If you know only one thing about toilets these days, it's probably that they're required by law to limit how much water they use per flush. For many consumers, today's "low-flow" toilets are a big pain in the... you know. A toilet may use very little water, but if you have to flush it three times in a visit, its advantage is lost.
It was 10 years ago that Congress required all new toilets to flush no more than 1.6 gallons of water, less than half the previous level of 3.5 gallons. A USA Today article cites an Environmental Protection Agency estimate that as more and more low-flow toilets are placed in service, they could save nearly 8 billion gallons of water per day by 2020. (For context, consider that the soft-drink industry uses more than 12 billion gallons of water in carbonated soft drinks every year.)
Initial low-flow toilets left a lot to be desired, and many of those who installed them are only now getting around to replacing them. Toilet manufacturers have been working on win-win solutions. Take American Standard
Other toilet innovations include a mold-reducing glaze coating and increased seat height. (Many toilets today have you perching at chair-height, which is more comfortable for the elderly, among others.) Privately held Kohler has introduced its "Ingenium" flushing system, featuring a longer period of swirling water. Its Cimarron toilet sports side jets to propel water. The Briggs Vacuity toilet, highly rated by Consumer Reports magazine, uses vacuum chambers to clear the bowl.
Some of the most ambitious toilets hail from Japan. Toto's Neorest toilet, for example, greets a visitor by lifting its lid automatically. It also boasts a seat warmer and air deodorizer -- and a price tag of several thousand dollars. Toilets of the future may do much more, such as give you a bit of a medical checkup, evaluating your output for red flags such as blood. One Toto toilet already can check sugar levels in urine, serving the diabetic market.
So, the next time you're strolling through the aisles of Home Depot
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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. But she does own several toilets.