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What’s the Best Toilet for My Home?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:15am

Toilets do an undeniably essential job that nobody wants to think about more than absolutely necessary. These reliable utilities help keep our society civilized and safe.

If you’re in the market for a new or replacement toilet, you’re naturally wondering: Which is the best toilet for my home? There is no single answer to this question. Everyone defines “the one” differently, according to their preferences, standards and concerns.

Toilets are perhaps our most-used utility, yet are not often addressed as a consumer topic. While you don’t want to think too much about what happens in that part of the bathroom, a well-rounded knowledge of toilets can benefit you and your family in many ways.

One of the main benefits is having a quality utility that you can rely on and won’t worry you. You can conserve water and save money on your water bill thanks to better efficiency, too. A good, basic toilet education enables you to pick the toilet that does everything you want and nothing you don’t want.

Knowing and researching toilet technology also brings you to the right toilet for you and your household, giving you peace of mind. You won’t wonder if there was another type that suits your needs or a technology that does what you have in mind. A toilet is such a personal, intimate and fundamental part of our lives that it makes sense to choose new or replacement units carefully. You want to consider all the choices when it’s time to upgrade or replace a worn part.

Consider how crucial toilets are not only to a harmonious home life, but also to greater sanitation. The World Health Organization reports that some 2.4 billion people do not have access to flush toilets, about 32 percent of the global population.

WHO states that poor sanitation is linked to cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, polio and intestinal problems. From an American perspective, it is hard to believe there are an estimated 280,000 deaths annually caused by poor sanitation.

Choosing the Right Toilet Is an Important — and Often Challenging — Decision

The average person flushes the toilet about five times per day, which equals roughly 1,825 flushes per person, per year. For a family of four, that totals 7,300 flushes annually. It is easy to see how those numbers get exponentially higher for families with more people or in homes where you host a lot of guests, such as a weekend cabin or lake house.

Your toilet is probably the busiest utility in the house — and the most important in terms of sanitation. Among the “worst things” we imagine can happen around the house are backup, overflow or other problems with the toilet. We mostly want to go, flush and not think any more about it, but everyone recognizes the importance of having toilets that not only work well and reliably, but also conserve water and help families save money.

Choosing the right toilet for yourself and your family involves many personal preferences and decisions. It never hurts to make a mental list of the features you want in a toilet, identifying which are essential and which are negotiable.

Mr. Rooter can help you understand the full array of choices and make a good match between your needs and the toilets available on the market. As this partial list demonstrates, the sheer number of toilet manufacturers can come as a surprise to many people:

  • American Standard
  • AquaSource
  • Ariel
  • Barclay
  • Bemis
  • Bette
  • Bossini
  • Bristan
  • Burlington
  • Canterbury
  • Church
  • Delta
  • Devonshire
  • Danze
  • Eljer
  • Foremost
  • Fresca
  • Gerber
  • Glacier Bay
  • Grohe
  • Imperial
  • Jacuzzi
  • Kohler
  • Laufen
  • Laveo
  • Lennox
  • Majestic
  • Mansfield
  • Marathon
  • Moen
  • Niagara
  • Niza
  • Ove
  • Penguin
  • Porcher
  • Project Source
  • Saniflo
  • Santerra
  • Schon
  • Sterling
  • Sun-Mar
  • Tork
  • Toto
  • Unico
  • Whitehaus
  • Zurn

The Basic Parts of the Standard Toilet

Many components and utilities work together to make a toilet function. We tend to be most familiar with what we can see, but basic parts include those inside, underneath and attached to the toilet, whether through the floor or wall.

Most toilets include:

  • Lidded water tank — Holds water to release into the bowl
  • Seat — Where we sit, normally affixed by two bolts near the tank
  • Cover — Goes over the bowl and seat
  • Trapway — The hole at the bottom of the bowl where waste exits
  • Pedestal — The part under the bowl that everything sits on
  • Bowl — Holds the water and the trapway
  • Bolts — Secure the toilet to the floor, located at the base on either side, under color-matching covers
  • Lever or button — What we push to flush the toilet
  • Wax ring — Crucial seal where the toilet connects to the wastewater drain at the floor
  • Ballcock valve — Allows water to enter the tank and goes by many names including concentric float valve, water-supply valve and toilet-tank-fill valve
  • Float valve and arm — Connected to fill valve and carries the float-ball assembly
  • Inlet pipe — Usually at the floor in the back and allows water into the tank
  • Outlet pipe — Nearly always at the bottom and is where wastewater exits the toilet

Depending on the age of the toilet, it might have a float mechanism — a plastic arm or chain-and-rubber flapper — inside the tank. Newer-model toilets commonly have a piston, canister or tower setup that uses some type of vertical valve to create pressure.

