Homeowners find treasures in toilet salvage company
By YaShekia King
The broken flushing mechanism on his Universal Rundle Toilet pushed Andy Mattson's buttons. When it quit working earlier this year, Mattson searched local plumbing supply stores in San Jose, Calif., for a replacement, with no luck. "I never considered buying a new [toilet or tank] because of the cost and hassle," Mattson says.
Turning to the Internet, Mattson came across This Old Toilet, a company based in nearby Los Altos. Here, the emphasis on salvaged vintage lids and new toilet seats is second to none, and old tanks, bowls and one-piece toilets are also available. In addition, the company takes non-sellable parts to a recycling facility to become road-base construction material. As for Mattson's flushing problem, his white toilet tank lid with a flush button - mass produced around the late 1980s to early 1990s - arrived two days later. "The toilet flushes perfectly now," Mattson says.
The salvage business at This Old Toilet, owned by Gary Tjader, is in full flow as the demand for old toilet parts keeps his weekly hunt afloat. Sales began in 1999, when Tjader crafted the idea after serving as a plumbing materials supply advisor to consumers on two websites. There, he saw countless requests for where to find old toilet tank lids. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," Tjader says.
This Old Toilet offers 94 toilet seat colors in two sizes and tank lids from 78 past and current manufacturers, which encompass about 500 models and colors that date back to 1915. For Tjader, 2007 was a record year when he shipped a total of 900 parts, including 500 tank lids. Many of his sales come from the East Coast, but requests for items have arrived from as far away as Japan and Australia.
Tjader picks his way through salvage yards and finds items from plumbers and homeowners looking to get rid of their old johns. Even a heap of trash bearing a couple of tank lids became a gold mine during one Lake Tahoe ski vacation, says Tjader, who collects 20 to 40 lids per month and removes old paint and scratches from lids and tanks.
While American Standard is the biggest selling brand, the company also offers Kohler and Eljer toilet parts. Tank lids constitute about 55 percent of all the company's sales and average at least $100 each. Shipping a lid costs $10 to $25, plus $5 for the carton and packing.
Toilet seats follow lids in terms of sales. This Old Toilet became Newmanstown, Pa., resident Lydia Dierwechter's saving grace when her old, discontinued French Vanilla toilet seat broke and Tjader helped her find a new one in the same color. "The difference was amazing," Dierwechter says. "I told Gary the Toilet Gods were smiling once again."