The Royal Flush

Long popular in Japan, high-tech toilets are taking U.S. bathrooms by storm, offering higher water efficiency and a new watermark of luxury


American Standard’s new water-efficient Champion releases a powerful
1.6-gallon flush in less than a second.

Remember when the toilet was a mere utilitarian appliance, something to be visited discreetly, and discussed in hushed tones? No longer. As manufacturers streamline style and performance options, homeowners are flush with reasons to celebrate the most coveted seat in the house.

The toilet’s segue to the high end seals the WC’s transformation from “the little girls’ and boys’ room” to a sophisticated place of refuge. Today’s commodes are sleek beauties that pack water-efficient flushing technology that’s a far cry from those early low-flow models that didn’t exactly bowl over American consumers with what seemed a trickle of a flush compared to what we were used to.

American Standard’s Champion toilet, for one, has a re-engineered tank and new flushing technology that dumps the old ball and chain system for a powerful flush tower designed to release 1.6 gallons of water per flush in less than a second (as compared to the five-gallon flush of a conventional toilet). The company’s FloWise ups the ante with 1.28 gallons of water per powerful flush.

“Luxury is no longer about conspicuous consumption as much as it’s about responsible use of resources,” notes Lenora Campos, a spokesperson for TOTO USA. “Today homeowners are interested in absolute performance and functionality and efficiency is part of that.”

In fact, installing an environmentally friendly toilet can literally pay off in some local communities. Residents of Charlottesville and Virginia Beach who purchase efficient, water-saving toilets will get a rebate from their local utility companies.

Maryland and Washington, DC, thus far have no such incentives on the books, but since green flushing is often combined with new luxuries, these commodes often sell themselves. From heated seats to sensory-activated lids to self-cleaning functionality, the lid is off in terms of options.

Given that many new amenities require electricity, when doing new construction it’s a smart idea to place an electrical outlet within three feet of the toilet, following code, of course.

HAT TRICK
Apparently going topless is indeed fashionable—in the bathroom, that is. A frontrunner in plumbing design, the Kohler Purist Hatbox ($2,990 in white) is a modern marvel that bears more resemblance to its namesake than a traditional toilet.

This recipient of a Gold Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America is tankless, generating its flush with a quiet 0.2 horsepower electric pump fully enclosed within the toilet bowl. An electronic actuator on the side of the bowl and the option to bring the water supply line up from the floor directly into the bowl base makes this one of the most streamlined bath fixtures available.

“The toilet typically has been a product that’s been overlooked,” notes Kohler senior market analyst Stephanie Simons. “There’s a big opportunity now to add design elements to a fixture we all use several times a day.”

LOOK MA, NO HANDS
Women will have one less thing to complain about thanks to several hands-free toilets that raise and lower the lid when they detect a presence (most also have safety guards to prevent the kids from turning them into the latest toy).

The current crown jewel of commodes, TOTO’s full-size Neorest 600 ($5,200 to $5,980 depending on color) and smaller Neorest 500 ($3,200 to $3,980) are tankless and feature heated seats, spray deodorizers and a massage option. They also flush on their own. But it’s these Japanese-made toilets’ uncanny knack for automatically raising and lowering the seat at the right moment that’s won over celebrities like Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lopez and Will Smith. Neorest seat functions also can be controlled using a wireless remote.

“In our world of the 21st century, we no longer evaluate products on their utilitarian ability to do the job,” Campos says. “We are interested in our experience with them and the fact that this toilet interacts with you makes the experience more pleasant.”

More pleasant—and efficient. The Neorest is so smart it can tell what’s coming when the seat is raised and automatically adjusts to a lighter flushing mode that uses less water when a heavier flush is not necessary.

Another Japanese manufacturer, Inax Corp., recently began selling its hands-free toilets in the U.S. Inax’s Satis model, which operates with a wall-mounted controller, also automatically opens its seat and lid when a user stands in front of it, and closes and flushes when finished.

WASH ’N’ DRY
Certainly not a new phenomenon, the water-cleansing concept of the bidet toilet seat has been expanded and adapted and is winning over homeowners in the States in what’s fast becoming a very competitive market. Electronics manufacturer Panasonic had high hopes for its bidet-type retrofit toilet toppers, but was unseated by entrenched plumbing industry powerhouses and recently discontinued its NAIS line.

In addition to the Neorest, TOTO also sells three versions of seats with its Washlet cleansing system ($775 to $1,435) that can retrofit almost any toilet.

Inax also sell a line of separate seats for new and existing toilets. The Clessence ($980) offers heat, shower, bidet and drying functions at the touch of a button on the control located alongside the seat. The stepped-up Luscence ($1,200) seat has similar options but with a more streamlined look and a wall-mounted controller. Another newcomer to the high-tech seat space is Bemis, a manufacturer of hardware for the bathroom that recently took the plunge with the Purite Personal Cleansing Spa seat ($799). Equipped with two nozzles that support three temperature settings and five wash pressures, the Purite is a sleek little number that fits elongated seats.


Kohler’s Purist Hatbox has garnered attention from designers for its
tankless lines.

OTHER HOT SEATS
Not to be outdone, a company called NTF—which stands for “no touch feature”—has a seat ($1,295) that takes a different tack on personal hygiene. After use, when the toilet is being flushed, this clever commode automatically flips the toilet seat around, dispenses a hygienic solution and dries the seat for the next user.

And Kohler’s Simons hints, “Seats will be a very big story for us this year,” a sign the company likely will introduce innovation in its upcoming new line. Looks like that old slang term “the throne” is taking on new meaning again.

Freelance writer Catherine Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Visit the following Web sites to find more information on these products and locate local dealers.
American Standard: www.americanstandard-us.com
Bemis: www.bemismfg.com
Inax: www.inax.us/
Kohler: www.kohler.com
NTF: www.hygieneforhealth.com
TOTO: www.TOTOusa.com


TOTO’s Neorest toilets open, close and flush on their own. Other
options, from heating to massage, can be set by wireless remote.

The Luscence by Inax offers heat, shower, bidet and drying functions
at the touch of a button.

The Purite Personal Cleansing Spa fits onto any elongated toilet seat.