A lot of older float-style toilets have the valve in a position that allows the rubber flapper to get hung on the side of the tank, which causes the toilet to “run.” A vertical-valve system practically eliminates that problem and the need to jiggle the handle, so they have become the preferred choice of many.

The majority of toilets use gravity and a flush valve that might range in size from a two-inch-diameter valve to ones that are four inches wide. Bigger valves such as the three- or four-inch sizes can often mean greater flush power. Some might be able to gauge the size by looking at the valve, but you can usually find and check the exact size of the flush valve in the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s specifications.

Know Your Types of Toilets

One-piece toilets have a connected tank and bowl. They tend to be a bit smaller and sleeker than the two-piece models, and most people find them easier to clean.

Traditional, two-piece toilets have a separate tank and bowl that connect and are secured to the floor with two or three strong bolts and create a level connection between the two pieces.

There are three, basic toilet-bowl shapes:

  1. Round, 16-17 inches long — This plain, standard, round-shaped bowl is usually a good size for children and often found in older homes or structures. There are many manufacturers that offer true, child-sized toilets as well, which can later be switched to a normal size with the same plumbing. Sometimes the round bowl is abbreviated as “PB,” for plain bowl, and its size is ideal for compact bathrooms.
  2. Elongated, 18-19 inches long — This is the common standard for adult use and is required in most plumbing codes for commercial buildings. It adds a little more space than a round and is more comfortable for full-sized adults. You might see this type of toilet by the abbreviation “EB,” for elongated bowl.
  3. Compact elongated — This is roughly the same size as a round toilet but shaped in slightly more of an oval for better comfort and function. It often comes in a size that might be an inch or two bigger than the round, yet not quite the size of a fully elongated model.

If you want to replace the toilet seat, measure the existing one, as opposed to an eyeball estimate. Start the measurement from the longest and widest points and go across the toilet seat to the opposite long-wide points.

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The standard height from floor to seat is 14 or 15 inches, but many models offer choices of taller height for added comfort and ease of use. ADA-compliant bathrooms, for example, have a taller-than-standard toilet, which can benefit anyone who might have challenges getting up and down.

Generally, older adults and people with physical challenges such as joint pain or injuries can benefit from having a shorter a distance between sitting and standing. There are plenty of other reasons a taller-height toilet might make sense for many families.

Keep an eye on overall height, too, especially if there is or will be any kind of shelf or vanity above your toilet. Standard, overall heights for toilets are normally expressed in inches from the floor to the top of the tank and include a few ranges:

  • Fewer than 28 inches from the floor
  • 28 to 29 7/8 inches from the floor (standard height)
  • 30 to 31 7/8 inches from the floor
  • 32 or more inches from the floor

There are many different types of toilets in the marketplace, and the more you know about them, their features and what they do, the more satisfied you are likely to be with your decision.

The Different Types of Flushes

The technology inside the tank of a toilet continues to evolve, but all toilets use gravity, water, air and shape to create the flush force. You push or pull a lever or button that is normally mounted to the front, side or top of the tank.

When you pull the lever or push the button, water runs into the toilet from the rim or a hole at the inside bottom of the bowl, or from both places. This water carries waste away to the sewer drain or septic tank. There are multiple mechanisms and strategies used to achieve the task.

