Form and Function: Choosing the Right Toilet

Form and Function: Choosing the Right Toilet

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Toilet Technology: Making an Informed Plumbing Choice

World travelers will tell you, toilets vary a lot. In Japan, they often have a small sink on the tank, reusing hand-washing water to flush. In China, they usually don’t include a seat — strong leg muscles are required to maintain position. And in the U.S., the type of toilet installed in new construction can vary from east coast to west coast. With lots of low-water flush mechanisms, round versus oval bowls, and the question of flushing into old plumbing, you’ve got a lot of choices to make. They’ll all flush but making a smart choice will improve your experience.

Technical Details and Aesthetic Preferences

Your plumber can help you decide what will work best with your bathroom configuration, plumbing age, and style preferences. In the end, you’re still going to have a lot of choices to make. Even if price is driving your decision, you’ll still find that the price you pay may not determine the results you get with each flush — it’s more a question of cost of manufacturing. And speaking of cost, if you choose a color other than basic white, be prepared for a bit of sticker shock.

The main criteria for choosing a new toilet, besides color which is a priority for some members of the family, are the following:

Toilet Fit

You’ll want to make sure that a replacement toilet fits well in the current space, based on the distance from the middle of the base flange to the wall. In most cases, you’ll do fine since there is a bit of leeway available. Your plumber will note if you need a smaller “rough-in” distance to fit a compact bathroom design. Installing one of these smaller toilets in a regular space will leave a gap between the toilet and the wall. If your current toilet is at all wobbly, your plumber should make repairs to the mounting space and floor to secure the new one.


Most toilet designs consist of a bowl and tank which are assembled at installation by your plumber. A few are molded as a single unit which looks a bit better and is easier to clean, but since it’s harder to manufacture it’ll be costly. You can also get wall-mount versions which may fit small spaces better but do cost more.

Bowl Shape

Some say that the round bowl self-cleans better, but the list of advantages for elongated bowls is fairly compelling. They look nicer to many people, they’re easier to sit on, rise from, use, and they seem to be helpful in keeping odors in the bowl.


The standard toilet height is about 15 inches, and if you deviate from it you’ll probably find it a bit harder judging your descent to the seat. Your plumber will tell you, though, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires a couple more inches in height to help seniors and others with physical disabilities sit and rise.

Additional Water Saving Features

A dual-flush toilet lets users choose a half-flush when there’s nothing solid to push down the pipe. This can help save a lot of water.

Standard Gravity Flush or Power Assist

Power or pressure-assist has helped homeowners make fewer plumber calls, use plungers less, and clean less. It propels the limited amount of flushing water so that it is more effective, using a pressure build-up that can be a bit loud.

Can Low Water Usage Toilets Really Work Well?

To save water, toilet flushes were mandated from 5 gallons and more to 3.5, then 1.6 gallons. While the first round of low-capacity toilets had their problems and probably cost more water in some homes as people re-flushed several times, the situation has improved considerably over time. In particular, innovative redesigns have brought us more effective toilets, some offering even smaller sub-gallon flush volumes in dual-mode units.

The big question, still on the table after flush volumes were cranked down in the mid-90s, is whether only 1.6 gallons can really do the job. The problem is, as the saying goes, “your mileage may vary.” In particular, old iron pipes can be a problem when such a small volume of water tries to push waste down their rough interior. Sooner or later, a clog occurs. Newer models using the water pressure to create an air jet effect can help. Your plumber can also guide you with solutions such as making sure the pipe is shared with higher-volume showers or laundry, or repiping if the clogs become too frequent.

Toilets for People with Special Requirements

In addition to handrails for those who have trouble sitting and standing when using the toilet, “chair-level” models offer an easier way to go. On older toilets, people often use special inserts to raise the seat level, but cleanliness can be an issue. For seniors aging in place and handicapped homeowners, why not have your plumber install a new toilet to add the height permanently?

Toilets for Kids

If you have the space, your plumber can route a second, child-sized toilet into the same drain in many cases, much like the dual-toilet arrangements found in many mall family bathrooms.

Toilets for Special Locations

The east coast-west coast toilet difference mentioned above is a high-rise design choice that hasn’t made it west. By having the sewer-bound line exit from the back of the toilet into the wall instead of out the bottom into the floor, a tall building can save significant vertical space between floors. This style of toilet can be useful in remodeling, especially adding basement bathrooms where pipes in the concrete floor are undesirable, and in tight spaces since the toilet is closer to the wall.

bluefrog, for All Your Plumbing Questions and Projects

bluefrog Plumbing + Drain’s experienced plumbers can help you determine the right toilet for your situation. They’ll help you navigate the technologies. Give us a call at 1-844-HOP-TO-IT for advice and to schedule an appointment — remember, you can have a friend in the plumbing industry!

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