Shopping for a Toilet

I hope we will have a composting toilet one day, even if I’m the only one who uses it. Amanda has made it clear from the start, however, that she will not feel comfortable inviting people to Longleaf Breeze to use a composting toilet. So we’ve known since the earliest stages of planning that we would need to have a toilet that flushes with water. Today’s post is all about our deciding what kind.


The heyday of the typical American toilet is waning. The average older toilet flushes five gallons at a throw, and we won’t be able to keep doing that for long. Water’s going to become too precious.

Even the toilets in our house in Vestavia Hills, about the most efficient available when we installed them in 1983, flush about three gallons. That’s unthinkable when we’re trying to minimize our use of precious harvested rainwater, so we have shopped for ways to cut that figure. We have some help. Most any toilet we would purchase today, even the $80 special at Lowe’s, flushes 1.6 gallons, so a good bit of the heavy lifting is already done. We wanted to cut our water use even more, so we have been shopping for a dual flush toilet, the kind that flushes a small amount for urine only and a larger amount for solid waste.

Growing up in the Borden family, there were several sources of authority in our home. There was Mama, of course; and then Daddy. Then Consumer Reports. Everything else, and I do mean everything else, had to arrange itself around these principal purveyors of wisdom about all things. So whenever I shop for anything, I think first of Consumer Reports. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports is late to the whole concept of sustainability and basically MIA when it comes to a dual flush toilet.

When we first started shopping for the barn, there were few dual flush toilets available in the U.S., but I just discovered the other day that you can now buy a dual flush toilet even at Home Depot. It’s an American Standard FloWise selling for $289. Typically with Home Depot, however, there’s no way to find out whether it works well. It may be a great toilet, but we don’t know. It’s also out of stock, at least right now.

There’s also a dual flush toilet available through Costco, a Foremost Dual Flush HET for $349 (HET is the industry designation for “high efficiency toilet,” and you get it for flushing anything less than 1.6 gallons on average). The Foremost flushes 1.6 gallons for solid waste and 1.1 gallons for liquid waste.

The favorite marketing buzzword for how much solid waste you can flush is 1000 grams. Let’s stop and think about what that means. Don’t ask me how I know this, but the average male bowel movement in America is 250-300 grams. Women, bless them, poop slightly less on average. Add a little TP to that average BM, and a toilet really ought to be able to deal with 500 grams (about 1.1 pounds) of solid matter easily and reliably. Actually, you don’t have to ask how I know this, because I’m going to tell you that it’s all spelled out on the web site of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, where they publish and update regularly their Maximum Performance (MAP) test results of popular toilets. What I learned from reviewing the numbers on all the toilets we were considering is that the days are gone when you couldn’t depend on a toilet to flush well. All the toilets we have thought seriously about buying flush at least 500 grams.

Even though anything over 500 grams is probably overkill, we Americans have apparently been traumatized by the brief introduction of low-flow toilets that honestly didn’t flush well, so everybody who wants to promote the effectiveness of their toilets lines up to assure you that their toilet is a “1000 gram” toilet. They stop at 1000 because that’s the most the CUWCC will test for. But lest you think the toilet manufacturers stop there with their demonstrations, you should know that American Standard will be quite proud to show you a video (click on “Champion 4 Flushing System in Action”) of their latest pride and joy flushing 18 golf balls followed by 38 rubber tubes, then 16 water wiggles (whatever these are), and finishing off with 40 feet of toilet paper. The toilet paper I get, but anyone who feels a need to flush golf balls (and the other stuff, for that matter) needs help no toilet can provide.

sydney-270-elongated-3So in the real world where Amanda and I shop and shit, we don’t need to worry so much about the performance of our toilet; we know they’ll all get the job done. This frees us up to shop based on price, low water usage, and ease of use. After shopping around, we have settled on a Caroma Sydney Smart 270, elongated and easy height. Caroma, based in Australia, manufactured the first dual flush toilet in the world, so they’ve been at it longer than anybody else. They’ve also been marketing to perhaps the most water-saving group of consumers in the world (Down Under), so we figure they know what they’re doing.

