Water Efficiency

Shopping for a Good Toilet or Showerhead?

This page was created to provide an aid for people shopping for quality low-consumption toilets and water-saving showerheads. I will try to update and expand it during the month of March. This page is currently limited to a discussion of low-consumption toilet performance, and particularly publicizing evaluations of specific products. Customer surveys from Southern California and New York are included, here, as well as a survey of water efficiency professionals, a review by "Consumer Reports" from 1995 and recent articles in "Fine Homebuilding" magazine. Readers are urged to visit the WaterWiser site, which is the primary web resource for water-efficiency issues.


Some Background

The subject of consumer choice and toilet quality have become increasingly important as the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) set new national minimum efficiency standards for water closets, showerheads and faucets. The Federal law took effect in 1994, although perhaps a dozen states had passed their own requirements for water-saving fixtures going back to 1992. Many communities in California, New York and Florida have adopted financial incentives for the replacement of old toilets with low-consumption models. Low consumption (LC) toilets consume 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) compared to nominal 3.5 gpf toilets which became the standard during the early 1980's and the nominal 5 gpf toilets which preceded them. Water-saving showerheads flow at no more than 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) under standard water pressures, compared to older "high-flow" showerheads which used anywhere from 4 - 7 gpm.

Like automobiles, refrigerators and many other consumer products, water closets do not necessarily perform equally well. Minimum performance standards for water closets in the United States are established by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards A116.19.2 and A116.19.6. Minimum performance standards for showerheads are set through ASME/ANSI A112.18.1M . The Canadian Standards Association sets similar standards. For some people, water closets and showerheads which exceed these minimum standards, or which meet specific personal standards, are necessary.

The ASME/ANSI test standard attempts to maintain and update a series of objective and repeatable tests of plumbing products. Another approach has been to conduct "satisfaction surveys" of end users. This more subjective approach asks many individuals what they like or dislike about the toilet they use. The results of three such surveys are provided below.

A Few Thoughts About the Debate Over Water-Saving Fixtures

Water-saving fixtures, and particularly toilets, have come in for some criticism and ribbing of late. Some of it, depicted on popular television programs, is understandable - bathroom behavior has always been good for a laugh. People who have spent a lot of time dealing with toilets realize that Freud would have a field day with people's personal habits in the bathroom. Further, people's adaptation to new technologies, social norms, etc. is and should be the subject of satire. The deeper and more practical question is, do these water-saving products work?

Clearly they do, for the most part. While some people have had problems with low-consumption toilets, and those problems are usually very real, the surveys mentioned below show that the majority of people are satisfied with water-saving products. 81% of the respondents in the Los Angeles survey described below, and more than 90% in the MWD survey indicated they would "likely" or "very likely" choose another low-consumption toilet if they had to make the purchase again. People's reactions are clearly influenced by their views about environmental benefits and how much they value saving money. In the New York City survey, the responses from homeowners were more positive then those of apartment tenants when both groups were asked about the same toilet model. Tenant responses tended to be neutral while home owner responses were consistently higher. The home owners saw the potential for saving money on their water/sewer bills while the tenants saw no such potential and toilet replacement projects in New York were often conducted in the setting of possible ongoing landlord/tenant tensions and the debate over rent regulation. Responses to the Los Angeles survey were more positive than those in New York, very possibly because the survey was dominated by home owners, many of whom were well aware that they live in a water-short part of the country.

The move toward these more efficient products has meant design changes for some of them and those design changes can affect performance. The ASME/ANSI performance standards represent a MINIMUM standard, a standard which is clearly insufficient for some people. A problem we certainly have encountered is that toilets are no longer a commodity item and most people don't realize this when they go shopping. Builders tend to use the least expensive products or are not properly informed about performance characteristics. Most people are not accustomed to thinking of different quality toilets at varying prices. We don't treat most other consumer products as simple commodities. We draw a distinction between, "economy" and "quality" products of different kinds. If I purchased a "Yugo" automobile, tried to use it a haul a boat or other cargo, or expected it to accelerate rapidly entering highways, few people would agree with my concluding from that experience that "cars don't work." I bought a low-cost, low-powered car and expected it to do things it could not do well. I might have been perfectly happy with it in less-challenging driving conditions, but people's knowledge of cars would not lead them to agree that my experience with this one model should be used to extrapolate to all car models, or even all small cars. To some extent, certainly, you "get what you pay for."



Benefits From Water-Efficient Fixtures

Most arguments favoring an end to Federal minimum water efficiency standards simply ignore the substantial benefits provided by the standards. Water savings of 6.5 billion gallons per day are projected to result from the Federal standards through the year 2025.

New York City projects that it reduced water demand by 50-80 million gallons per day through a toilet replacement program and Santa Monica saw a reduction of 15%. In addition to environmental benefits, reductions in water consumption and wastewater flows can provide significant savings in the billions of dollars in flow-related water/wastewater infrastructure needs projected by water and wastewater utilities over the next 20 years. These savings represent dollars which will remain in people's pocketbooks and local communities rather than going toward increased water/sewer bills.



