Over the last decade or sow, “low flow toilet” had come to be a phrase that evokes both mistrust and disdain. Because of environmental laws passed in the early ’90s, older style toilets have been phased out in favor of new, more environmentally friendly ones that use significantly less water per flush. The problem is – or was – that when the laws were passed, toilet technology had remained largely unchanged since its invention in the mid 19th century: let a huge, gravity-driven rush of water flush waste out of the toilet. But with less water (and, really, with less gravitational force, as early toilets had tanks mounted high above the toilets), early low-flow toilets were, erm, inadequate. But manufacturers have caught on, and seem to realize that having to flush your toilet three times to get the job done doesn’t make anyone happy – customers or the environment. Technology has advanced accordingly, and now you can get a toilet that uses even less water than the EPA mandated 1.6 gallons per flush that works every bit as well as old style full flow toilets.
Lots of small tweaks have added up to a pretty significant increase in performance. Manufacturers have widened the mouth that lets water flow down into the toilet, increasing the amount and force of the water, and have simplified and widened the trap so waste can flow more easily out of the bottom of the toilet, instead of having to traverse the classic narrow, windy pipe. As well, many manufacturers have started adding a special, extremely smooth glaze to the inside of toilet bowls. The glaze on this Flo-Wise Dual Flush from American Standard not only decreases friction, allowing waste to slide out of the tank more easily, but also resists the buildup of grime, preventing unsightly stains and rings.
Perhaps the most important toilet innovation of the last twenty years, though, was actually popularized in drought-ridden Australia: the dual flush. The concept is pretty simple: liquid waste is vastly easier to flush than solid waste, and so requires very little water to dispose of. So, rather than always flushing with a full tank of water, dual flush toilets have two buttons instead of just a single lever. For this Toto Elongated Dual-Flush, the buttons are two halves of a single metal button (the big one for liquid and both at once for solid) that flush .9 gallons and 1.6 gallons respectively.
Some toilets use even less than that. This Wall Hung Aquia toilet can be set to use as little as .3 gallons per flush. Now, think about that for a moment. Before the 1990s, toilets could use anywhere from 3.5 to upwards of 7 gallons of water per flush. That’s seven milk jugs worth of water every time you go to the bathroom. With this toilet, at its lowest setting, you would have to flush 24 times to equal one pre-regulation flush. A toilet is one of the few things that everyone in your home is guaranteed to use, and as such, toilets are consistently the biggest water-hogs in your home, but are easy to overlook, especially because flushing frequency isn’t exactly great dinner conversation.
Switching to a low flow toilet if you still have an older style one should pay for itself within just a few years. Especially if you have a larger family or one especially well trafficked toilet, you could save $100 a year on your water bills just by swapping out one toilet. But like I said, sacrificing water quantity doesn’t mean giving up toilet quality anymore. And as toilets have become more efficient, they’ve also become more stylish. This Porcher Wall Mount not only has an interior glazing, but an “EverClean” exterior finish to help resist bacteria, stains, and odors all over the surface of the toilet to keep it sparkling white. Perhaps the most interesting feature, though is the most obvious one: it mounts directly into your wall. Now, this is a pretty decent sized project, because you have to install the tank into your wall, but it’s excellent for a small bathroom, as the footprint of the toilet is negligible, while the seat is still plenty roomy to be comfortable. As a bonus, you can mount it at your desired height, which can be a little more comfortable for especially tall or short people, and can easily be set high enough to be handicap accessible.
With a hidden toilet tank, your flush control, like this stylish Skate Cosmo flush actuator, mounts directly to your wall as well. These are usually available in the same variety of finishes as the toilet (which tend to come in several colors, shapes, sizes, and styles), and most have a chrome option as well.
If you’re still skeptical about the abilities of an ultra low flow toilet, there are models out there that supplement traditional gravity-driven flushing with pressure-assisted flushing. What this means is that inside the tank will be a second, sealed tank. As a pressure assisted toilet like this Zurn Dual Flush fills with water, the air inside that second tank compresses, so when you flush, the expansion of the air (as well as gravity) pushes the water more forcefully out of the toilet, allowing you much greater pressure with even small amounts of water. The only drawback is that the pumps in these toilets sometimes require an outlet, and can be noisy as the air repressurizes after you flush.
Some toilets, like this Purist Hatbox, don’t have any tank at all, but instead are pump-driven, which adds significant force to every flush, allowing you to use even less water. Again, these are excellent for a small bathroom because of their compact footprint, but be aware that they do have their limitations – while unlike a wall-mounted toilet, this one won’t need a costly in-wall tank installation, the pump technology might still make it more expensive than it’s typical gravity-driven counterparts. And while unlike a pressure assisted toilet it won’t make a lot of noise, it will still need outlet access to power the pump.
Now, that said, if you’re really looking for the ultimate in toilet luxury, you can get it, and save water doing it, too – though it’ll take a little longer for your lower water bill to offset the cost! This Neorest 550 comes with just about every gadget you can imagine. It lights up at night, opens the lid as you approach, warms the toilet seat for you when you sit down, automatically filters and purifies the air when it needs it, has three built in, adjustable bidet settings and a warm air dryer (so you’ll never need another roll of TP), flushes automatically when you stand, and can even be operated by remote control… all while using only 1.6-.9 gallons per flush.
Toilet technology has really come a long way since the low-flow mishaps of the early ’90s, so whether you want just a toilet or a fancy high-tech throne, be aware that the time that you needed to cling to your pre-regulation toilet has passed. As a wise guy recently said to me, fresh water is one of earth’s most valuable resources… and we poop in it. While we may not think about it, all of those flushes add up and as water saving technology catches up to our need, there’s no reason not to give mother nature a little nod, and help preserve our clean water supply, so we can continue to enjoy the luxury of a flush.