Imagine that the power goes out while you are using the toilet. Will the toilet flush?
I know you can’t stomach an “if” right now, but you’ll have to. Because your toilet will only flush IF you have the right type of water system in your home. Luckily, a lot of people do – for those, the answer is yes! But there are some exceptions.
If you have a gravity-fed system, the flush will work without power.
However, there are buildings where a pumping system is used to regulate the water flow. In this case, the flush may not work.
Don’t put your phone down just yet! Time to find out how the various systems work before you press that flush button.
Types of Toilet Systems (& How They May Affect Flushing)
Basically, the type of system you use in your home will decide if you can flush the toilet. Let’s discuss the main types.
A Gravity-Operated System
In this system, the toilets work through a gravity-fed system that doesn’t need any power to operate.
These systems have an overhead water tank that acts as a reservoir. The stored water in the tank flows down during the flushing action into the toilet.
The natural force of gravity pushes this water down through the wastewater pipelines into the sewer system or the septic tank. Then the tank gets refilled again automatically.
However, this system may not work in some scenarios.
- The overhead tank is generally filled by a pump. When the pump isn’t working and the tank is empty, water will not flow. So the flush will not work. That said, if you have a backup power supply like a generator, the pump will work.
- During extremely cold conditions, especially during winter storms, the system can freeze. This will prevent water from flowing through the pipes.
Some homes use a gravity-operated flush but a pump-based waste disposal system. The wastewater is stored in a tank and then pumped into the public sewer system.
Since this pump is operated by electricity, the tank will not be emptied unless there is a power supply. As a result, it might overflow after a period of flushing. Or else, there might be a backflow of waste material if you keep flushing.
Such systems usually have a gauge that indicates whether you can use the flush or not.
Also, if you are using a composting toilet, you need not depend on electricity for it to operate.
Unlike traditional toilets, upflush toilets flush the water upwards through a pipe against gravity.
The main component in the system is a macerator grinder pump. This pump grinds the solid waste into a slurry and discharges it into the sewer system.
When the toilet is flushed the water flows down from the tank and the water level rises. Then the pump starts operating automatically. Once the wastes are discharged, the system is ready to operate again.
Since an upflush toilet is dependent on electricity, it won’t flush when there’s a power outage.
Can You Use Water or Shower When the Power Is Out?
Again, it depends on the type of water supply system you have at home.
If you depend on a well for water supply, the system will need a pump for water delivery. In that case, a tankless system will not function without electricity.
However, the pump may deliver the water to a tank or a reservoir that supplies water through a gravity-operated system. As long as the tank has a reserve, you will be able to use the shower.
So, the water supply will depend on the length of the power outage and the tank capacity.
If your water supply is from a municipal or city water system, you are in luck. These systems are operated by pumps which usually have a backup power supply to keep running when the power is out.
Another factor is the height above ground level you live in. Many high-rise buildings need additional pressure above that supplied by the water tower to lift the water. Since this comes from a pump system dependent on electricity, it will not function during an outage.
Note, traditional water heaters depend on electricity. So you won’t get a hot water supply unless there is some hot water left in the tank.
You can also draw hot water from a heater directly by opening the drain valve at the bottom of the hot water tank. But make sure that the water is not scalding hot. Generally, the water stays warm for 2 – 3 hours in tank-style water heaters.
On the other hand, gas-powered water heaters do not depend on electricity.
What to Do If You Can’t Flush Your Toilet?
In many areas, prolonged power outages come with a warning. That means you can store water for use in the bathroom and kitchen.
One way is to fill your bathtub with water and use it for other needs. You can also buy water for use during the outage.
When the water supply is not working, you can manually add some water to the tank to keep flushing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does plumbing still work when the power goes out?
If the supply is based on a gravity-fed system, the plumbing will still work during a power outage. However, if the toilet relies on a pump, it won’t work. Typically, residents of bigger communities who live in houses (and not high-rise buildings) will be able to normally use water during power outage.
Can you take a warm shower with no power?
Standard electrical heating systems will not work without power. Even so, you can use the hot water stored in the tank for a few hours. If you turn off the water supply valve, your hot water could even last for days!
Is it safe to take a shower during a power outage?
Taking a shower during a power outage is totally safe. That said, make sure to use a flashlight to see in the darkness. And just to be 100% safe, turn off the heater! If power suddenly comes back, there could be a surge, which is potentially dangerous both for appliances and yourself.