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Publication numberUS20030154542 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/349,704
Publication dateAug 21, 2003
Filing dateJan 23, 2003
Priority dateFeb 20, 2002
Publication number10349704, 349704, US 2003/0154542 A1, US 2003/154542 A1, US 20030154542 A1, US 20030154542A1, US 2003154542 A1, US 2003154542A1, US-A1-20030154542, US-A1-2003154542, US2003/0154542A1, US2003/154542A1, US20030154542 A1, US20030154542A1, US2003154542 A1, US2003154542A1
InventorsMichael Goda
Original AssigneeGoda Michael A.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Toilet tank water level alarm
US 20030154542 A1
Abstract
The present invention relates to plumbing for toilet tanks, and more specifically provides an alarm system for indicating a failure mode in a toilet tank's operation. One preferred embodiment of the present invention utilizes a floating magnet and sensors positioned near the top and bottom of the tank which activate an alarm when the magnet becomes sufficiently close to either sensor. The alarm can be audible or visual. In other preferred embodiments, the alarm closes the tank inlet valve or the tank exit valve to control normal operations, or to correct malfunctions.
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Claims(39)
What is claimed is:
1. A fluid level monitor for a tank, comprising:
a buoyant element wherein said buoyant element is located within the tank;
a first sensing device external to the tank wherein said first sensing device is operable to detect said buoyant element when said buoyant element is in a first predetermined location; and
an alarm associated with said first sensing device wherein said alarm is actuated after said first sensing device detects said buoyant element.
2. The invention of claim 1 wherein said buoyant element is magnetic.
3. The invention of claim 2 wherein said alarm emits an audible signal.
4. The invention of claim 2 wherein said alarm emits a visual signal.
5. The invention of claim 2 further comprising:
a fluid transport member wherein said fluid transport member is in fluid communication with the tank, and actuation of said alarm arrests the flow of fluid through the fluid transport member.
6. The invention of claim 2 further comprising:
a second sensing device external to the tank wherein said second sensing device is operable to detect said buoyant element when said buoyant element is in a second predetermined location; and,
said alarm is actuated after said second sensing device detects said buoyant element.
7. The invention of claim 6 further comprising:
a guide member associated with said buoyant element defining a guide path within the tank wherein said buoyant element is confined to movement along said guide path.
8. The invention of claim 7 further comprising:
a mounting member wherein said guide member and said first and second sensing devices are mountable to said mounting member, and said mounting member is disposed on said toilet.
9. The invention of claim 7 wherein
said first predetermined location is near the top of the tank and said second predetermined location is near the bottom of the tank.
10. The invention of claim 7 further comprising:
an energy source coupled to said first and second sensing devices and coupled to said alarm wherein said energy source supplies power to said alarm.
11. The invention of claim 7 further comprising:
a timer associated with said alarm wherein said timer causes a time delay between said first sensing device detecting said buoyant element and actuation of said alarm.
12. The invention of claim 11 wherein
said timer causes a time delay between said second sensing device detecting said buoyant element and actuation of said alarm.
13. A method, comprising:
floating a detectable element within a toilet tank reservoir;
sensing a first position of the detectable element from outside the tank using a first sensor, wherein said first position is a zone proximate to the first sensor wherein an undisturbed state of the first sensor is altered and exceeds a threshold of detection when the buoyant element is disposed in the zone; and
actuating an alarm after said sensing the first position of the detectable element.
14. The method of claim 13 wherein the detectable element is magnetic.
15. The method of claim 14 further comprising:
sending at least one signal from the sensor to the alarm.
16. The method of claim 14 wherein said actuation is accomplished by transmitting an audible signal from the alarm.
17. The method of claim 14 wherein said actuation is accomplished by transmitting a visual signal from the alarm.
18. The method of claim 14 further comprising:
transporting fluid into the toilet tank reservoir; and
arresting the flow of fluid into the toilet tank reservoir after actuation of the alarm.
19. The method of claim 14 further comprising:
transporting fluid from the toilet tank reservoir; and
