Toilet Talk: How to Choose the Perfect Flush for Your Lifestyle

  • Intermediate

More valued than your plush sofa, more important than your flooring, your drapes, your rugs, or your dining room furniture; the most needed, yet the least talked about a purchase for your home is your toilet. An embarrassment to some, but necessary for all, as a homeowner you must become familiar with "toilet talk".

Is a toilet merely a toilet? Or are there differences according to need, beauty, function, and cost? Believe it or not, the right toilet is the best decision that you can make in home improvement. The wrong toilet will haunt you more than your dreams. It will haunt your bathroom, your hall, and anything that lies below.

History of Toilets

Toilets of some fashion have been around for thousands of years, whether it was a hole in the ground, an outhouse, or the lowly chamber pot. The Greeks and the Romans, with their famous baths and aqueducts, also included plumbing (of sorts) to remove solid waste. King Henry VIII seemed to be obsessive about bathrooms since he had dozens in every castle. He also insisted on private chambers, called "privies" to keep the "wastewater" away from the "fresh" bathwater.

He even created a high-ranking position, for his most trusted noble, called him the Lord of the Privy Chamber. That lucky soul was selected to hold the piece of flannel in the presence of the King until His Majesty's princely bottom was ready to be wiped - a dubious honor.

Our modern toilets are descended from a host of trial and error "water closet" inventors throughout the ages. By the turn of the 19th Century, there was a mad rush to the U.S. Patent Office to register the perfect "flush." Between 1900 and 1932, no less than 350 patents were requested. Today, we still have inventors who are attempting even newer designs, including ones with motorized engines!

In 1994 Congress decided to conserve water by requiring toilets to use no more than 1.6-gallons per flush, instead of the usual 3.5-gallons. This was a great idea; however, when manufacturers came out with their first water-saving models, they had not figured out how to make their toilets perform well. Homeowners were forced to flush several times, giving new meaning to the term "four-flusher."

There are thousands of varieties of toilets to choose from. It can be very intimidating trying to pick out the best toilet to suit your lifestyle and your budget. It took me a while to understand all the terminology, so I could purchase the right toilet for the right place. My education was an expensive journey through fact and fiction. These are some of the lessons I learned.

1. The Gravity Flush

The flush valve or "flapper" opens and water rushes down through the bowl. Manufacturers have steadily improved this system with newer tank and bowl designs, which give more power to the flush with less water. Oddly enough, the most effective improvement was to simply enlarge the flush valve from two inches to three inches. Easy to maintain, it does have its disadvantages: the tank can sweat, and the flushing can still be kind of wimpy.

2. The Pressure Assist Toilet


This type of toilet is common in public restrooms. These powerful toilets can suck away anything! They have a pressure tank inside that works like a big water balloon. Water fills the tank and is held there under pressure. When the flush valve opens, pressure and gravity combine for an explosive flush. The tank does not sweat. Its disadvantages are that it makes a loud, explosive flush, with difficult to diagnose problems and expensive repair.

3. The Vacuum Assist Toilet

This is the latest flush innovation. The porcelain tank contains an inner vacuum tank that's connected to the trap-way (the large tube that carries the water out of the bowl). When flushed, water flowing out of the tank creates a suction in the vacuum tank and trap-way, to help suck the waste out of the bowl. It is easy to repair; since it uses the same fill and flush valves as gravity toilets. It has a strong flush, with no sweating. It has disadvantages, however: it is not as effective as pressure-assist models and the choices are limited.

4. Toilet Styles

Toilets come in a variety of styles. One-piece toilets are actually made in five or six pieces that are fitted together like a jig-saw puzzle, giving it a seamless look. It is more aesthetic, and it is easier to keep clean. Two-piece toilets have a separate tank and bowl, which are fitted together at the time of installation. They're less stylish, but they are also less expensive.

While it's true that function is important, don't forget about appearance. A toilet should match the color and the style of the other fixtures in the bathroom. Many people simply change the entire bathroom, buying a new bathroom suite. That way all fixtures will be appropriate according to the look you want. Toilets also come in a variety of colors; however, do not forget to think about the future. Brick red may be the current fashion, but will it still be in fashion in five years? Perhaps that is why white is the overall color of choice for most consumers.

5. Size Matters

Do consider the size of your toilet. Small is for small people and big is for the larger person. A larger toilet is also more comfortable. Toilets must also fit the space for which it is intended. Do you like a long, narrow bowl, as in public restrooms? Or do you desire a round bowl for fashion's sake? These things must be considered.

6. The Newest Technology

bathroom with green and white checkered flooring

New technology is always an exciting prospect, and toilets are no exception. There are toilets that will give your bottom a warm shower, then dry you off with a flow of warm air. Some toilets have seats that contain a heating unit, for those cold winter mornings. Another brand has no flush handle at all. It flushes as you close the seat. As bathrooms continue to grow from a room of function, into a room with style, there will always be new technology to tempt the pocketbook.

7. The Price

This is the bottom line for the home improvement consumer. How much is a toilet worth? Prices can range on the high end, from $2500 to $4500, and beyond. More cost-effective models can range from a little over $100 to well over $850. Some toilets weigh more, and you will need the floor reinforced for safety sake, to meet the requirements of your local building code. Don't forget to include that cost also, in your estimates.

Choosing the right toilet for the bathroom is a big decision. Considering the technology, price, and style, the right toilet can literally give the homeowner peace of mind. And when you have peace of mind, well then, you have everything.