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Toilet tests flush out the best models

New water-saving toilets that don't skimp on performance

Published: March 2012

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Consider the 140,000 times you’re likely to flush a toilet over a lifetime, and it’s easy to see why toilets guzzle nearly 30 percent of a home’s water use. Replacing older, inefficient toilets could save the average family of four 16,000 gallons of water and more than $100 per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Add in the 650 extra gallons per year you’ll save with a WaterSense model, along with the rebate that comes with it, and you could have the cost of a new toilet covered. In fact, Consumer Reports’ most recent toilet tests name two $100 WaterSense models as CR Best Buys.

By law, all toilets made since 1995 must use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. Toilets that meet the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense requirements use just 1.28 gallons per flush or less, on average. WaterSense toilets are optional in most locales but are now required in California and Texas. Using less water needn’t mean less flushing power: Of the 11 toilets that made our latest winner’s list, five are WaterSense models that use 1.28 gallons per flush, yet performed comparably in our tough, solid-waste tests with top-scoring toilets that use 1.4 to 1.6 gallons per flush. And all the toilets we tested this time aced our liquid-waste tests—a first.

Dual-flush toilets, which include a separate setting that uses only about one gallon per flush for liquid waste, are also on the roster. But you may want to think twice: Of those, only the $100 Glacier Bay N2316 did well enough to make our Recommended list. And even in their liquid-waste setting, dual-flush toilets save little water over a capable, single-flush toilet—and can use far more if they require a second flush to completely clear the bowl.

Don't shop by brand alone
Consumer Reports testers also found that not all toilets within a brand are created equal. Dismal solid-waste performance helped put Kohler’s $400 Devonshire at the bottom of our Ratings, even though four other Kohlers made our list of top picks. And while the $300 American Standard Champion and $240 American Standard Clean 2514.101, $300 at Lowe’s, cleaned up in our tests, several of their brand mates were left high and dry.

Pressure-assist or gravity-feed is yet another choice on your decision list. But the word “pressure” doesn’t guarantee more oomph with each flush: Only one pressure-assisted toilet, the Kohler Highline Classic ($425), made our recommended list. Some others didn’t dispatch our simulated solid waste as powerfully as the best gravity-feed models. And all proved relatively noisy, a factor in bathrooms that are close to sleeping areas.

Water flow. Some toilets can also reduce the likelihood of clogs farther down the drain line. Our latest evaluations include a drain-line carry test that measures how far the flushed water and simulated waste move in one, two, and three flushes. With some toilets, the water carried the waste to the end of a 75-foot pipe in just one flush. But others fell far short of that, even after multiple flushes. The farther the water and waste flow, the more likely it is to reach the typical sewer system without buildup—important if you’ve experienced drain-line clogs in your home.

A comfortable height. How high a toilet stands is another buying decision. More and more toilets—and nearly all in Consumer Reports’ latest tests—are what’s known as comfort height. At 17 to 19 inches off the floor, comfort-height toilets are some 2 to 4 inches taller than regular-height toilets and meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Except perhaps for small children, most people find them more comfortable.

One-piece vs. two. You may also want to consider a one-piece toilet, where the tank and bowl are molded seamlessly as a single unit, for its sleeker styling and easier cleaning. Apron-front models also hide the circuitous trap you’ll typically see below the tank. But you’ll pay a premium for these models without necessarily getting better performance. And think twice about toilets where the drain hole in the bowl is deep. Our testers found that the relatively small water spot that results is less able to resist stains and odors than the larger water spot that typically occurs with shallower drain holes. You can compare depths at the store with a tape measure; here, shallower tends to be better.

   

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