arresting the flow of fluid from the toilet tank reservoir after actuation of the alarm.
20. The method of claim 14 further comprising:
sensing a second position of the detectable element from outside the tank using a second sensor, wherein said second position is a zone proximate to the second sensor wherein an undisturbed state of the second sensor is altered and exceeds a threshold of detection when the buoyant element is disposed in the zone.
21. The method of claim 20 wherein
said first position is located near the top of the toilet tank reservoir and the second position is located near the bottom of the toilet tank reservoir.
22. The method of claim 21, further comprising:
constraining the movement of the detectable element along a predetermined path; and,
powering the proximity sensors and the alarm.
23. The method of claim 20 further comprising:
sending at least one signal from at least one of said two or more sensors to the alarm when said detectable element is sensed in the first or second position.
24. The method of claim 14, further comprising:
constraining the movement of the detectable element along a predetermined path.
25. The method of claim 14, further comprising:
delaying said actuating of the alarm after sensing the position of the detectable element.
26. An apparatus, comprising:
a toilet tank reservoir;
a buoyant member within said toilet tank reservoir;
an alarm outside said toilet tank reservoir; and
a means for sensing a first position of said buoyant member from outside the tank when said buoyant member is disposed within an appropriate zone relative to a first sensor wherein said sensing results in actuation of said alarm.
27. The apparatus of claim 26 wherein said buoyant member is magnetic.
28. The apparatus of claim 27, and,
a fluid supply member connected to and transporting fluid to said toilet tank reservoir wherein the transportation of fluid to said toilet tank reservoir is selectively arrested by actuation of said alarm.
29. The apparatus of claim 27, and,
a fluid extraction member connected to and transporting fluid from said toilet tank reservoir wherein the transportation of fluid from said toilet tank reservoir is selectively arrested by actuation of said alarm.
30. The apparatus of claim 28 further comprising:
a timer associated with said alarm wherein said timer causes a time delay between said sensing and the arresting of the flow of fluid to said toilet tank.
31. The apparatus of claim 29 further comprising:
a timer associated with said alarm wherein said timer causes a time delay between said sensing and the arresting of the flow of fluid to said toilet tank.
32. The apparatus of claim 27, wherein,
said alarm emits an audible signal after said first position of said buoyant magnetic member is sensed.
33. The apparatus of claim 32 further comprising:
a timer associated with said alarm wherein said timer causes a time delay between said sensing of said first position of said buoyant member and actuating said alarm.
34. The apparatus of claim 32 further comprising:
a timer associated with said alarm wherein said timer causes a time delay between an absence of said sensing of said first position of said buoyant member and actuating said alarm.
35. The apparatus of claim 33 further comprising:
a means for sensing a second position of said buoyant magnetic member from outside the tank wherein said sensing results in actuation of said alarm.
36. The apparatus of claim 27 wherein,
said actuation device emits a visual signal after said first position of said buoyant magnetic member is sensed.
37. The apparatus of claim 36 further comprising:
a timer associated with said alarm wherein said timer causes a time delay between said sensing of said first position of said buoyant member and actuating said alarm.
38. The apparatus of claim 36 further comprising:
a means for sensing a second position of said buoyant magnetic member from outside the tank wherein said sensing results in actuation of said alarm.
39. A fluid level monitor for a toilet tank, comprising:
a buoyant magnetic element wherein said buoyant magnetic element is located within the tank;
a guide member defining a guide path within the tank wherein said buoyant magnetic element is associated with said guide member and said buoyant magnetic element moves along said guide path as the fluid level changes;
a first sensing device external to the tank wherein said first sensing device detects said buoyant magnetic element when said buoyant magnetic element is in a first position; and
a second sensing device external to the tank wherein said second sensing device detects said buoyant magnetic element when said buoyant magnetic element is in a second position; and
an alarm wherein said alarm is actuated after said first sensing device detects said buoyant magnetic element in said first position or said second sensing device detects said buoyant magnetic element in said second position.
Description

