Low flow toilets and old houses


A relative of mine just replaced the old high-flow toilets in all 5 units of his building with low flow toilets. The result: a water bill that is $100 a month lower – the replacements should pay for themselves in six months. The toilet of choice: Toto Drake. It’s approximately $200 and it gets rave reviews on the internet.

I live in an old house (1908) with the requisite sloping floors and rusty iron pipes that come along with it. We already have low flow toilets (usually excellent Sloan Flushmates) which were purchased on Consumer Reports rave reviews. See the second rave review above – the only toilet they liked better than the Toto has a flushmate system. HOWEVER! Consumer Reports clearly does not have an old house that has charmingly rust-flecked, low pressure water. See, the Flushmate system works by storing up pressure from the pipes in a sealed tank and uses that pressure to forcefully push water out when you flush. There is no need to rely on gravity to move water through Flushmate toilets, although there are no mentions of them being used in space on the internet. When you put one of these suckers in a house with rusty pipes, little bits of rust get into the workings of the tank and the flushes get progressively worse over time until you’re left with a toilet that pushes the tank water down about a half inch on the flush and then gurgles at you. When this happened, I found myself cussing (a lot) at an inanimate object.

So last Thursday I found myself doing a midnight toilet installation of a Toto Drake. It comes with excellent instructions which should be supplemented by these instructions. And now that it’s done, I very highly recommend it. In fact it’s amazing. For decency’s sake, I will not go into further details.

The moral of the story:

  • New house? Get a Flushmate
  • Old house? Get a Toto Drake
  • Hate money? Keep your high flow toilet

What is a .25 bathroom?

[photopress:9t.jpg,thumb,alignright]Nine times out of ten when someone asks me this question, the house does not actually have a .25 bath. The mls here in the Seattle area requires us to count bathrooms in a specific, and somewhat outdated manner, causing many homes to appear to have a .25 bath that do not. 

[photopress:5t.jpg,thumb,alignright]I will shortly be listing a two bedroom condo in Kirkland at the north end of Lake Washington for about $200,000 that has 1.25 baths. While many homes show 2.25 baths or 3.25 baths, these homes do not actually have a .25 bath at all. A .25 “bath” is one extra fixture, usually not housed in a separate room at all. The 1.25 bath condo I will be listing has a sink and vanity area located in the master bedroom between the full bath (with jacuzzi) and the walk in closet. You enter this dressing area from inside the master bedroom. This is the best example of a real .25 bath. It is an area inside the master bedroom, just outside the full bathroom, where one can shave or put on their make up while the other is in the bathroom taking a shower.

Most homes that show 2.25 baths actually have 3 “bathrooms” involved that total this configuration. The most common setup is one “full bath” plus one “3/4 bath” plus one “1/2” bath, that totals 1 + .75 + .50 = 2.25 total baths. The 3/4 bath is most often attached to the master bedroom and has a shower stall and no tub, making it a toilet + sink + shower stall = 3/4 bath (3 fixtures – no tub). The full bath is usually located off the main hall and is used by the persons in the “other” bedrooms and has a tub (with shower in it) + toilet + sink equalling one “full” bath. A 1 3/4 bath home would normally be a rambler style on a single level, with the full hall bath doubling as the “guest bath”.

A 2.25 bath home would normally be a two story home with a 3/4 in the master, a full bath in the hall and a half bath on the main level, with a toilet and a sink only, so that one does not have to go up to the second floor to go to the bathroom. On the East Coast this is called a “powder room” from the old days when women pretended to be “powdering their nose” as opposed to relieving themselves 🙂 A 3.25 bath home would be similar, but might have four bedrooms rather than 3 with both a hall bath and a “Jack and Jill bath”. A “Jack and Jill bath” is a term used to describe a bathroom set between two bedrooms that can be accessed from either bedroom, but not from the hallway. I had one once, though in my case it would have been more aptly called a “Jill and Jill bath”, but I do not recommend it. The occupant of the bathroom enters from their bedroom and locks the door to the other bedroom from inside the bathroom while bathing. They are supposed to remember to unlock that door when they leave, but often don’t, causing the occupant of the other bedroom to be locked out from their side of the bathroom.

Another example of a .25 bath seen in some very old homes with basements, is a “below grade” toilet only, usually in the basement and sometimes called a “service toilet”. It is a stand alone toilet or a toilet in the washer and dryer area near the “utility sink”. It is often just sitting out in the open in an unfinished basement area used by a guy who is working on his car or in his workshop area in the basement, saving him a trip up the steps to the main bath.

I say this system is “antiquated” because housing trends have expanded, but the mls method of counting fixtures has not expanded with the times. For example, my master bathroom has a separate enclosure for the toilet area, a jacuzzi tub, two separate and distinct sink areas, and a large two headed shower stall. Technically that equals six “pieces” 2 sinks plus 2 showers plus jacuzzi tub plus toilet equals 6. But the mls makes no distinction between that type of elaborate master bath and a “full” bath. That is why you will often see the term “five piece bath” in the marketing remarks of a home, meaning there is a single head shower stall and a separate tub and double sinks. The “uitility sink” located in the washer and dryer area is never counted as a “fixture” when totalling up the bathroom fixture count.

So when you see a home listed as having 2.25 baths or 3.25 baths, stop looking for the .25 bath. It generally does not exist inside that home. Instead, expect to have a 3/4 bath with no tub in the master and a .50 bath on the main level with a toilet and sink only.