Flushed with Success
Water-guzzling toilets give way to eco-friendly models
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 10/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
The typical workday is fraught with decisions, big and small. But since the build-out of DPR Construction's 52,000-square-foot office in Sacramento, California, workers there face another critical choice every time they heed the call of nature: Half flush or whole flush?
Along with low-emitting finishes and the HVAC system's frictionless Turbocor compressor, the LEED-CI gold-rated office features restrooms equipped with Australian-made Caroma Caravelle dual-flush toilets, which use only as much water as the situation requires. As a sign over the commode gently puts it, "By pressing the button with the line on it for a #1 half flush or the other button for a #2 whole flush (If You Know What We Mean) you will help us save an estimated 94,000 gallons of water each year!"
In fact, with the additional help of low-flow showerheads and waterless urinals, DPR counts on saving more than 175,000 gallons a year. That might seem like a drop in the bucket, considering that the U.S. consumes 5 billion gallons of potable water per day for flushing toilets, but low-consumption toilets and waterless urinals have come a long way.
Early adapters complained that low-flow toilets were too stingy for their own good, since it frequently took two or three flushes to carry waste away. In the past several years, however, bath manufacturers have plumbed the depths of technology to overcome such, er, obstacles.
American Standard Companies boasts that its Champion toilet can nonchalantly swallow 30 golf balls at a time, thanks to a trademarked Flush Tower that works by gravity feed with a 2 3/8-inch trap-way, the industry's largest. Inspired by the "raw power of class-five white-water rapids," says a Kohler Co. press release, the Cimarron Comfort Height was designed for "extraordinary situations." This gravity-fed commercial-grade toilet features a 3 1/4-inch flush valve, a 2 1/8-inch trap-way, and an optimized siphon jet that "effectively removes ultra bulk waste without ever plugging." By using the optional 1.4-gallon flush setting—as opposed to 1.6 gallons per flush, the minimum mandated by the Department of Energy—a family of four can save more than 2,000 gallons a year, the company claims. Its San Raphael Power Lite toilet goes a step further, using either 1.4 or 1.0 gallons per flush.
The Aspen Skiing Company has installed dual-flush toilets in its newest LEED building, the Snowmass Golf Clubhouse in Colorado. Besides earning rebates in some municipalities, low-flow toilets can rack up valuable LEED credits—but only when the fixtures are paired with waterless urinals in men's restrooms. "The argument must be that men will pee in the urinals exclusively, which is silly," says the Aspen Skiing Company's director of environmental affairs, Auden Schendler. Still, the company decided not to go the waterless route after a bad experience with early models plagued by a foul odor and what president and CEO Pat O'Donnell terms "fossilized residue."
Such offenses are a thing of the past, insist manufacturers, because new designs trap urine in a lighter-than-water liquid sealant, eliminating odors and airborne germs. Models by Falcon Waterfree Technologies and Waterless Co. use cartridges that need to be replaced a few times a year; the Uridan waterless system from GDK International has a built-in waste trap.
DPR's director of sustainable construction, Craig Greenough, reports that the Sacramento office's six Waterless Co. No-Flush urinals have worked fine, with no odor or maintenance issues. "A lot of people wouldn't believe they'd really work," he admits. "I guess they didn't have faith in gravity."