[0001] This application claims priority to and incorporates by reference U.S. Provisional Application Serial No. 60/358,108 filed Feb. 21, 2002.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0002] The present invention relates to plumbing for toilet tanks, and more specifically provides an alarm system that detects and indicates a failure mode in a toilet's operation while minimizing the alarm's exposure to water and associated corrosion.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0003] In many standard toilet systems, a water reservoir, or tank, is mounted adjacent to and above the bowl. When the toilet is flushed, an exit valve at the bottom of the tank is opened, allowing water from the reservoir to flow into the bowl. While the water level decreases, an inlet valve is opened and replacement water is allowed to flow into the holding tank at a rate typically slower than the rate at which water is exiting the tank. The water leaving the tank enters the bowl, causing the water level in the bowl to increase, which, in turn, causes the water in the bowl to flow over a inverted-U in the bowl exit pipe and drain to the sewer. After the correct amount of water has exited the toilet tank, the exit valve closes stopping the water outflow and the replacement water fills the reservoir. Once the water level in the reservoir has reached a sufficient height, the water inlet valve is closed stopping the inflow of water into the reservoir.

[0004] During normal operation, the valves operate and the water flow begins and ends automatically. However, a failure condition can occur when either the tank exit or inlet valves fail to close properly. If the tank exit valve fails to close correctly, water can continue to flow out of the tank indefinitely until it is noticed and fixed. This can lead to a significant waste of water if not noticed quickly. If this failure occurs when the bowl exit pipe is blocked, the water continuously entering the bowl will cause the bowl to overflow. Another failure occurs if the tank inlet valve fails to close while the tank exit valve closes properly. In this situation, the water level in the tank will cause the tank to overflow, flooding the surrounding area. This can cause significant damage and also waste water if not noticed.

[0005] Some prior art designs have attempted to address these problems, but have required complex mechanical assemblies and/or electrical systems. Prior electrical systems, such as disclosed in Kirby, U.S. Pat. No. 3,984,877, have including electrical components within the tank, subjecting the pieces to water damage and the risk of rust or a short-circuit. Other systems have placed water sensors on the outside of the tank and bowl, but these systems react only after flooding has occurred and, furthermore, do not detect conditions where there is no obstruction in the exit pipe from the bowl. Examples of these systems are Quintana, U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,367,096, 6,178,569, and 6,058,519, and Mankin, U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,052,841 and 5,940,899. Yet other systems disclose annunciators designed to train people in toilet etiquette, such as Maehre, U.S. Pat. No. 6,028,520, but do not provide any warnings for toilet malfunctions.

[0006] Accordingly, there is a need for a reliable and easily installed system to provide a warning of a toilet failure. The present invention addresses these concerns and others.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0007] Preferred embodiments of the present invention provide a system that is mounted to a toilet tank reservoir that triggers an alarm if a malfunction occurs in either the toilet tank exit or inlet valves. Alternate preferred embodiments and features provide for an alarm that actuates valves to correct a toilet malfunction, while still other preferred embodiments provide for a system that can control the normal operations of the toilet.

[0008] In one preferred embodiment, a buoyant magnetic device floats near the top of the water level in the toilet tank and sensors mounted externally to the tank detect various positions of the buoyant device as the water level increases and decreases. A guide member is used to hold the buoyant device near the side of the tank where the sensors are mounted. The sensors are typically mounted above the normal high water level and below the normal low water level such that they will not be activated by the proximity of the buoyant device unless a malfunction has occurred. Once an unusual water level has been detected by the sensors, an alarm is activated alerting people to the malfunction.

[0009] In an alternate preferred embodiment, when the sensors detect an abnormal water level in the tank, valves are automatically operated to correct the malfunction. In still other preferred embodiments, normal operation of the toilet tank inlet and exit valves are controlled by the sensors and the buoyant magnetic device.

