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Choosing Your Throne: On Toilet Types

Choosing a new throne for a bathroom is not as simple as taking the “white one.” Most of the toilets you’ve seen and used are probably very similar in function, yet there are many idiosyncrasies that differentiate one toilet—say, a Kohler—from another—a Briggs. Most of these differences exist only in design, and perhaps certain luxury functions like bidets or seat warmers. Still, there is more than one way to flush a toilet, and this should be your first stop on your way to choosing a new toilet.

How Does It Flush?

The vast majority of toilets flush gravity-style. That is, they utilize the force of gravity and a siphon to pull water into the bowl and subsequently push waste through the trap and into the sewer line. When you flush the toilet you are actually opening a valve, which lets tank water rush into the bowl. The pressure of that water trying to run down the drain creates a siphoning effect which enables gravity to pull wastewater up and over the trap. At the same time the tank is being refilled through the fill valve.

It is important to note that before 1994 most toilets used at least 3.5 gallons of water per flush. Now, due to water conservation laws, toilets may use only 1.6 gallons per flush. This has led to a lot of frustration for homeowners who were used to throwing more than a few balls of toilet paper down the toilet—you just can’t flush your (former) pet bass down the toilet nowadays, it’s goldfish only. Those extra 3 or four gallons of water create a lot more water pressure upon flushing, and now that several gallons are a memory, toilet manufacturers have been working for more than 15 years to make their low-flow toilets flush better.

That leads to the other popular type of flush system: pressure-assist toilets. Pressure- or power-assist toilets simply give gravity a helping hand. While the heavier duty models might require compressors, most pressure-assist models simply use the home’s water supply to add a little speed and power to a toilet flush. Both types will require a pressure tank and work as follows:

  • Water from the home supply (about 60 psi) is forced into the pressure tank, which compresses the air inside the tank. When the toilet is flushed that water is shot into the bowl. The extra momentum is there to make sure that waste makes it all the way to the drain and to keep the bowl cleaner.
  • Pressure-assist flushing mechanisms are great for older homes which still have old, wide, and possibly cast iron plumbing. These pipes are more coarse than new plastic ones and are often four inches wide. When five gallons of water went rushing down the toilet there was enough volume and pressure to ensure that everything went away. New low-flow requirements and old plumbing tend not to get along because the water is too sluggish heading down the pipe; clogs mount, problems arise, and plumbers are called.

One Piece or Two?

In a way, toilets are like swimsuits; they come in one piece or two. The more common and more inexpensive toilets are two piece—the bowl is installed first and then the tank is bolted onto that. The one-piece is actually several pieces carefully connected to give a seamless design. Two-piece toilets offer a sleek, hand crafted design with no joints between tank and bowl where dirt and odor can collect. They may be considerably easier to clean and look better but are otherwise a toilet just like all the rest.

Round or Elongated?

Another common design choice is bowl shape. The traditional round bowl saves space and is a necessity in many small bathrooms. The elongated bowl shape offers a slightly more ergonomic design, at least for adults. The elongated models are also a bit more expensive.

For What It’s Worth

If all toilets are essentially the same, why is this one $200 and that one $2,000? It is a worthy question. Beside features such as pressure-assisted flushing or elongated bowls, color is the biggest raiser of prices when toilet shopping. The difference can be staggering. For instance, a very nice toilet might cost $800 in white—seems like more than enough to pay, surely they’d sell it in black for that price…or not. The same toilet in black or blue (different models may be offered in different colors) would cost up to $300 more.

As briefly mentioned earlier, different luxury features can add a lot to the price. Toilets with bidet features, seat warmers, fans to filter bowl air, and other such features combined with a custom design and push button control and “all the fixin’s” would cost in the thousands of dollars. So if you want the perfect toilet you can have it, you’ll just have to pay for it. Just remember that when it comes down to taking care of business, your $4,000 toilet is just as likely to clog as the $400 model.

Choosing your throne can be a very personal experience. It is, after all, your throne. Some people don’t put too much thought into toilet design, and that’s okay. There’s no real necessity to lose your mind over toilet choices; they all flush. Other people, however, prefer to spend some time thinking about their toilet because they do a good portion of thinking on their toilet. And if the bathroom of your dreams is your next remodeling project, be assured that there is no shortage of dream toilet features.

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