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The New Loo

By Simran Sethi

Tags: Bathroom, remodel, renovation, Ian Hurst, Water, Jon Clift, Amanda Cuthbert, Chelsea Green, The Blue Green Book, Tom Kostigen, Moen, dual-flush toilet, low-flow showerhead, low-flow faucet, American Standard, tankless water heater, Takagi, Simran Sethi,

oldbathroomsinkI'm not going to lie. When it came to purchasing my house, the neglected bathroom was nearly a deal breaker. The tiles were cracked, the tub was stained and the fixtures and appliances were what one contractor described as the equivalent of cheap beer. So a bathroom remodel was a high priority for me.

Before I called a contractor or sketched out a bathroom plan, I made a prioritized list of what I wanted to change in my bathroom. This served as my touchstone throughout the process. My goals for the remodel were to reduce energy and water consumption, maximize space, and increase beauty and comfort.

Finding a terrific contractor who was aligned with my vision, understood the kinds of materials I wanted to use, and was able to work within my budget and time frame was not easy. Just as I was about to give up on the ideal of moving into a house with a nice, new loo, I connected with the professional and efficient Ian Hurst.

oldtoiletIan understood my commitment to massive energy and water savings on a modest budget, and he was also committed to my definition of beauty. This part is important— your contractor often makes decisions on your behalf whether you plan for it or not, so this shared vision is integral.

Recognizing that most of the water we use within our homes is used in the bathroom, my first goal was to conserve water. According to authors Jon Clift and Amanda Cuthbert—who penned the nifty book Water, released by sustainable living publisher Chelsea Green — installing a water-efficient toilet, using a low-flow tap and showerhead can reduce your overall water consumption by about 25 percent, so I made sure my budget could accommodate these items.

Also according to Water, more than one-fourth of the clean, drinkable water we use in a home is used to flush a toilet. Contrast this with the fact that one in six people on the planet don't have access to enough clean drinking water, and you'll start to understand why we need to reconsider where our water goes.

Older toilets and leaky toilets are the biggest water hogs within our homes. An older toilet can use anywhere from 3 to 6 gallons of water with every flush. This is extraordinary in light of the fact that the average person needs about 13 gallons of water a day to drink, wash and eat, according to Tom Kostigen's The Green Blue Book (more on Tom’s work in this post).


While choosing a toilet, I investigated low-flow and dual-flush options. A low-flow toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush. A dual-flush toilet uses different amounts of water depending on what you're putting in the bowl—less than a gallon of water to process liquids, more to process solids. I was intrigued by the dual-flush settings and spent uncountable hours researching flush rates, flow rates and waste disposal.

The company that gets consistently high marks for efficiency and efficacy is Toto. I went with their dual-flush Aquia III despite consumer complaints about stuff sticking to the sides of the bowl because of reduced amounts of water. Over time, this is something I have noticed. I spend a lot more time cleaning my loo than anticipated, but that irritation is superseded by the knowledge that I’m saving water.

When I convert my downstairs closet into a half-bath (read: When I have more time and money),  I’m opting for the American Standard H2Option dual-flush toilet, which is engineered to flush the sides of bowl more thoroughly (and it’s as water-saving as other brands).


Water faucets are another smart place to conserve water. I chose to install a low-flow aerator in my faucet. They cost less than a dollar, are so easy to install even I can do it, and can reduce your water consumption by up to 50 percent. I looked for ready-made faucets that have maximum flow rates that are 30 percent lower than standard models, and chose a faucet made by Moen.

Low-flow showerheads of yesteryear had the spray of a weak sprinkler and seemed to defeat the purpose of saving water because it took so long to actually collect enough water to get clean. Things are different now. Low-flow showerheads can reduce water consumption by up to 50 percent without giving up needed pressure. I have tried a few low-flow showerheads in my life, and while many that fell into that "sprinkler" category, the good ones didn't. My favorite is Moen's Envi showerhead. The flow feels strong and I don't feel like I am missing anything.

What is also important to me is the bigger context of the product and how it's made. I chose a Moen faucet and showerhead because Moen recycles more than 90 percent of the materials used in manufacturing. Moen is working to create a culture of sustainability within the company, filtering all water so employees are reusing the majority of water used in product testing, and ensuring all new products use less water and meet EPA WaterSense guidelines.

The Department of Energy says heating water is the third-most energy-consuming activity within our homes. This fact compelled me to invest in a tankless, or on-demand, hot water heater. The heater is tiny and warms water only when needed rather than storing it in a massive tank.

One of my favorite resources during this green home process has been Green Building Supply in Fairfield, Iowa. They were my starting point for research on tankless hot water heaters and recommended a Takagi. This advice was echoed by my plumber and through high-performance scores by Consumer Reports. Takagi has been making these products since well before green was the latest trend, and they were the first company to introduce tankless hot water heaters to North America. Their products are made from 95 percent recycled materials and are 35 to 50 percent more efficient than a conventional hot water tank. Like Moen, they are committed to a culture of sustainability, making sure that going green isn't just a tip or a tagline, but a way of looking at the world and using resources differently.

Next week, I’ll share my experiences with choosing materials for other elements of the bathroom with the same focus on resource conservation.

All my best,


Simran Sethi is an associate professor of Journalism at the University of Kansas. Follow her on Twitter @simransethi.

Edited by Rebecca Evanhoe; photos by Jessica Sain-Baird.
simran sethi_1
12/30/2010 7:58:31 PM

Thanks to all for the suggestions and further insights.

12/26/2010 3:43:04 AM

I'm amazed you didn't direct the direct the waste water from your sink into the loo reservoir. Sometimes if that's simply not feasible there are loos with a wash-hand-basin on top of reservoir. Both are worth considering.

melanie b
12/24/2010 3:52:42 PM

How about recycling the sink water to use in the toilet - it seems easy enough. The sink drain is higher than the toilet basin, and could flow to a holding area, then be re-used in the toilet.

keith hallam_1
12/24/2010 1:30:40 PM

Hi, the tankless hot water on demand heating systems (called combination boilers in the UK) are not as efficient as a properly installed condensing boiler and hot storage tank system. They are not allowed to be fitted to any new build properties in the UK now. Hand washing, shower and bath water can all be used as toilet flushing water, it just needs a little ingenuity in your setup. Any excess can also be used to water your garden. You must let some go to waste though to keep your drain systems sweet and clear.

12/18/2010 4:58:19 PM

I can also vouch for Caroma. I installed their dual flush toilet with a sink on top of the tank (for hand washing after a flush) almost a year ago. I am extremely pleased with the toilet, both its performance (no skid marks, no double flushing, noticeable water savings) and the reactions it elicits from my friends and family. Jessie in Atlanta, Ga.

joel hirshberg
12/18/2010 1:41:54 PM

Thanks for the kudos. Just wanted to respond to your comments on dual flush toilets. While unsightly "skid marks" are problematic for many companies, we have almost no problem with our Caroma dual flush toilets. There area two reasons for this: 1)the sides are steeper than most, and 2) there is very little water in the bottom of the bowl so that the vast majority of the .8 gallons washes down everything in its path. I've had a Caroma dual flush in my home for 5 years and rarely have any skid marks and if I do, they always come clean upon flushing. And that's with the smaller .8 gallon flush button! We never use the 1.6 gallon button in our home because we don't need to. Joel Hirshberg,