The plumbing industry has come a long way since Alexander Cummings invented the first S-shaped trap for a water closet, and even further since Thomas Twyford introduced the first trapless toilet in a one-piece all china design in 1885.
For years, there were few, if any, concerns about water consumption; in fact, water closets used 10 or more gallons of water per flush well into the 20th century.
However, in 1992, the U.S. introduced the Energy Policy Act (EPA), which mandated a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). Prior to this, many manufacturers lobbied against the policy’s implementation due to concerns over performance.
The EPA ultimately forced the hands of manufacturers, many of which were technologically unprepared, which soon led to the performance-related problems they feared – double flushing, clogged toilets and clogged drain lines – and a major backlash in the marketplace against low-flow toilets.
Over the past 20 years, manufacturers have caught up technologically with the requirements established by the EPA and gone a few steps farther, introducing 1.28 gpf, 1 gpf and even 0.8 gpf toilets.
Many U.S. states and municipalities have followed suit and begun to pass laws mandating these higher efficiency standards. For instance, New York City now has a requirement that only high efficiency toilets be sold and installed in its five boroughs and Long Island, effective July 2012. This was a reaction to leaking aquifers and an over-taxed septic system.
In an effort to evolve with the times, the plumbing industry has modified flushing configurations from single to dual flush options and even re-engineered trapways to accommodate lower flows.
The majority of toilets in the U.S. are now classified as siphonic, which means they rely on the creation of a siphon as water is rapidly introduced to the bowl. Siphonic toilets use gravity and even pressure to create the best flush possible. They are characterized by smaller trapways and shallower bowls.
Washdown toilets are more common in Europe and other parts of the world. These toilets use water to push the waste from the bowl and do not require a siphon to initiate a flush. They are characterized by larger trapways, a steeper bowl design and a smaller water spot inside the bowl.
This effort to reduce flush volumes is, and continues to be, a direct reaction to growing concerns over less available water supplies. Sustained droughts, population growth and other factors have caused water supplies to decline across many regions of the U.S. In many areas, water is being rationed, landscape watering is prohibited and the economy is being negatively affected. To address this critical issue, the plumbing industry must continue to focus on water conservation at every level.
Paul D. Lichtenstein is a manager at Sustainable Solutions International. He has more than 27 years experience in distribution management, manufacturer sales and logistics within the plumbing industry.