[0010] It is one preferred object of the present invention to provide an easily installed system that activates an alarm after a toilet malfunction is detected. It is an alternate preferred object of the present invention to provide a system that can correct a toilet malfunction or control the normal operations of a toilet.

[0011] Other objects and advantages of preferred embodiments of the present invention shall be apparent from the accompanying drawings and description.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012]FIG. 1 is a perspective cut-away view of a toilet reservoir tank with a preferred embodiment of the present invention installed.

[0013]FIG. 2 is a cut-away view of a preferred embodiment of the present invention.

[0014]FIG. 3 is a perspective cut-away view of a toilet reservoir tank with an alternate preferred embodiment of the present invention installed.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0015] For the purposes of promoting an understanding of the principles of the invention, reference will now be made to the embodiments illustrated and specific language will be used to describe the same. It will nevertheless be understood that no limitation of the scope of the invention is thereby intended, such alterations, modifications, and further applications of the principles of the invention being contemplated as would normally occur to one skilled in the art to which the invention relates.

[0016] A common toilet design is one that utilizes a water tank to accumulate water before flushing. When a flush cycle is initiated, the tank exit valve is opened, allowing water to flow from the tank to the toilet bowl and across an inverted-U in the exit pipe from the bowl. When the water level in the tank depletes to a predetermined level, a tank inlet valve is opened to allow replacement water to fill the tank. When the water level in the tank depletes to a second preset level, the tank exit valve closes, allowing replacement water flowing through the open tank inlet valve to fill the water tank. When the water level in the tank increases to another preset level, the tank inlet valve is closed, stopping the flow of replacement water into the tank.

[0017] In preferred embodiments of the present invention, an alarm is provided that actuates when a malfunction has occurred in the normal flushing cycle of a toilet. The definition of alarm is intended to include a variety of actuation devices, such as audible signals, visual signals, and automatically actuated valves. In one preferred embodiment, actuation of the alarm results in the transmission of visual and/or audible signals to alert people of the malfunction. In another preferred embodiment, actuation of the alarm results in the actuation of tank inlet and/or exit valves to automatically stop the intake of water into the tank, or the exit of water from the tank, when a malfunction is detected. In a preferred feature, the present invention indicates a malfunction with a magnetically triggered switch which actuates the alarm. Still other preferred embodiments incorporate a timer whereby the alarm, or automatic shutoff, occurs a specified time after the invention detects a particular toilet condition, such as when the water is mostly emptied from the tank.

[0018] Illustrated in FIGS. 1 and 2 is a preferred embodiment of the present invention within a toilet tank. The apparatus includes a guide cylinder 11 having a length designed to be vertically oriented within the tank. Guide cylinder 11 is designed to be set with one end a short distance above tank bottom 12 and extends vertically to above the top of fill line 13, near the top of the tank. In a preferred embodiment, guide cylinder 11 is approximately ˝ inch above tank bottom 12 and extends to approximately 1 inch above fill line 13, although other cylinder dimensions and placements may also be desirable. Fill line 13 is typically marked on either the inside of the tank or on exit valve support structure 14 and corresponds to the desired water level in the tank. Exit valve support structure 14 is attached to tank exit valve 15 which is designed to seal tank drain port 30 in tank bottom 12.

[0019] Within guide cylinder 11 is buoyant element 16 with a diameter sized to effectively slide freely within guide cylinder 11. Within buoyant element 16 is magnet 17. Some preferred embodiments include more than one magnet 17, while other preferred embodiments include more than one buoyant element 16. Buoyant element 16 is preferably buoyant with regard to the water level within guide cylinder 11, and in one preferred embodiment is encapsulated at both ends. As the level water within the tank rises, buoyant element 16 will rise within guide cylinder 11. Conversely, as the water level within the tank drops, buoyant element 16 will be lowered. Guide cylinder 11 is preferably held in place by bracket 18, which is designed to hold guide cylinder 11 in a vertical orientation. Bracket 18 is attached to U-shaped bracket 25 which is mountable over an external wall of the tank.

