks. This prevents blackouts from impacting the access to water or affecting water pressure.
You Can’t Flush the Toilet When the Power is Out if…
…You Have an Upflush Toilet
Also known as pressure-assisted toilets, upflush toilets are quite similar to the aforementioned gravity-flush toilets in function and appearance. However, they do differ from them in a couple of different ways.
The most important of these differences is the fact that all waste and water flushed down one of these toilets goes into a pump with a macerator. So, instead of going directly into the plumbing stack, the waste first goes into what is basically garbage disposal, which grinds it up.
In most cases, toilets of this type are more efficient than their traditional, gravity-flush cousins. But, as you can already guess, they cannot function without electricity and are therefore useless during a blackout. The pump with a macerator will stop working the moment the power goes out, preventing you from flushing your toilet.
…You Have an Effluent-Pump Septic System
Photo by SuSanA Secretariat via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
These kinds of pumps are used in situations where the gravity itself is unable to send the waste from the septic system to the treatment system due to this facility being located at a higher elevation.
An effluent pump will not work at all in the case of a blackout. And while this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get a couple of flushes in, doing something like that brings the risk of a septic system overflow. The last thing you need is a sewage backup!
…You Live in an Apartment Building
During a blackout, those living in apartment buildings can completely lose their access to water. The pump that circulates water throughout the apartment building operates on electricity, and will simply stop working in the case of a power outage.
However, it should be pointed out that a blackout cannot really affect the building’s sewage system. So, as long as you manage to get water from another source, you should still be able to flush your toilet without any major issues.
In the end, the answer to the question of whether you’ll be able to flush the toilet during a blackout depends on several different factors – what’s the source of your water supply, where you live, and what kind of toilet you’re using.
In most cases, however, flushing a toilet during a blackout is entirely possible, although this can depend on the amount of water left in the pipework. Once all of it is gone, one has to take a bucket and manually add water – which was obtained from a different source – to a toilet tank.
If you want to avoid all of this, the best course of action would be to install a generator. A standalone power source of this type will allow you to flush your toilet without any problems during a blackout.
However, keep in mind that these things run on gasoline, so it’s crucial to always know the amount of remaining fuel. With no gas to keep it running, your generator won’t be of much help and you’ll have to resort to obtaining water from a different source and using it to flush your toilet manually, as described above.