How to pick the best toilet for your house

Selecting a toilet may seem simple, but there are a number of options. Consult with a highly rated plumber to find what best fits your family. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Selecting a toilet may seem simple, but there are a number of options. Consult with a highly rated plumber to find what best fits your family. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Angie’s List member Penny Lundquist says she made selecting the perfect toilet for her master bathroom a priority during a recent remodel of her Calumet City, Ill., home.

“I wanted [it to be] a good brand, medium price, Zen-like design and water efficient,” she says, noting that her previous, goldenrod-colored toilet used too much water and clogged often. “It was very old and inefficient, not to mention ugly.”

Although she hired highly rated Build By Design in Romeoville, Ill., to remodel the bathroom and install the toilet, Lundquist selected all the fixtures herself. She found numerous options at her local Lowe’s, she says, but quickly fell in love with the design of Kohler’s Cimarron toilet. With an elongated, quiet-close seat and taller height, Lundquist says she’s pleased with her $269 purchase. “It’s very clean and elegant looking.”

Change of thrones

When purchasing a new toilet, homeowners may find the variety of options surprising, says David Krakoff, president of sales for TOTO USA. “The majority of consumers make the assumption that a toilet is a toilet is a toilet,” he says. “But all toilets are not the same.” There are a number of factors to consider, such as different colors, heights, flushing capabilities, price tags — which can top $6,000 — and the technology that goes into it. “The best place to start is to understand your current toilet and what you like and don’t like about it,” says Brian Hedlund, senior product manager for Kohler.

Kohler's most advanced toilet, the Numi, has a motion-activated cover and seat, advanced bidet functions, air dryer, deodorizer, heated seat, foot warmer, illuminated panels and music options. The Numi gives homeowners a toilet unlike any other -- with prices starting at $6,000.

In addition, Hedlund says the size of the bathroom and design of the toilet are major considerations. “If you have a small bathroom or your door swings a specific way, you may need a round-front toilet,” he says, although some users tend to find an elongated toilet to be more comfortable. “Men definitely appreciate the extra room up front.” However, elongated toilets take up more space, and may require a kid-friendly potty seat if there’s a toddler in the house. They’re now available in a quiet-close style, which eliminates the sound of toilet seats slamming shut.

Homeowners can also choose between a one-piece or a two-piece toilet, in which the bowl and tank are separate from each other. The solid construction of a one-piece makes it easier to clean and less prone to leaks, but costs up to 50 percent more. Another factor to consider is the height of a toilet: the standard ranges from 15 to 17 inches; what’s known as “comfort height” ranges from 17 to 19 inches.

“It’s more in line with the height of your kitchen chairs,” Hedlund says. Amy Phillips, co-owner of highly rated Mountain Park Plumbing in Phoenix, says her company installs many higher-end Kohler and TOTO toilets, as well as moderately priced models from American Standard, but nearly all have been of comfort height. “They’re ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant and for an aging population, it makes it easier to stand up and sit down,” she says.

Low-flow has come a long way

One of the biggest changes in the industry occurred with the signing of the Energy Policy Act in 1992 which, to conserve water, required all new toilets to restrict their water usage to 1.6 gallons per flush instead of what used to be the average of 3.5 gallons. “Most of us grew up with toilets that used a lot more water than we use today,” Krakoff says. “When you had a toilet that flushed with 3.5 gallons, you could flush a basketball!”

The first few years of mandatory low-flow toilets left manufacturers scrambling to meet the new standards and consumers disappointed with the product. “Initially, low-flush toilets had a bad reputation for a poor flush and many times having to flush twice, therefore not really saving water,” says Liz Muzzy, operations manager at highly rated William J. Riley Plumbing & Heating in Warwick, R.I. “However, manufacturers made many improvements and 1.6- or 1.28-gallon toilets work fine with no double flushing needed.”

Consumers may also purchase a dual-flush toilet, where you select either 1.6 gallons of water to flush solid waste or about half that for liquid waste. The 1.28-gallon models are catching on nationally as well, qualifying for the EPA’s WaterSense program. A number of states, like California, Georgia, New York and Texas, require 1.28-gallon toilets while others offer rebates as incentives to purchase WaterSense toilets.

According to the EPA, toilets are the main source of water use in the home. By replacing inefficient toilets with WaterSense-labeled models, the EPA adds, the average family can reduce water used in toilets by 20 to 60 percent and save an average of $110 a year on their water bill.

Member Nancy Sponseller of Dublin, Ohio, says she remembers the problems with the first efficiency toilets, but she’s happy she heeded the advice of highly rated Ashby Home Repair in Hilliard, whom she hired to remodel her bathroom. “I really wasn’t going to buy a new toilet,” she says of the original, installed in 1986. “I just thought the old one was good enough and it looked as good as new.” But the idea of conserving water sold her on a new Kohler toilet, which cost $250. “I liked [it] so much, I had the contractor buy the same toilet when he redid a second bathroom.” Sponseller says she appreciates her new toilet’s comfort height and the detachable seat, which makes cleaning easier.

Find the best of the best

Every new design strives to improve the performance of a toilet, says Gray Uhl, director of design for American Standard. “We’re talking about an appliance in your house that you use five or six times a day, every day, for the next 30 to 40 years,” he says. “You expect it to work flawlessly every time.” Uhl says homeowners can gauge the performance of a toilet by its MaP, or Maximum Performance, score, which provides an independent assessment of bulk waste removal. The best models score 800 to 1,000, meaning they’re able to flush 800 to 1,000 grams of bulk waste.

“We prefer to install the American Standard Champion Pro and the Cadet Pro,” says Chuck Detari, owner of highly rated Chuck’s Plumbing in Tampa, Fla. “They have 1,000g MaP score, metal flush handles, brass water fill valve shank, large flush valves, antibacterial surface, fully glazed trapway [which helps waste move smoothly through the trap] and a warranty. It’s what I have in my house.”

Joe Piccioli, owner of highly rated Power Plumbing & Sewer Contractor in Chicago, recommends TOTO, Gerber, Kohler and American Standard toilets because they’re competitively priced, flush well and leave a clean bowl after use. “Off-brand toilets can have casting issues, such as a trapway that is not glazed or is irregular, and can also have flushing problems,” he says. Muzzy says consumers should avoid buying a toilet from a discounted surplus warehouse. “Oftentimes, the porcelain is so thin on these toilets that they are apt to break,” she says.

“We suggest a plumbing supply house to pick out a toilet, or a box store. The plumbing supply house will have the better quality toilets. It’s where the professionals go.”

With so many options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. “I went to Lowe’s and Home Depot and I ended up confused,” Sponseller says. “I decided to take my contractor’s recommendation, as he knew better than I.” Krakoff says that’s an excellent idea and suggests homeowners seek advice from a contractor who has experience with different types of toilets. “Getting a good recommendation from a plumber is ideal,” he says. “Communicate with someone who really is knowledgeable about the differences.”


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