[0020] A sensor mounting member is mounted externally to the tank substantially parallel to guide cylinder 11 and held in place by attachment to the opposing end of U-shaped bracket 25. An example sensor mounting member is depicted in sensor mounting rail 24. Mounted on sensor mounting rail 24 are lower sensing device 20 and upper sensing device 21. Upper sensor 21 is mounted within upper sled 23 on rail 24, and lower sensor 20 is mounted within lower sled 22 on rail 24. Preferably, lower and upper sleds 22 and 23 are adjustable along sensor mounting rail 24. In one preferred setup, upper sled 23 is positioned at a point approximately ˝ inch above water fill line 13 and lower sled 22 is positioned adjacent a point approximately 1 inch from tank bottom 12. Upper sled 23 should be positioned at a maximum height equal to the top of support structure 14 if support structure 14 includes a spill-over drain. In alternate preferred embodiments, sensors 20 and 21 are independently mountable to the toilet tank by various means, such as, but not limited to, separate rails, friction, glue, suction cups, and hook and loop fasteners.

[0021] Sensors 20 and 21 are electrically connected to an energy source 26, such as a battery, and audible/visual alarm 27. In one preferred embodiment, energy source 26 and alarm 27 are mounted within housing 28. The alarm may be a buzzer, bell, beeper, solid or flashing light, or other standard signaling method. In other embodiments, alarm 27 includes automatically actuated valves. An example of automatically actuated valves is depicted in FIG. 3 wherein tank exit valve actuator 33 (for example a solenoid which opens or closes tank exit valve 15) and tank inlet valve 43 are automatically actuated after sensors 20 and 21 detect an appropriate condition for their actuation.

[0022] In operation, buoyant element 16 moves upward and downward with the changing water level in the tank. When magnet 17 is in an appropriate zone or location relative to sensor 20 or 21, such as adjacent to sensor 20 or 21, sensor 20 or 21 detects the change in the local magnetic field caused by magnet 17 and activates a circuit which actuates alarm 27. The plumbing system can then be fixed and/or reset as desired. Alternate preferred embodiments may include other means for detecting the proximity of the buoyant element 16 to sensors 20 and 21, such as optic, radio, audio, infrared, or motion detection means.

[0023] In normal operation, the flushing cycle of a toilet is initiated by rotating flushing device 29. Movement of flushing device 29 causes tank exit valve linkage 31 to lift tank exit valve 15 off of tank drain port 30, thereby allowing water to flow out of the tank past tank drain port 30 and through a fluid transport member that transports fluid from the tank, or fluid extraction member. Tank exit valve linkage 31 is connected to tank exit valve 15 and is steadied by linkage guide 32. An example of this type of fluid transport member is depicted in tank drain tube 39. Thus, the water level in the tank decreases. Inlet valve float 42 floats on the water surface, and when the water level decreases past a preset location, the lowering of inlet valve float 42 causes tank inlet valve 41 to open allowing replacement water to enter the tank through a fluid transport, or supply, member. An example of a fluid transport member is depicted in replacement water supply tube 40. Replacement water enters the tank at a slower rate than the water exits through the tank drain port, thus, the tank continues to drain despite inlet valve 41 being open. Once the water level has drained until approximately 1 to 2 inches of water remain in the bottom of the tank, tank exit valve 15 (alternately a “flapper” valve) lowers due to gravity, resealing tank drain port 30. Water entering via replacement water supply tube 40 and through tank inlet valve 41 fills the tank until inlet valve float 42 reaches a predetermined location where it causes inlet valve 41 to close, thereby stopping the addition of water to the tank.

