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Among the significant decisions facing property owners are those that determine everyday convenience.

When it's time to replace the appliances or fixtures that make life easy, buying a new unit can be anything but convenient. The selection process involved in purchasing what is perhaps the most-taken-for-granted fixture -- the toilet -- can reveal how poorly we understand the function and performance issues related to our time-saving appliances and fixtures. Ideally, preparation for the decisions necessary to purchase the right replacement or new units to fit out a new home, reflects the same clarity and thoroughness that should proceed all decisions, particularly those that both cost money and save it. Buying a high-efficiency, water-saver toilet, which can also be a strong "green" statement, could be considered a good training exercise for decision making.

The inconvenience of shopping for a toilet, as for most appliances and fixtures, begins with the challenge of being transformed from a benignly-ignorant user to a decisive buyer without investing enough time and effort to achieve "expert" status on the item in question. Apparently-simple appliances and fixtures can involve complex function and performance considerations that require experience to be evaluated properly. So how do average buyers, who may have used the same appliance or fixture for decades, sort through the often-overwhelming variety of new models, the lure of marketing pitches and the mind-boggling product feature combinations to ensure they make the best choice for their specific needs and budget?

Searching out the cheapest model can be a false economy if the toilet doesn't do the job, or if maintenance and repairs become expensive issues. Pouncing on the most expensive or most widely-advertised unit may be financial over-kill if you're paying for features you don't use or that don't represent value where the unit will be installed. Take advantage of available resources and you'll move beyond relying entirely on price or a salesperson's sales objectives to make your choice.

  • If you are fortunate enough to know professionals or experienced amateurs with relevant installation and service expertise, find out what the most common problems and complaints are. Ask about their reaction to the newest technology or special features. These opinions can provide a good starting point for your research. For instance, experts at one plumbing supply centre said the "hot" news in toilets is a flushing modification which can eliminate the calcium buildup that causes annoying periodic tank refilling. Beware of out-dated information and thinking. The first 6-litre flush toilets, which replaced the 13-litre models, did not perform well. Current technology and improved design ensures certified toilets which flush with 6-litres or less are high efficiency.
  • Search out rebate or refund programs that may stretch your budget and help narrow the product search. For instance, all levels of government currently offer homeowners energy-efficiency and water-saving incentives for replacing out-dated appliances and fixtures. Eligibility may be tied to the province, region or municipality the property is in. Utilities, retailers and manufacturers often have rebate or savings programs, too.

    Toilet replacement rebate programs are part of save-water initiatives in the City of Toronto, Ontario's Region of Peel and other locations across the country. Each operates with different criteria and rebates. Toronto rebates C$60 for single flush toilets and C$75 for dual flush while Peel offers an extra C$25 rebate for the high efficiency toilets that flush with 4.8 litres or less. Lists of eligible toilet models usually include information on price and retailers, so, once you've decided on a model, phoning around should establish the best price.

  • Measure. Measure. Measure. Before you start researching individual models, measure the existing toilet and the space, and make appropriate diagrams. If you want to replace the toilet but not the floor, compare footprint size and dimensions like rough-in size, the distance from the back wall to the base bolts (usually 10, 12 or 14 inches). If this is part of a renovation that expanded the size of the vanity cabinet and reduced the space available for the toilet, handle placement may be important. Bowl size should be considered both for fit and convenience. Take a tape measure with you when you shop since dimensions are not always on the box.
  • Beyond the practicalities of space availability, the concern is functionality, safety, durability and noise. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, seek out established standards and comparisons. The Canadian Standards Association, a not-for-profit membership-based association that develops standards to address public safety, health and quality, is among the organizations that lend their seal of approval to efficient consumer goods. The Canadian Water and Wastewater Association, with a group of municipalities and interested organizations, developed the Maximum Performance (MaP) Testing program, which recently published its 10th Edition including approximately 460 different models measured for their flush performance, November 19 is International Toilet Day, if you decide to join in the celebrations.
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