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It's a dirty story, but someone has to write it.

Soon after the National Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandated a toilet manufacturing standard of 1.6 gallons per flush to conserve water, consumers started grousing.

Low-flow toilets were, well, constipated.

The feds neglected to include performance requirements with the new consumption requirements so some manufacturers simply reduced water consumption without altering performance.

With less water, toilets often clogged leaving foul odors, soils, stains and more of the variety of dirty work no one wants to do. What's more, the multiple flushings required to empty early low-flow bowls seemed to defeat the purpose of the federal mandate. Two flushes and you were nearly back to the 3.5 gallons-per-flush outlawed standard.

According to a National Association of Home Builders' "Water Closet Survey: June 1999," it didn't matter what you paid for the johns. Toilet technology stopped up short of the flush-with-less-water act.

Thanks to engineering efforts from the plumbing manufacturing trade, now everyone can, well, breathe easier.

Most manufacturers enlarged trapway diameters and developed new trapway geometry to produce stronger siphons, allowing waste to be removed more efficiently. Also, trapways in pressure-assisted toilets have been designed with fewer bends to reduce clogging.

The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute says the updated designs now make new toilets flush like the old ones, but with less water. The changes also allowed for water surface areas to be made as large as the older toilets, which makes the new toilets easier to clean.

Technological advances also further curtailed the need to scrimp on toilet paper.

They include:

  • Gravity tank. When flushed, water stored in the tank is rapidly released through openings in the bowl's rim. Flash filling the trapway triggers a greater siphonic action within the bowl and trapway, to better evacuate the bowl's contents. The best gravity-fed tanks are those with larger, 2 and 3/8-inch trapways.
  • Vacuum assist. A modified gravity tank toilet incorporates a uniquely engineered trapway in the bowl and specialized tank components. Flushing creates a vacuum via the connection between the tank and trapway, which assists in emptying the bowl.
  • Flushometer tank. A pressure vessel installed within the tank uses the water supply pressure to compress entrapped air. When the toilet is flushed, it releases energy stored in the compressed air, pushing the contents out of a bowl specially designed for the pressure assist.
  • Flushometer valve. An external valve connected to the pressurized water supply line helps create a pressurized discharge into the toilet to help remove the bowl's contents.
  • Electrohydraulics. Perhaps the closet thing to a digital water closet (it had to happen) is a siphonic or washdown toilet that uses motors, pumps and controllers to assist flushing by monitoring and controlling the necessary discharge from the tank into the bowl.

Still, not all toilets are created equal. Some home builders and budget-minded consumers looking to cut corners still install toilets that meet federal requirements, but don't always prevent clogs and, perhaps worse, simply aren't large enough for some people when they need to go.

It's up to consumers to shop around, ask around and, whenever possible, seek demonstrations of a toilet's flushing power.

There's no need to be squeamish. Demonstrations typically simulate waste. NAHB, for example, used floating and sinking sponges and paper balls. Home Depot dumps golf balls into the bowl.

Beyond flushing power, bathroom thrones also come in a variety of sizes from kids-sized to toilets with larger, taller (meeting American With Disabilities Act requirements), and more elongated bowls, all of which can be more comfortable.

One-piece toilets are sleeker and easier to clean because, unlike two-piece toilets, they don't have all the crevices, seams and squared corners where you know what can accumulate.

Also for colors, the New Black is always white when it comes to toilets. Off-white and then black (for real) are distant second and third choices.

It's unclear why there aren't more brown toilets, which would seem to be a practical choice, but there is a rainbow of toilet colors, even stainless steel for urban types whose homes are full of it -- the penchant for commercial decor, that is.

If your home was built before 1992 and you haven't replaced the toilet, it's probably time to consider a new can.

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