The 80s Called. They Want Their Toilets Back.

The final straw came when Brenden rushed into the kitchen, a panicked look on his face, to tell me the toilet was overflowing. I praised him for telling us so quickly, cleaned up the mess, and decided it was time to complete a project I’d wanted to do ever since we moved in four years ago: replacing our original 1983 toilets with modern ones.

The old ones were pretty, um, crappy. They didn’t flush all that well and occasionally stopped up or even overflowed, as Brenden learned the hard way. I’m still surprised that the boys hadn’t plugged one up by trying to flush something weird like a Hot Wheels car or action figure.

The other problem was high water use. These used 3.5 gallons per flush, the standard in the mid-80s, whereas modern toilets flush just as well or better with as little as 1.28 gallons. With our ongoing water shortage in Texas likely to get worse in the future, I didn’t feel very responsible keeping these water-guzzlers in service. With all four of us now using the toilet several times a day (thanks, Jonathan!), replacing all three toilets would save 10,000-20,000 gallons of water per year. That’s equivalent to a backyard swimming pool.

I already had my toilet picked out: the Penguin high-efficiency at Lowe’s. I liked the Penguin because it combined great flush performance with a unique feature: overflow protection. Look back in the picture at the top of this post. See the three holes in the back of the bowl? They keep the toilet from overflowing, just like the weird hole in your bathroom sink. And if those holes get plugged up somehow, hidden backup holes can handle it. I still haven’t figure out why no one tried this a long time ago.

There are some other eco-friendly toilets like this Kohler model that offer dual-mode flushing, meaning more water for solids and less water for liquids. It’s a neat idea, but with two boys in the house who might decide to experiment with flushing Batman or Lightning McQueen, I thought the overflow protection was more important.

I wasn’t impressed with the subcontracted installer (Dr. Plumber, who did good work yesterday but showed up 2 hours late and wasn’t good about communicating), but so far I love the new toilets. They are quiet, attractive, flush and refill within maybe 15 seconds versus 45-60 for the old ones, and seem to do a great job. I haven’t gotten to test them too, um, extensively, but based on the reviews I’ve read, the Penguins can handle pretty much anything you throw at them.