What About These "Pressurized-Tank" Toilets?

The advent of water-saving toilets led to the development of new technologies which aim to provide full performance at 1.6-gallons. "Pressurized-tank"("PT"), "Pressure-assisted," or "Flushometer-tank" toilets look like regular gravity-flush (i.e., tank-and-bowl) toilets, but the usual porcelain tank contains a metal or plastic tank which holds water under pressure, pressurized by the building's own water pressure. When flushed, the pressurized water provides a rapid and powerful flush. The trapway (channel which carries waste from the bowl down to the waste line) in a PT toilet is just as large as the trapway in a 3.5 or 5-gallon toilet, thereby virtually eliminating the problem of clogs. Several high-price hotels around the country have installed PT toilets without significant complaints and in some cases with fewer clog problems than 3.5-gallon toilets.



The two disadvantages of PT toilets may not be so major. They are more expensive ($200 - $300), but a toilet is a 20-year investment for which the additional cost will be paid off in water/sewer bill savings within a few years. The other is noise, although the PT toilets are not very much noisier than others and the flush cycle is very rapid.

All of the major toilet manufacturers produce PT models and some are also marketing higher-tech toilets using compressed air or other means.



Customer Satisfaction Surveys

The charts below report the results of several "customer satisfaction" surveys conducted by water utilities in Southern California and New York. The surveys asked new toilet owners about "double flushing," toilet clogging, mechanical problems, and sewer line problems.  These questions were used to develop a "score" for each model of new low-consumption toilet..  The New York City and Metropolitan Water survey is based on a scale of "1" (Much Worse than the Old Toilet), to "3" (About the Same as the Old Toilet) to "5" (Much Better than the Old Toilet). The Los Angeles survey was very similar but was based on a scale of "1-10."

  

New York City's Customer Survey



As part of its Toilet Rebate Program, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection mailed surveys to more than 60,000 people asking them about the performance of their new low-consumption toilets.  This included 55,500 apartment tenants, 3,250 homeowners, 1,000 apartment building managers and 300 licensed plumbers.  They received responses from 8,500 apartment tenants (15% response rate), 955 homeowners (29% response rate), 520 apartment building managers (52% response rate) and 224 licensed plumbers (73% response rate). A copy of the complete report can be requested from: New York City Toilet Rebate Program, Bureau of Customer and Conservation Services, 13th Floor, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, 59-17 Junction Blvd., Corona, New York 11368-5107

Where the table has an "NA" the number of responses from that group about that particular toilet model

Here are the model-specific scores for the low-consumption toilets included in the survey:

Low-Consumption Toilet Model Scores From Homeowners/Apartment Residents 
 New York City Customer Survey



Toto Kiki CST703 Home: 3.41 +/- 0.59 

Apt.: 3.11 +/- 0.86

Gerber Ultra Flush 25-642/644 ("flushometer") Home: 3.36 +/- 0.68  

Apt.: 3.04 +/- 0.83

Gerber AquaSaver 21-701/702 Home: 3.31 +/- 0.61  

Apt. : 2.94 +/- 0.89

Crane Cranemiser 3-662 Home: 3.35 +/- 0.54  

Apt.: 2.97 +/- 0.94

American Standard Colony ("flushometer")   Home: NA            

Apt.: 3.00   +/- 0.87

Crane Civic 3-195E ("flushometer")    Home: NA            

Apt.: 2.94   +/-  0.85

Peerless Pottery Hydromiser 5160/5161 Home: 3.35  +/-  0.56

Apt.: 2.93  +/-  0.94

Crane Santa Fe C4241   Home: 3.03  +/-  0.51  Apt.: 2.64  +/-  0.89
Briggs Ultra Conservor 4775 Home: NA

Apt: 2.60   +/-  0.74

All Others

     Home: 3.37  +/- 0.62  Apt.:  2.93  +/-  0.91 

 
 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power



This survey is similar to the New York City survey, except that the ratings go from 1-10 instead of 1-5. A copy of the complete report can be requested from: DWP Water Conservation Publications, Box 111, Room 1348, Los Angeles, CA 90051. The survey was based on responses from almost 7,200 respondents out of 26,000 surveys mailed.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
 Survey of Ultra-Low-Flush Toilet Users - October 1995



Model Mean Score 95% Confidence Range
All Models    7.6             7.54 - 7.66
Toto Kiki CST-703    8.3     8.14 - 8.46
Great W.C. Corp. WC    7.9     7.56 - 8.24
Western Pottery Arris    7.6     7.22 - 7.98
Kohler Wellworth Lite K3421    7.8     7.68 - 7.92
Universal Rundle Atlas 4090    7.6     7.32 - 7.88
Kohler Wellworth Lite K3420    7.5     7.16 - 7.84
Kilgore Allegro 130-16    7.5     7.28 - 7.72
Briggs Abingdon 4775    7.1     6.62 - 7.58
Eljer Savoy 091-0120    6.8     6.58 - 7.02

 



Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is the wholesale water supplier to most of the local water utilities in Southern California. These surveys, conducted in 1995 and 1996, were similar to the New York and Los Angeles surveys, with a score range of "1-5." Copies of this survey can be obtained from William P. McDonnell, Public Affairs and Conservation Division, Metropolitan Water District, P.O. Box 54153, Los Angeles, CA 90054-0153.



