Few fixtures in your home get as much use as your toilet. Because of strict water conservation regulations toilets have undergone design changes that can affect how well they do their job. When the new regulations came into effect manufacturers scrambled to come up with ways to meet the new 1.6 gallon flush requirement. At first, many toilets were not doing the job. Multiple flushes were often necessary to dispose of solids; the public was not happy. These newer models were more expensive than the old tried-and-true versions that had been around for a century or more and less effective. These new units were also not aesthetically appealing. The low-flush toilet was born in the era of “lowboys,” low-profile toilets made of one piece construction, that were popular at that time because of their appearance and comfort.
In time, engineers began to come up with ways to meet the low gallon flush requirement, dispose of solid waste, and add a bit of elegance to the design. Slowly we saw new toilets emerge that appeared to have the same flushing power as those of the past that had a 5 gallon flush. One of these toilets today is the Toto. These “water closets” (another industry name for a toilet) have amazing flushing power. They are available in many styles: one piece, two piece, single flush, dual flush (one for solids or one for liquid only), elongated bowl or round front. Toto also makes 10″, 12″ and 14″ rough toilets (more on this later). Vortens, another manufacturer, also makes a model called the Drake which is similar to the Toto Caruso but less expensive. In my experience I have found that the majority of toilets today are substandard in their flushing power with the exception of the Toto line and the Vortens Drake.
There are also other important issues. How available are parts for the toilet that you are buying? How expensive are those parts? On a long enough timeline everything breaks down. Toilets get a great deal of use. Be sure that the toilet you choose uses parts that you can find locally and are relatively inexpensive. If you are replacing a toilet you will need to know the “rough in.” What is a rough in? It is the distance from the wall to the center of the drain outlet for the toilet. The standard rough in is 12″. In the process of building a home things sometimes go awry. The plans get modified, the walls are made wider or thinner, things are moved around a bit. In these cases a rough in might deviate from the 12″ standard. Usually 10″ or 14″ rough toilets cost more money and you will find that the models you have to choose from are frequently limited.
It is best to get that measurement before you start shopping. There is another possible issue. When the toilet is pulled from its spot in the bathroom you may find an unusual “closet ring.” The closet ring is the base to which the toilet is bolted. A normal closet ring will go straight down over the sewer pipe. Sometimes the plumber will use what is called an “offset closet ring” in order to put a toilet into a bathroom where the rough in was not 12″. This is usually done if the model the homeowner wants does not have a 14″ or 12″ version. This can cause problems with low flush toilets because the offset ring does not go straight down into the pipe but instead slopes down into the pipe.
This can cause solids to stop before entering the line. With the old 5 gallon flush toilets this was not much of a problem. When you reduce the water to 1.6 gallons or less, it can become an issue. Another issue is that plumbing sewer systems were designed to accommodate 5 gallons of water per flush. Over time solids can build up in your sewer line and cause a stoppage because there is not enough water to carry the solids down the line effectively. This problem cannot be overcome by low-flush toilets but it is something that you should be aware of. Keep a few extra dollars around for line stoppages just in case.
Colors for toilets are subject to trends or fads. In my early days as a plumber there were popular colors that you will not find today: avocado, pink, harvest gold and others. Imagine trying to find a toilet seat for a discontinued color. Either the price will be exorbitant or the color unavailable. Try to avoid trendy colors and stick to the basics. Off white colors or white is a good choice.
Avoid toilets that take a specially designed seat. You do not want to be looking for a special seat 10 years from now when your model is discontinued and the toilet seat manufacturers have long since dropped the item or tripled its price. You certainly don’t want to be looking for a special seat in hot pink! Choose a toilet with a standard elongated or round front seat.
These simple guidelines gleaned over years in the plumbing industry should help you to make the best choice possible. Happy flushing.
Gary R. Tanner
Owner – Town and Country Plumbing