Caroma toilets are built differently from U.S. toilets. The best way I can explain the difference is to refer you to their video. Go to this page and then click on the video titled “Comparison of Caroma flush washdown technology to siphon flush technology.” The main differences are (a) that the water doesn’t have to travel as far in the flushing cycle, and (b) that the trap through which it travels is decidedly larger in diameter. To Amanda and me, admittedly no engineers, the Caroma design just makes sense.

Caroma markets several toilets in the U.S. Amanda and I quickly ruled out the so called “round front” (shorter) seat in favor of what the industry calls “elongated.” And we decided we had a slight preference for what is variously called “Comfort Height,” “Right Height,” and “Easy Height,” all designations for a toilet that sits 2-3 inches taller off the floor. Our slight preference turned stronger when we learned that, at least in the Caroma world, the higher seat gives you an edge in performance with the same water usage. I talked with Jason at the Caroma office in U.S., and he explains to me that this improved performance results from a steeper flushing angle of the taller models.

Given our requirements, there are three Caroma toilets that we considered, the Bondi, the Caravelle, and the Sydney. We settled on the Sydney, because it uses less water than the other two. The Sydney toilet we have decided to buy will use 1.28 gallons of water for a full flush and .8 gallons for a liquid flush. Because we will eat a mostly plant based diet, we hope and expect that we will rarely need to use the full flush.

Even though Consumer Reports hasn’t yet seen fit to rate dual flush toilets, they did run a nice little write-up about the Sydney Smart toilet on their web site. They wrote about the 305, and we plan to purchase the 270, which flushes a tad better according to the CUWCC.

The Caroma web site warns that the company will not honor its warranty if you buy their toilet online. So for us, that meant Amazon and other sites like it were out. We called the two dealers in Montgomery that carry Caroma and decided to go with Southern Pipe & Supply, mainly because the salesperson, Linda, was patient, well-informed, and seemed genuinely interested in making sure we ended up with the toilet that would fulfill our needs the best. We will pay $347.50 plus tax, plus about $40 for shipping (it’s a special order item). And we opted to pay $40 for an easy-close seat to go with it. So my guess is that by the time we’ve loaded it up in 1-Ho and driven away, we will have paid them about $460. We certainly could pay less for a toilet, but we hope and expect we will be happy with our decision in the long run.

I’m not sure it matters, but the Sydney 270 we’re buying is a “1000 gram toilet.” Bring on the golf balls, Mate.

3 thoughts on “Shopping for a Toilet”

  1. I’ll admit – this is a side of you, Lee, I haven’t seen in the 11+ years I’ve “known” you! And I am awed that someone would invest so much (time) in toilet shopping! (Admittedly, I have never actually shopped for one!)

    Is it safe to assume that the “composting” toilet is a somewhat more sophisticated outhouse? Amanda – it’s not that bad! When I spent time in Russia a few summers ago with my mom & daughter, we stayed with family in a small village. While they had an indoor toilet (actually installed just for us), it was not enclosed. Which… ya know… I kind of like some privacy when doing my business. So I used the family toilet, aka outhouse (except at night, when I was a wee bit concerned about their very large dog). It really wasn’t that bad. Even Cat, at 13, wasn’t really put off by it.

    I haven’t read further into the blog yet, but what are you doing in terms of bathing? On the same trip, we used their bath house – essentially a sauna-type building, where the water was heated by a wood fire. Cat has been trying to talk me into building one here. I’m considering it.

  2. We will have a shower in the apartment and an outside shower as well. Trying to minimize anything that introduces any extra heat inside the apartment during the summer.

  3. Lee,
    I am a plumbing contractor, and I am ashamed to say, you know more about toilets now than I ever hope to. I am awed by your dilligence !
    I don’t know how far you are in selecting a tankless water heater, but I have installed quite a few, and just bought a new 94% efficient Noritz for my (hopefully) LEED certified home I am building in No. California. I would definately recommend it. Good luck with the farm, it sounds like a great project !

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