In many cases, there are other kinds of technology that build upon the traditional:

  • Gravity — A gravity toilet describes any one that uses gravity and water to flush.
  • Siphonic — Siphonic toilets use gravity, water and the s-shape of the trapway to create a siphon that powers the flush as the water falls from the tank. This is the most common type of toilet.
  • Washdown — Washdown toilets use gravity to send all of the tank water down through the underside of the toilet-bowl rim to power the flush. These toilets aren’t as common in American markets. A washdown toilet will usually have a bigger trapway, about twice as big as a siphonic, since it is not needed to help create the flush power. Many people think a washdown toilet leads to less clogging. This style of toilet usually has a smaller water-surface area inside, which some people find undesirable because it essentially makes a smaller target for waste.
  • Assisted-flush — Assisted-flush toilets use electricity to create flush force and move water and materials out of the trapway. You must have an outlet near the toilet for it. People often use the terms “assisted” and “pressurized” interchangeably, but the exact functions of the two have differences. Assisted flush usually refers to electricity as the powering force, while pressure-assisted gets its power from air.
  • Pressurized — Pressurized water line toilets use a pressurized vessel in the tank with a series of water lines that create the flush force with less water, usually available in models that use 1.1 or 1.4 gallons of water per flush. About 10% of toilets purchased are pressure-assisted models. As you consider this model, know that it requires a minimum general-home water pressure of 25 pounds per-square-inch. You can buy a gauge for $10that will test your water pressure at the outside spigot. The pressure-assisted flush provides the advantage of having the water contained within the vessel, which protects the vitreous china of the tank against rusting. It also ensures the tank doesn’t sweat in humid weather.
  • Dual-flush — Dual-flush toilets give you the choice between a light, washdown flush that uses less water and a hard flush that uses full force. Dual-flush toilets are the required standard in some places in the world, and you can find dual-flush features in just about any toilet style today.

Only you can decide what flushing technology is best for you and your family. It is an important decision, and it pays to weigh the pros and cons of each type. For example, a toilet with pressure-assisted flush saves water but has a noisy flush compared to other types. The noise may be louder on a pressure-assisted toilet, but it makes noise for less time, lasting only a few seconds.

How a Toilet Works

We all know the basics. In most toilets, the flushing technology works when someone pulls the outside lever or presses a button. The tank valve opens, and water rushes into the bowl to carry away the waste using one of the flushing technologies.

If you’re attached to a municipal wastewater system, the material gets carried to a treatment plant, where solids are separated from liquids, and both get treated before being released.

Water will be treated and either re-used or released into a waterway. Solids become sludge that is treated and used for many purposes such as to fertilize farm fields, become refined into home-and-garden food or enrich the soil in forests or reclaimed land that has been strip-mined or otherwise depleted.

As toilet technology advances, there are more improvements in how a toilet works. You’ll find better-performing basic components, as well as many enhancement options to fit different preferences and lifestyles.

For example, Kohler offers a proprietary technology, AquaPiston®, that uses water and gravity as a flush engine, powering a better flush and cleaner bowl. It includes a special seal to resist the conditions that usually cause leaking and the dreaded “jiggling of the handle” when the seal doesn’t sit correctly.

Other models have technology that distributes the water from the bowl in a variety of ways, exposes less seal material to prolong their life and uses smaller seals to reduce leakage potential. Whatever kind of mechanics or aesthetics you would like, chances are, you’ll find it.

Analyze Your Space and Specs

People consider a list of features as they shop for a new toilet, and each buyer decides for themselves which characteristics take priority:

  • Size and dimensions
  • Flush type
  • Bowl shape
  • Water usage
  • Materials such as ceramic or plastic
  • Features
  • Quality

To choose the right model, you’ll want to know your rough-in size, which is the distance between the wall and your discharge pipe. If you measure the distance yourself, be sure to work from an actual wall and not the baseboard trim that runs around the base of the wall.

Rough-in sizes are 10, 12 and 14 inches, with the 12-inch being standard and most prevalent. Other standard dimensions for toilet installation –include:

  • 24 inches or more of clear space in front of the toilet
  • 15 inches from the center of the toilet to the nearest side wall
  • 12 inches from the finished wall behind the toilet to the center of the waste line

Once you assess the dimensions of your space, ask yourself some questions. What bugs you about the toilet you have now or had in the past? Do you want the most water-efficient model you can get, or is the flush force what concerns you most? Do you desire a sleek, tank-less model mounted on the wall so it floats over the floor?

