Tips for Buying a Toilet

Consider where it will be placed and the size of your bathroom when picking for your remodel

Avalanche Toilet

Photo by: Bacifiore


By: John Riha

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a toilet is a toilet is a toilet. Or so you'd think, until you take a look at the spectrum of possibilities available from today's manufacturers and see that styles and shapes abound. Add in options for comfort, interactivity and water conservation, and today's toilets can do almost anything—including glow in the dark.

From taking care of your most basic needs to elevating your green quotient to making the ultimate style statement, there's a toilet that's right for you and your budget. Expect to pay anywhere from $100 for a basic commode to more than $7,000 for an ultra-chic toilet with all the amenities.

Before choosing a toilet, you'll need to consider a few factors, such as what sort of flush you prefer and whether you want amenities such as a bidet or heated seat. You'll also need to consider what your budget will allow. Other considerations include the size and layout of your bathroom and what sort of toilets are typically found in similar homes in your area.

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Toilet Types

Two-piece toilets. These traditional models have separate tanks and bowls, which make handling easier, especially for DIY installations and for getting a toilet into tight spaces. The water inlet hole and the bolts used to fasten the tank to the bowl are sealed, and the seam between the two pieces is sealed with rubber gaskets. While the gaskets are good for years of service, they'll eventually fail, causing leaks. Replacing the gaskets can be a hassle because the bolts and nuts tend to rust and "freeze," requiring cutting.

One-piece toilets. This style eliminates the seam between tank and bowl. The result is a sleek design with no crevices to trap dirt. One-piece toilets tend to be more expensive than comparable two-piece models.

Round-front bowls. The snub-nose bowl design fits smaller spaces. Before the advent of the elongated toilet, the round-front was the only shape made.

Elongated bowls. This pear-shaped bowl has several additional inches of bowl space in the front of the toilet. It works well for people who appreciate the extra room.

Bowl height. Standard bowl height is 14 or 15 inches above the floor, but taller bowls that are 17 to 19 inches off the floor are gaining popularity, especially with seniors and those with limited mobility.

Solid- or partial-foot. This refers to the part of the bowl in direct contact with the floor—some foots are small and result in an opening between the foot and the back wall. Solid-foot bowls extend all the way to the wall, meaning there's no wiggle room for retrofits. Mismatching the foot is a frequent cause of headaches when replacing a toilet.

Wall-mount toilets. Rather than rest on the floor, these models attach directly to a wall. The tank is concealed inside the wall cavity, resulting in more usable floor space—especially handy for tight quarters. Common in public restrooms, wall-mount toilets enjoy some popularity in residential designs because it's easy to clean underneath the bowl. For retrofits, additional structural material must be added to the wall.

Tankless toilets. Instead of using a tank of water to clear waste, a tankless toilet uses water directly from a supply line connected to the toilet bowl. In cases where there may not be enough forceful pressure to clear the bowl, such as in most single-family homes, the flush is helped along with pumps or other devices.

Tankless toilets have a small profile and are quiet—there's no tank to refill after every flush. Pump-activated flush technology may require electricity, which means the toilet won't work if the power is out.

Color options. Color choices lean toward the conservative. There are stages of beige, along with airy blues and greens, and black for that executive sensibility. However, upwards of 90 percent of all toilets sold in the United States are white. You can avoid having your color choice go out of style if you simply pair basic white with a colored toilet seat.

Flushing Power

Gravity-fed toilets. As the name suggests, these toilets rely on the natural force of gravity to dump water from the toilet tank into the bowl, which in turn creates a siphon action that sucks wastes down into the sewer line. These tried-and-true workhorses generally perform well in all conditions.

Pressure-assisted toilets. These models have sealed internal tanks. When these tanks fill with water, air pressure builds up. When released during a flush, the force of this pressure creates a blast of water that helps evacuate waste from the bowl. The resulting noise can be loud, although recently manufacturers have taken steps to reduce noise in pressure-assisted flush models.

Pressure-assisted toilets require at least 25 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure in your water lines to work properly. If you're not sure, you can buy an inexpensive ($10) water pressure gauge at a hardware store. Attach the gauge to an outdoor spigot to measure water pressure.

Power-assisted toilets. These models use a small horsepower electric motor to introduce air pressure into a sealed tank. The tank holds a prescribed amount of water—1.6 gallons or less—that is expelled under pressure to clear waste from the bowl.

High-efficiency toilets. These toilets generate a powerful flush with a minimum amount of water, usually 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf) or less. The term can apply to any type of flushing action.

Dual-flush toilets. These water-efficient models encourage "conscious flushing" by requiring you to select either a low-water (0.8 to 1.2 gpf) flush for liquid waste, or a full-fledged 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste.

Water Efficiency Options

Hesitant to flush and send all that hard-earned water down the drain? We sympathize. After all, toilets are the main source of a home's water consumption, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all indoor water use.

The federal government recognized the need for water efficiency standards nearly 20 years ago. The same Federal Energy Management Act of 1992 that restricts flow rates in faucets also governs the current maximum allowable 1.6 gpf rate. These standards help conserve water, reduce water bills and reduce stress on aging water treatment facilities around the country.

Although first-generation low-flow toilets produced dubious results, today's high-efficiency flushing technology is engineered to work well with low gpf rates.

High-efficiency toilets with the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense certification use 1.28 gpf or less, nearly 20 percent less water than the current federal standard maximum of 1.6 gpf. That'll save you a whopping 44,000 gallons of water over the lifespan of your toilet.


Bidets sell moderately here in North America, partly because they're seen as luxury items that take up precious floor space in the bathroom. Nevertheless, bidets are essential in many parts of the world, where they're viewed as practical everyday accompaniments that promote healthy hygiene. Nearly 80 percent of Japanese households have a bidet.

Bidets save on toilet paper, too. According to manufacturer Toto, the average family of four uses the equivalent of 1.3 trees worth of toilet paper each year. Bidets substantially reduce toilet paper use.

The standard bidet is a side-by-side companion for the main toilet, and usually matches its sibling in style and color. You'll pay $200 to $800.

Bidet-style seats easily retrofit your existing toilet with bidet features, such as temperature-controlled washing jets, a warm-air dryer and a wall-mounted digital control panel. A retrofit bidet seat requires access to low-voltage electrical power. Expect to pay $500 to $1,500.

Just for Men

Few home fixtures are designed specifically for a man—a urinal is one of them. Urinals are enjoying a minor surge in popularity in homes where bathrooms are large enough to accommodate them. Most are equipped with ultra-low consumption flushes that save water. Equipped with an automatic flush sensor, a urinal costs about $500 to $1,200.

Seating Options

The toilet seat is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Comfort is all-important, but today's seats can do so much more. Be prepared: A top-of-the-line, do-everything seat costs $1,800 and up. When choosing a new toilet seat, be sure it's configured to fit your toilet. Consider these non-traditional choices:

Heated seats use low-voltage heating elements to gently warm the seat. Thermostatic controls keep the seat at your optimum comfort level.

Bidet-style seats add the cleansing power of a bidet that retrofits onto your existing toilet. Some bidet seats are feature-packed with pre-heated water, dual jets (front and back), air-drying, and even motion-activated lighting that serves as a find-your-way-in-the-dark night light.

Slamless lids close gently and quietly, preventing seats from crashing onto the toilet bowl.

Antimicrobial coatings inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, reducing molds, mildew and odors. The primary active ingredients are silver compounds that are stable, inert, harmless to humans and won't wash away.

Quick-release hinges let you remove the entire seat for easy cleaning, a sensible convenience.

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