Super Bowls

Today’s toilets are more than just efficiency experts
By Alice Liao
January 17, 2013

There’s a reason why when we talk toilets, we talk numbers or, more specifically, gallons per flush (gpf). According to statistics released by the American Water Works Foundation in 1999 and still widely quoted throughout cyberspace (and on the EPA’s website), toilets account for 26.7 percent of all residential indoor water use, making them the main source of water consumption in the home. Sure, today’s toilets offer more than just sophisticated flushing systems, but when asked about trends, industry experts agree efficiency is king.


So where are we in terms of loo efficiency? The national standard is currently 1.6 gpf, but California and Texas, as well as municipalities such as New York City, have upped the ante, passing legislation that will require all toilets sold and installed on or after a certain date—in many cases, January 1, 2014—to be high-efficiency with a flush rate of 1.28 gpf. Most industry insiders predict it’s just a matter of time before that becomes the benchmark for the country, but until then, WaterSense-labeled models are already there and come in a variety of styles and price points, taking the pain and guesswork out of selection. With water shortages anticipated in 36 states by next year, making the transition should be a no-brainer for consumers. However, those scarred by the poor flushing performance of low-flow toilets from the 1990s may require some convincing.

Not a problem, noted industry members. Recent engineering and design developments have resulted in high-efficiency toilets (HETs) that out-flush their water-guzzling predecessors, said Bill Strang, SVP of operations, TOTO USA, and have the test scores to prove it. While WaterSense requires the ability to clear at least 350 grams of bulk waste with 1.28 gallons of water in a single flush, many qualified HETs have achieved Maximum Performance (MaP) scores beyond that, handling as much as 1,000 grams—which is significant for manufacturers and, hopefully, consumers. As Brian Hedlund, senior product manager, Kohler, noted, the MaP score “is kind of the arms race of the toilet industry because it’s the only third-party way we have of talking about toilet performance.”


MaP scores aside, manufacturers are finding other ways of touting performance, citing conveniences such as ease of cleaning, which “is the next big trend,” said Gray Uhl, design director for American Standard Brands. On this front, a bowl shaped to maximize the water spot is ideal, noted Kevin McJoynt, VP of marketing, Gerber Plumbing Fixtures. The larger the water spot, the less exposed vitreous china there is for waste to cling to. Companies have also introduced glazes to ensure a super-smooth surface on the bowl interior and reconfigured the rim and rim holes to create a more forceful rinse. On toilets with seats, soft-close functionality, improved seat attachment and easy removability for cleaning all contribute to a better user experience, as do comfort-height designs, which are ever popular. Space-saving wall-hung models are seeing an increase in sales, particularly in urban areas, but account for only a small portion of the market.

Naturally, no toilet discussion would be complete without a mention of bidet seats and toilets with bidet functions, which continue to grow their following. The latest not only optimize user comfort and hygiene but also help with cleaning by, for example, spritzing electrolyzed water on the bowl to protect against bacteria and marking or employing UV light to disinfect wands. Many experts point to the benefits of bidet seats for the aging population but note that more education is necessary for adoption.

These types of products may also help lighten the burden on our infrastructure if and when HETs become the national standard. With less water running through our homes to carry away waste, washing may be preferable to wiping, especially as more consumers are turning to thick disinfecting wipes, instead of toilet paper, to clean themselves. Notably, the issue of drain-line carry was recently the focus of an industry-wide study, for which results are imminent. Simply put, how low can we go? Testing is being conducted to determine that magic number, but for now, 1.28 HETs offer a simple way for consumers to cut their water use, save a little money and do their share for the planet.

Click here for the latest in stylish, water-saving toilets.

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