[0024] In a tank exit valve failure, the toilet is flushed and the water in the tank is drained, but for whatever reason, tank exit valve 15 does not close properly with tank drain port 30. When this occurs, the water level continues to decrease toward tank bottom 12, thereby causing buoyant element 16 to be lowered to the bottom of the tank adjacent to lower sensor 20. After lower sensor 20 detects the proximity of buoyant element 16, alarm 27 is activated.

[0025] In a tank inlet valve failure, tank inlet valve 41 does not shut off when inlet valve float 42 reaches the predetermined position near the top of the tank, but tank exit valve 15 closes properly. Under this condition, the replacement water continues to fill the tank above water fill line 13, causing buoyant element 16 to float to a position adjacent upper sensor 21. Magnet 17 in buoyant element 16 activates upper sensor 21, triggering a visual or audible alarm.

[0026] In a further alternate embodiment, depicted in FIG. 3, alarm 27 includes a system that automatically actuates tank exit valve 15, tank inlet valve 19 and/or tank inlet valve 43. The system can utilize various means for operating the valves, such as mechanical or electrical. The automatic actuation of valves can be separate from or in addition to a visual or audible alarm and can be used for normal operations, during a malfunction, or a combination of the two.

[0027] When used to control normal operations, tank inlet valve 43 opens when buoyant element 16 either descends below upper sensor 21 or descends to the location of lower sensor 20, depending on the specific implementation. Similarly during normal operation, after tank exit valve 15 is opened to begin a flush cycle, tank exit valve 15 closes when buoyant element 16 descends to the location of lower sensor 20.

[0028] In other preferred embodiments, automatic valve actuation assists to correct a malfunction. For example, during a tank exit valve malfunction in which a buoyant tank exit valve fails to properly close, tank exit valve actuator 33 (for example a solenoid) is actuated to provide a back-up means of closing tank exit valve 15 when lower sensor 20 is sufficiently affected by the proximity of buoyant element 16. Thus, tank exit valve 15 is forcibly closed and the tank water level is allowed to increase.

[0029] Since different toilet manufacturers will have varying water levels where the tank exit valve and the tank inlet valve are actuated, sensors 20 and 21 are preferably adjustable on sensor mounting rail 24. Alternately, sensors 20 and 21 can be adjusted to trigger alarm 27 each time the system is cycled to ensure that the cycle was completed correctly or that the energy source, such as a battery, is still charged.

[0030] In an alternate embodiment, a timing mechanism (not depicted) is incorporated into the system whereby the alarm activates after buoyant element 16 has remained within the appropriate zone of activation around either sensor 20 or 21 for a preset time period. In other preferred embodiments, different sensors are associated with different present time periods resulting in different delay times depending on which sensor detects the buoyant element.

[0031] Preferably, the system of the present invention may be manufactured using standard materials and off-the-shelf components, such as extruded or molded plastic pieces, automatically actuated valves, magnets and electrical sensors, with the internal portions being water resistance and all of the electronic circuitry being external to the tank.

[0032] While the invention has been illustrated and described in detail in the drawings and foregoing description, the same is to be considered as illustrative and not restrictive in character, it being understood that only the preferred embodiment has been shown and described and that all changes and modifications that come within the spirit of the invention are desired to be protected.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7636959Apr 10, 2007Dec 29, 2009Limit, Inc.Toilet overflow prevention system and method
US7950265Dec 17, 2009May 31, 2011Limit, Inc.Toilet overflow prevention system and method
US8205275 *Jul 3, 2008Jun 26, 2012Leung Sik YuenExternal automatic flush helper
US8370969May 27, 2011Feb 12, 2013Limit, Inc.Toilet overflow prevention system and method
Classifications
U.S. Classification4/300
International ClassificationE03D1/00
Cooperative ClassificationE03D1/00
European ClassificationE03D1/00
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Jan 23, 2003ASAssignment
Owner name: GREENLEAF, INC., INDIANA
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:GODA, MICHAEL A.;REEL/FRAME:013710/0813
Effective date: 20021206