Toilet Buying Guide: All You Need to Know

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A Guide to Understanding Toilets

Of all bathroom necessities, the toilet is, by far, the most frightening. Still, shopping for a good toilet is fairly simple, and most designs are relatively the same. In the end, it's a matter of personal preference rather than technology that makes a toilet purchase the right purchase.

Toilet Types

  • Standard flush toilets: The most common type of toilet, standard flush toilets use a pipe system that sends contents to a waste treatment center or a septic tank.
  • Low-flow toilets: Low-flow toilets use approximately 1.6 gallons of water per flush, less than half that of a standard flush toilet. Since the Energy Policy Act was signed in 1992, all toilets in the U.S. are required to be low-flush toilets.
  • Dual-flush toilets: Common in Europe, dual-flush toilets have two separate flush buttons, one for higher-quantity flushes and one for lower-quantity flushes, using less water for the latter.
  • Composting toilets: More common at waste treatment centers than in homes, composting toilets dry out their contents and use it as soil fertilizer. Many districts have laws limiting the use of composting toilets, so check with your local authorities before installing one. They also have several maintenance requirements under sanitation law.

Important Toilet Features

  • Height is a feature that many toilet shoppers forget, but it is extremely important for user comfort. After all, getting on and off a toilet need not be strenuous, particularly at home. The most popular heights are 17 to 19 inches, but this can vary depending on personal height and preference. Even if the salesperson looks at you like you're crazy, ask to sit down on every model you consider.
  • Seat width is a similar concern to height. Toilets are either elongated or round, so consider both before making your final purchase.
  • Efficiency is a feature that many toilet manufacturers are approaching competitively. While a common toilet today is low-flush, multiple models are currently meeting a new "High-Efficiency Toilet" standard, which uses up to 20 percent less water than the standard low-flow. If water efficiency is an important issue for you, consider purchasing the new HET fixtures.
  • Siphonic method and wash-down method are the two different kinds of toilet waste removals. The siphonic method is more common in the U.S., and "pulls" waste from the bowl using suction, while the wash-down method, more common overseas, "pushes" waste using a larger drain and trapway. While the wash-down models is less prone to clogging, siphonic models are typically more visually appealing to customers.

Toilet Design

For the most part, there are two basic toilet designs to choose from for a standard home: one-piece toilets and two-piece toilets. In two-piece toilets, the bowl and tank are separate, only connected during installation, while one-piece toilets are already molded together. The two operate in generally the same way, but many prefer the one-piece because it has a sleeker design and is easier to clean. However, the two-piece designs are generally less expensive. In the end, the investment in a one-piece may prove useful, and it will also add a touch of style to a typically dreary room.

When remodeling, consider being creative with your toilet's location. Because so many bathroom appliances are alike, arrangement can make all the difference. Rather than placing the toilet right next to the sink, consider facing it away or moving it closer to the door. While checking your hair in the vanity mirror, you don't necessarily want to see your toilet in the corner of your eye. By being creative, you keep your bathroom fresh.

Toilet Cost

Unlike many household appliances, the toilet does not get better with price. In fact, many high-performance low-flow toilets can be purchased for under $100. In today's market, dual-flush toilet prices are being driven down, as well, so many hover around $150. Custom designs -- which include paint variations and personalized shapes -- can, of course, be more costly, depending both on the extent of the design and which manufacturers you use. In the end, though, performance is most important, so read several customer reviews before deciding on a single model, whatever the model or price.

Toilet To-Do List

  1. Measure the distance from the wall to the drain and again to the bolts that hold the toilet to the floor. Before beginning your toilet search, these measurements are imperative, unless you are purchasing a wall-mounted model, for which this does not apply. However, if you are purchasing a standard floor-mount, these measurements will help you ensure that your toilet fits properly over the drain in your bathroom. If you are completely remodeling, consult your designer.
  2. Read customer reviews on each toilet model you consider purchasing. Even after you've practiced sitting on your potential new toilet, there are functions that an inexperienced user can never predict, such as flush capacity and basic maintenance issues. To learn best about these, read online customer reviews. That way you can better gauge the practicality of your toilet before going through a potentially expensive installation process.
  3. Be sure you have proper maintenance tools. After you've purchased your new toilet, you may be in clean appliance heaven, but you have to recognize that it will get dirty and, occasionally, clogged. While many people will buy either a plunger or a bowl brush, you may be better off purchasing both, as they can serve slightly different purposes. If you're concerned about the appearance of the somewhat taboo products in your restroom, look into covers, which come in a variation of styles and strengths.
Last Updated: January 19, 2012
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for

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