BRAND STUDY

YEAR

SAMPLE

SIZE

AVERAGE

RATING

95% CONFIDENCE

RANGE

Kohler 1995 772 4.35 4.28 - 4.42
Toto Kiki 1995 240 4.33 4.23 - 4.43
Norris 1995 176 4.19 4.04 - 4.34
Universal Rundle 1995 84 4.02 3.76 - 4.28
Briggs 1995 100 3.83 3.63 - 4.04
Eljer 1995 920 3.60 3.49 - 3.71
Western Pottery 1996 81 4.46 4.28 - 4.64
Sterling 1996 83 4.32 4.12 - 4.52
American Standard 1996 90 4.30 4.13 - 4.46
Vitromex 1996 91 4.22 4.07 - 4.37
Kohler 1996 83 4.02 3.80 - 4.24



A Quick Note About "Confidence Limits/Ranges" and "Standard Deviations"

The larger surveys on this page refer to either a "standard deviation" for the average score, or a "confidence range/limit." Without spending time on a statistics lecture, these are ways of describing how much the surveys responses vary from the average ("mean"). The larger the standard deviation or the wider the "95% confidence range," the more varied the survey responses were around the average.

Survey of Water Management Professionals

In 1996 a survey of a group of professionals who run water efficiency programs was conducted. This survey is probably not statistically significant, due to the small numbers, but it does represent the views of a group of people who do not work for toilet manufacturers, but who do "hang around toilets for a living." The survey also includes views about water-saving showerheads.

The number in parentheses ( ) indicates the number of responses which mentioned a model. Total points depend on the rating provided by the respondent. #1 on someone's list received 10 points, #2 received 9 points, etc. Only gravity-flush tank-type toilets are included in the following ranking:

TOILETS

1. Toto Kiki CST-703 (9) 81 points

2. Kohler Wellworth Lite (7) 61 Points

3. Western Pottery (3) 26 points

4. American Standard Cadet/Colony (3) 24

5. Sterling Windham (3) 22

6. St. Thomas Marathon (3) 21

6. Universal Rundle Atlas (3) 21 points

7. Ifo Cascade (2) 20



SHOWERHEADS



1. Niagara "Earth" (7) 65 points (See Note)

2. Energy Technology Labs "Spa" (4) 39 points

3. RCI "Incredible Head" (3) 26 points

4. Niagara "Prism" (2) 20 points

5. Teledyne Water Pik (2) 19 points



Note: Four votes totaling 34 points were received for the A.M. Conservation "Spoiler" and Brasscraft's massager showerhead. These products are very similar to the Niagara "Earth" showerhead, except that the Brasscraft product is more expensive.

Consumer Reports

The February 1995 issue of "Consumer Reports" includes their laboratory evaluations of a number of toilets and showerheads. To my knowledge, the review is not available online except through "America Online." If you are an AOL member, use the key phrase "Consumer Reports" to access their area on AOL and then go into the "Home" section.

CR's laboratory method for testing toilets was far more stringent than that used by ASME/ANSI . The CR method assured that only "pressurized-tank" models and the very best gravity-tank models would score well.

Fine Homebuilding Magazine

"Fine Homebuilding" did not systematically rate models, per se, but they have run several interesting articles on selecting low-consumption toilets. Once you've arrived at the Fine Homebuilding back issues page, run a search on the word "toilets" and you'll be offered a choice of several worthwhile articles.



Some Thoughts About Choosing Toilets and Showerheads

As noted above, not all of these products perform equally, and some specific toilet models may not be at all satisfactory for some people, particularly those who tend to use large amounts of toilet paper. Upgrading the performance standards to assure that every product will be satisfactory for everyone is one possibility, but that is certainly not the case today. In the meantime, consider the following:



1. Consider a pressurized-tank toilet. Yeah, they cost $200-300, but this is something your family will use several times each day, should last 20 years and will pay for itself over time in reduced water/sewer bills. If the entire idea of a low-consumption toilet bothers you, go for one of these high-performance products. Myself, I don't think they're necessary, but I think most people would be happier with a PT toilet.
2. If you are the owner or manager of an apartment building, don't agree to a toilet model without checking some installation references. Also, make sure you don't have any pre-existing venting or other plumbing problems which should be solved before toilets are replaced.
3. Take a look at these surveys and use them as a general guide.



This page was created by Warren Liebold. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of his employer or of any organization with which he has an association. Email: wliebold@earthlink.net

This page was last updated on March 12,1998.