A Toilet is a Toilet…Right?

old toilet handle

by Jay on September 15, 2011

“Squander” is a concept for retrospection. Few people realize they are doing it when they are. When buffalo were taken to the brink of extinction few buffalo hunters imagined they were even making a dent in the vast herds that roamed the plains. Then all of a sudden they were nearly gone.

Evidence is gathering that clean water is also endangered and is a resource  among many that must be managed and not squandered.

A few years ago when a drought threatened Durham’s water supply the community responded admirably and I believe changed a lot of attitudes that took for granted cheap, abundant treated water. Couples rediscovered the fun of showering together. Shower water was being recycled in toilet tanks. Lawn watering dropped. People stopped leaving the water on while they brushed their teeth or did the dishes.

The concept is called sustainability. And here in the land of conspicuous consumption we are beginning to take ideas from other parts of the world and adopt them. One of them is the dual flush toilet.

I saw in City Manager Tom Bonfield’s weekly email newsletter that the city has been offering a rebate of $100 to anyone using city water who replaces an old toilet with a Water Sense toilet. So I went shopping at Home Depot to check in with my Realtor buddy Homer who works part time in the plumbing department.

I got there just as Homer…who is a big ‘ol guy…was lifting a big toilet box onto an dayglo orange cart for a customer.  As the customer departed I commented on how easy it looked.

“Got to make it look easy so they don’t get discouraged. They are actually pretty heavy. If they seem to be concerned about it I tell them to open the box when they get home and carry the pieces in one at a time. The bowl is still pretty heavy and awkward but not as bad as the whole box.”

“So,” I asked, “are you selling a lot of toilets.”

“I do. It seems to come in waves. It’s funny how a lot of people research this stuff to death online and think they know exactly what they want.  Others are totally surprised and overwhelmed by the choices…and what we have in the store is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of choices.”

“How about the water saving toilets. Are they popular now?”

“Oh yeah. But most toilets are now. The designation is “WaterSense” and that applies to any toilet that flushes a maximum of 1.28 gallons.  The legal maximum for any toilet is 1.6 gallons and we only carry one or two of those in stock.

“Does less water mean a weaker flush?”

“No. On a scale of 1 to 10…which is how they are rated, most of the toilets are 10. A couple are 8. We have one rated at 2.5 but I’ve never sold one. It would still clear the toilet most of the time.

“How about the dual flush? How does that work?”

“They work great. I installed the cheaper of the two models we carry in my home. I paid $118 but they’re now priced at $98.”

“The rebate is $100. That means you’re getting a free toilet.”

“Absolutely. The more expensive one is $198 dollars. It’s a name brand that most people recognize, but I’ve been very satisfied with the one I’ve got.”

“How do they work?”

“There are two primary mechanisms in almost all toilets, the fill valve and the flush valve. In a dual flush toilet the flush valve is a little more complicated than the one in a standard toilet. Instead of the lever you are used to seeing on standard toilets there are two buttons that activate the flush valve, the “liquids” button uses 1 gallon and the “solids” button uses 1.6 gallons.”

“And that still qualifies as WaterSense?”

“Oh yeah.  Think about it, in most households you would be using the liquid flush much more than the other and that would pull the average way down.”

“How much water can you save?”

“Well, of course, it depends on how many people there are in the household and how long they’re home and what their habits are…but it can be significant. A half gallon here and a half gallon there can add up.”

“Are there any limits on how many toilets you can install?

“Used to be, but there doesn’t seem to be anymore. All the info is at www.durhamsaveswater.org.

“Any other advice?”

“Yeah. Install it yourself and save another $100. There’s a video on the HD website that’s pretty good. I like the idea of getting a little dirty and learning something about your house…Oh, and one other thing. Don’t throw out anything until you’ve filed for your rebate. You’ll need your receipt and a few other things to get it. Do it as soon as you install it too. The paperwork for mine is still sitting on my desk and the box is sitting in the living room. This is for months.”

“Well, let’s load a couple of the dualies for me.”

“If you write something up about this for your blog make sure you get my name right.” Homer grunted as he put the second box on the cart. “Damn,  when I was getting my English degree I never thought I would become an expert in toilets.”

“Ha. And sustainability too.  Aren’t you something of an expert in hog waste lagoons too?”

“Yeah, I was. Don’t get me started. What a way to be shunned at a party. But you’re right, that was all about sustainability too.”

“I’ll take your word for it.  Installing two toilets is excitement enough for one day.”

“Adios my friend!” he said as he waved me towards the cashiers with my cart full of toilets. He seems to be adding a lot of Spanish phrases to his vocabulary since he took this job.


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