Maybe a quiet flush is important to you or other family members. In that case, you would want to be aware that pressure-assisted toilets make more noise than a gravity-based model. The nearly obsolete vacuum-assisted models can also make more noise than other models.

Some toilets leave the bowl cleaner than others, and that will probably be an important feature to the person responsible for regular toilet cleaning. The models that send all the water from the rim tend to rinse well, but so can some of the designs that distribute the water more effectively or might use pressure power to clean the bowl.

As you look for the right toilet, it is a good time to replace aged supply lines. Most experts recommend a switch from stiff, chrome lines to the flexible type. Those same professionals would advise you to have a water shutoff valve at the toilet, so consider adding it if your toilet doesn’t already have one.

Determine Toilet Budget and Needs

Toilet prices range from about $200 to $5,000, and in some cases, more depending on the setup, improvements and design you may have or want. Some people tend to look straight at the price and go with the lowest one. On the other hand, many people prefer to make a medium or large investment to get a quality toilet with all the features they want.

How long will a toilet last? The tank and bowl components, usually made of glazed china, can last 100 years or more, while other components last an average of five years, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Just about all the components of the toilet — besides the bowl and tank — will need maintenance or replacement at some point, including:

  • Valves
  • Floats and their assemblies
  • Seals
  • Levers
  • Bolts
  • Wax rings
  • Toilet seat
  • Bolt covers

Some families may need a toilet to suit a range of special needs and members who may be very young, elderly, arthritic, tall, short, big or small. To others, a strong and reliable flush may be the first priority. Many people see design and clean lines as the top concern, and they want a toilet that complements the rest of the bathroom.

Water conservation might be most important to many households. A water-conserving toilet will generally cost more up front than a traditional, but you will recover those costs within a few years since you won’t use or pay for as much water. Maybe the bathroom is small and needs a space-saving option with the water closet built into the wall, or perhaps you prefer an antimicrobial finish or specific kind of flushing mechanism.

We don’t talk much about flushing as a society, but nobody likes a clog. It is an unwavering expectation that when we depress that lever, everything will go where it is supposed to go, reliably and with no further thought.

It stops us in our tracks to hear the dreaded gurgle that means the toilet didn’t fully flush, and some shoppers will consider it worthwhile to invest in whatever technology keeps the plunger away. That might mean a pressure-assisted model or a non-siphonic type that has a bigger trapway.

Part of deciding what toilets you may need and how much to spend on them involves thinking about your family’s bathroom habits, which circles back to topics not often addressed. There are a few distasteful but handy facts to consider for toilet-shopping research.

Experts say an average person produces about three to eight ounces of solid waste daily. It is considered normal to excrete waste anywhere from twice a day to once every three days. These approximate averages are the basis upon which toilets are configured and give us a snapshot of average capacity. For those who desire it, many toilet models offer greater-than-average capacity.

Toilets That Save on Water — And Save You Money

A family of four uses about 400 gallons of water per day, approximately 70 percent of that is for indoor use, and an estimated 30 percent of indoor water use is the toilet. The U.S. Department of Energy states that a toilet must not use more than 1.6 gallons per flush, and so no current models are designed beyond that capacity other than some commercial applications.

Standards are more stringent in many states including California, Colorado, Georgia and Texas, where the maximum is 1.28 gallons per flush. Some people opt for these models because they save water as well as money on the bill.

The toilets using less water than the standard usually have a WaterSense label or other mark of high efficiency such as HET — high-efficiency toilets. Water-conserving toilets typically use 0.60, 1.0, or 1.28 gallons of water per flush and feature some type of pressure assistance.

The news of droughts, water rationing and disputes over water rights show that water conservation continues to be a concern. Older toilets use anywhere from anywhere from 3.5 gallons to seven gallons per flush, depending on their age.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that if all the older-model toilets that use a lot of water were replaced with a WaterSense toilet, the water saved in the United States would total around 520 billion gallons per year. That is about the same amount of water, says the EPA, as what flows over Niagara Falls in a 12-day period.

The agency also says “the average family” can achieve savings of about $110 per year in water expenses. That same family, presumably four people, could save 13,000 gallons of water per year, an average savings between 20 percent and 60 percent.

