Washington, D.C.–based Studio Twenty Seven Architecture spends a fair amount of time talking about toilets. It’s “always a focus in our residential design,” says firm principal Todd Ray, AIA, LEED AP. But what about toilets is so important? According to Ray, the firm evaluates design, function, performance, and type.
It’s likely that Studio Twenty Seven Architecture is not unique among architecture firms designing either green homes, WaterSense homes, or homes in states—such as Nevada, California, Texas, and Georgia—with water problems. Architects talk about toilets because they play a huge role in water consumption and, therefore, an important role in conservation.
Water conservation is “huge” in Austin, Texas, says custom builder Matt Risinger, principal of Risinger Homes. “The city of Austin is doing all it can to help Austinites reduce water usage,” he says.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the average American citizen uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day, and toilet flushing accounts for most of the usage inside the home. “That is why, in these days of water conservation, we are starting to see toilets and showers that use less water than before,” the group says.
Fortunately, the toilet category has moved fast in the past 10 years. Up until the mid- to late 1990s, Americans knew only about old toilets that flushed with up to 3½ gallons of water or new models that adhered to the federal government’s mandated 1.6 gallons per flush. But then Australian manufacturer Caroma introduced the dual-flush toilet—a unit that uses a standard amount or a lower usage—and forever changed the category.
“We were approached by the Australian government about how we could help in water conservation,” says Derek Kirkpatrick, Caroma’s North America general manager. “It’s quite pleasing to see how the technology was adopted and caught on.”
Indeed, almost every toilet manufacturer offers a dual-flush toilet in some combination, from 1.6/1.1 gallons to 1.28/0.6 gallons. Dual-flush units qualify for WaterSense certification, a voluntary EPA program to help consumers reduce water consumption. These certified high-efficiency toilets must be 20 percent more water efficient than standard products.
Although Caroma is credited with creating the dual-flush toilet, other manufacturers such as Duravit, TOTO USA, and Kohler are major players. Dual-flush toilets have become so common that big box stores carry them and so affordable that you can buy one for less than $300. As a result, they’ve become popular with architects, green builders, and consumers. “Studio Twenty Seven’s preference—and more of our clients are asking for it—is a water-efficient dual flush,” Ray says.
Today, dual-flush units are no longer the primary water-saving option, however. Some companies are going even lower with single-flush units. Kohler, for example, offers two products—the Highline Pressure Lite and the San Raphael—that flush with only 1 gallon of water; Foremost Groups also features a 1-gallon flushing unit; and Stealth from Niagara Conservation uses a mere 0.8.
Water savings isn’t the only driver in the toilet industry, either—manufacturers are every bit as focused on design and functionality. There’s even a burgeoning ultra high-end toilet category with products costing almost $7,000. The list includes the Neorest from TOTO; Regio from INAX USA; and the recently introduced dual-flush Numi from Kohler.
“We envisioned a toilet that creates a category in a caliber of its own,” says Jim Lewis, Kohler’s vice president of marketing.
Numi is a dual-flush unit that uses 0.6 or 1.28 gallons per flush. It comes with an LCD touchscreen; built-in bidet and deodorizer; automatic open-and-close lid; built-in music system; and a heated seat and foot warmer.
“From our perspective, toilets have to be clever and well-engineered, but they also have to look good,” says Timothy C. Schroeder, president of Duravit USA. This might explain why Duravit taps some of the biggest names in architecture and design to create its floor- and wall-mounted products. Recently, the company unveiled a new line of multifunction toilet seat/bidet products called SensoWash, which offer heated seats, a variety of wash settings, illumination, and a powerized lid and seat. “It’s a luxury and there’s a cost associated with it, but it brings a tremendous amount of technology to the space,” Schroeder says about SensoWash. “We believe it will be accepted.”