Buying a toilet is a decision that's up there with getting major service done on your car: It's not a process to which you look forward, there can be some major money involved, and it's not a new toy that you can use to impress the neighbors.
Nobody is much interested in your plumbing fixtures as a statement of your unique sensibility. They just care that those appliances serve the purpose of flushing waste material far, far away.
But at some point in your life as a homeowner — on average, when your house is 10 to 15 years old — you are going to find yourself in need of a new toilet — also known as a loo, pot or porcelain throne.
Buying the right one can make your life easier, the little necessities of life more comfortable and lower your water bill. It can also reduce your ecological impact. Most modern toilets flush with 1.6 gallons of water, about 30 percent of what was common a few decades ago.
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But if you've ever sauntered down the toilet aisle at Lowe's or Home Depot, you know there is a mind-boggling array of models from which to choose. What's the difference in those myriad loos? What do you look for?
"If you're going to replace it anyway, you may as well get something more accessible," said Kevin Miller, a partner in Lile Plumbing in Lexington. Most customers go with the higher-sitting, 16-inch-clearance toilet, compared with shorter models. The higher models are also consistent with the Americans With Disability Act standards.
Miller said that the more efficient toilets — using 1.6 gallons per flush, as mandated nationwide since 1995 — got a bad rap early on because early models were inefficient, requiring as many flushes as they supposedly saved.
More modern designs have significantly improved the ability to flush efficiently — unless you really plan to flush a bucket of golf balls down the toilet, just for fun. (This is from an actual toilet commercial. You have no need to do this — but OK, here's the link: Stthomascreations.com/video/player.html.)
Miller said that buying a neutral color can also be a benefit, and noted that while toilets can be ordered in "biscuit" and "bone" for those averse to the standard white, consumers may want to avoid bright pink or orange, colors that do not translate well to the home resale market.
Consider this list of possibilities before you buy:
How much water do you want to save, versus how much disposal efficiency you need? Miller said that those who live in older homes might want to go really green with their toilets, but he cautioned that older pipes may not be set up to quickly push away lots of waste with very minimal water. He would consider the 1.6-gallon-per-flush models, as opposed to toilets that flush on less than a gallon.
Those with newer homes may be better able to accommodate the purchase of toilets that are extremely efficient.
One- or two-piece? A two-piece toilet, one where the bowl apparatus is a separate part from the tank, is generally cheaper. A one-piece is easier to clean.
Height. In theory, humans were born to crouch for effective elimination — but those with disabilities or baby boomers whose knees are not what they used to be might appreciate the higher 16-inchmodels.
Shape. An oval-shaped bowl is bigger. A round bowl can be fitted into a smaller space.
Price range. Prices start in the low $100s and zoom up to $5,000, which buys you an air-blowing, bidet-fountain super toilet.
Chances are you want to come in somewhere closer to the lower number.
Miller said that serviceable, efficient toilets by companies such as American Standard and Kohler can be bought for $200 to $300.
Install it yourself? If you are a do-it-yourselfer with a strong knowledge of how to deal with water issues within the home and strong arms to dispose of your current toilet, you can probably do this yourself, Miller said.
If you are not comfortable with the possibility of finding yourself with an older-model toilet stuck in the floor because of rusted bolts or a leaking water problem, it's best to call a plumber, Miller said.
Pressure-assisted flushing: yes or no? The upside to pressure is you get a little more power in that bowl. The drawback is that such power tends to be loud.
What about the toilet lid? Many toilets now have a slow-close lid that will lower itself in slo-mo. It's an advantage in terms of quietness and to those families with children who really like to slam down the lid for reasons known only to themselves.
History of toilets: Find an interactive timeline of toilet development at Timetoast.com/timelines/history-of-toilets--3.
A word about toilet paper: It was first marketed as "medicinal paper" in the second half of the 19th century.