As the focus sharpens on water conservation, experts realize that we’re flushing away a lot of perfectly good water. Responses to that concern have brought great, new technologies to use less water and make sure the job gets done.

The dual-flush toilet is the solution for those families who want power, conservation and options all in one toilet. With a long list of brand choices, there are hundreds of kinds of dual-flush toilets from which to choose.

Plenty of Features to Choose From

Dual-flush and conservative toilets are among the few features you’ll find on today’s toilets. Other features include:

  • Colors — Options include white, ivory, beige, blue, gray, black, silver, brown, gold and some custom colors, but 85 percent of buyers choose white. Other colors can make the toilet look outdated way before it’s time to replace it or can be a turnoff to potential buyers who don’t also love the color.
  • Seat-close technology — Kohler and other manufacturers offer options that can close the seat automatically or make it quieter when closed manually. The self-closing seats and lids are some people’s answer to harmony in households where males and females share the same toilet.
  • Comfortable height — While the normal toilet seat is 14 to 15 inches from the floor, the models often called “right height” and “comfort height” are usually 17 to 19 inches from the floor and have surged in popularity. They were originally produced for ADA-compliant bathrooms but have evolved to be a preference in many homes and offices.
  • Skirted — This creates a sleek look, with basically a smooth piece that wraps all the way around the bowl, just below the seat and to various points at the tank. It hides the exterior view of the trapway, curves and bolts, and there are both round and square skirts, for two examples that give totally different looks.
  • Concealed trapway — The trapway of a toilet is the route materials take to the outlet pipe. The trapway is the squiggly s-shape (sometimes a U or another configuration) in the porcelain toward the back and on the underside of the bowl. It is possible to have a feature called the “concealed trapway,” which basically shows a smooth porcelain wall-type surface instead of the porcelain s-shape. A skirt also hides the trapway, but some people don’t care about hiding the bowl, just the s-shape in the porcelain.
  • Decorated — Along with an array of colors, you will see artistic options such as an English trellis garden, fish tank or prairie flowers to adorn the toilet. There are a few custom options available from select manufacturers, too.
  • Bidet — Some toilets come with a setup for a small spigot that shoots water to clean the backside. It is a French-origin word and a fairly common bathroom fixture in many European places.
  • Varied tanks — Not all tanks are sized and shaped in the same perfectly rectangular way. There are some with architectural lines that look more stylish and either conjure up a modern feel or hearken to a historical era. For some people, it is just the right touch to enhance the look of their room.
  • Antimicrobial — American Standard and other brands offer a surface that resists mold, mildew, algae and fungus that can grow in or around water utilities. This gives some buyers peace of mind that they won’t have unwelcome growth in the bathroom.
  • Clog-free — You will see toilet models that offer basically a no-clog guarantee, which is done a few different ways. Some of the clog-free technology is proprietary to the company, while other methods include generous trapways and air- or electric-powered flush assist.
  • Composting — This type of toilet may be used anywhere you need a flushing toilet but have no plumbing. Composting toilets are available in sizes that range from a bit better than an outhouse to something that accommodates a small cabin or family home.
  • Heated seat — For those who can’t stand sitting down on that cold seat, there are heated toilet seats. Ones with a built-in seat normally run on electricity, but there are warming accessories available that run on batteries and attach to your existing seat.
  • Touchless — Touchless is exactly what it sounds like and is a favorite among families who try to share fewer germs in the bathroom. Instead of a lever you touch, a touchless-flush toilet contains a sensor in the tank lid. The user can flush simply by waving their hand in front of the sensor.

If you’re interested in touch-free flush technology, keep an eye on the ones that interest you to see if that option is offered. If not, you can investigate using a kit to convert it, but you need to make sure the toilet you choose is compatible with a touch-free kit.

How you flush can also vary from the standard lever mounted on the left front. You can flush with a simple button at the top, in the tank lid, on the wall, on either side of the tank and even remotely. Whatever your preferences and bathroom design may be, there is likely a lever position for them.

As you shop for and look at toilets, you’ll notice that models, lines and series have special names. With about 1,000 possible combinations of toilet choices across all the brands, it is good to know the manufacturer, design name and any corresponding numbers so you can find that model again. Some shoppers make a list of models they want to compare and jot down the features of each. For example, your noted description might include “Kohler, Portrait style, model #K-xxxx, with comfort height and power flush.”

