MadSci Network: Environment & Ecology

Re: When it is windy, why does the toilet water move?

Date: Thu Apr 4 18:54:29 2002
Posted By: Jason Goodman, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Geosciences, University of Chicago
Area of science: Environment & Ecology
ID: 1017787916.En

I had noticed my toilet water swaying before, but never noticed the connection with the wind. Great observation!

In most homes, the drain system has a vertical pipe which leads to an outlet on the roof. This pipe is called a "vent stack". It allows sewage gases to vent to the air outside your house rather than bubbling up through your sink and toilet (ick!), and allows air to pass through the pipes, which ensures that wastewater drains smoothly.

When the wind blows over your house, the air pressure changes because of the "Bernoulli effect". The Bernoulli effect says that pressure becomes lower when flow is faster. It's this effect that sucks loose objects out the car window when you open it while driving; it also creates the lift that allows an airplane to fly. As the wind blows over your house, the Bernoulli effect lowers the pressure at the top of the vent stack. This creates a slight suction throughout the plumbing system, which pulls against the water sitting in the trap in the toilet bowl. As the wind strengthens and weakens, it produces more or less suction, which causes the water in the bowl to slosh.

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