The point is to keep track of your favorites however you can so you’re better able to discern the choices and features you want and the prices they are available. Kohler offers nearly 200 different kinds of toilets, American Standard has at least 150 choices, and other manufacturers offer similar options.

Toilet Styles to Complement Your Décor

Once you know how a toilet works, what technology affects the flush, and the features that are available, you should also know that toilets can be affixed in ways that make them look like a work of art in the room. One of the more modern toilets holds the potential to do the job and create a cool, futuristic look in your bathroom.

There are many terms used to describe toilet styles, some more unusual than others.

Close-Coupled Toilet

These are basically any model on which the toilet bowl and tank are in immediate proximity and usually bolted or secured to one another. Most traditional American toilets fit this description.

Wall-Faced Toilet

Imagine just the seat part of the toilet sitting there against the wall with no tank or lever, just a button in the wall above it. And when you flush, you barely hear a thing. This concept includes a cistern in the wall that makes flushing quieter and saves space, since you don’t have to make room for the tank. Many people like the modern look of the wall-faced toilet.

Wall-Hung Toilet

This is basically a wall-faced model that sits on a strong bracket mounted on the wall, so the seat is suspended with nothing underneath. A wall-hung toilet can add an ultimate look of sophistication to your bathroom, plus it takes up less space than a traditional tank-and-seat set.

Wall-faced and wall-hung toilets provide several aesthetic and functional advantages, including:

  • Saving space
  • Eliminating tank condensation
  • Operating quietly with an in-wall tank
  • Creating sleek, clean lines with design
  • Cleaning easily with off-the-floor position and no tank

One disadvantage to toilet shopping is you can’t usually flush them on the showroom floor. Absolutely nothing gives you a better preview than to see one of the toilets you’re considering in action, and many people come up with creative ideas to shop for them. For example, some of your close friends or family might indulge you and let you come over to flush the toilet.

Ask your friends and family what toilets they know are good, and you might not get an immediate recommendation, but you are likely to learn what to avoid. Once you begin researching toilets, you’ll notice them wherever you go. This is also a good awareness exercise that enables you to note brands and features you either like or dislike.

You’ll find many ways to identify and then find the toilet that is right for your home and family. Talk to people, read reviews and continue educating yourself on the options out there. There is hardly any one right way to go about picking your next toilet, but whether it’s a new addition or replacement, you want it to be right and satisfy your needs.

Professional Installation Recommended

You might be tempted to think of installing the toilet yourself. While this may seem as if it will save you money, keep in mind the job involves plumbing that should be done by a professional. With the help of a professional, you eliminate costly installation mistakes.

The wax seal beneath the toilet, where it connects to the wastewater pipe, is absolutely crucial. One reason why is because a toilet comes with only one seal, so there is only one chance to seal it right, or you’ll be back to the store for another. Some do-it-yourselfers take a proactive approach and buy two or more seals on the first trip so there is room for error.

Should the wax seal not seat correctly, it literally opens a hole through which water and gas can escape. It might be so little water that you don’t realize it’s leaking — until you notice effects under the toilet such as wet wood or odd smells. You can easily find horror stories about what happens when a toilet leaks, and we can presume the cost to repair those damages are more than the cost of a professional toilet installation.

The seal is also not the only concerning part of a toilet installation. You must cut off the water supply, disconnect and connect plumbing, lift a heavy toilet off the ground and possibly worry about soldering copper pipes or other connections.

Consider consulting a professional plumber as you seek answers to the question: “What is the best toilet type for my home?” You can depend on Mr. Rooter of Oneida-Utica-Rome-Syracuse for help deciding between toilet types, parts, pressures and all the other kinds of technology. Our experienced plumbers can help you find the right toilet for your budget, needs and décor. Our professionals bring not only the technical expertise, but also the practical experience for a good assessment and installation.

We’ve installed many types of toilets, serviced many brands of toilets and seen about every toilet problem imaginable. Mr. Rooter knows manufacturers and the attributes of most models, which enables us to guide you to the toilet choice that your budget will bear, has the characteristics you want and is the best, overall value for your money.

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