What makes a toilet work?

By September 24, 2016 Memoirs, Plumbing

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 6 seconds



Since the evolution of the outhouse and the gravitational hole in the ground toilet, first world countries have staved off disease in the last century by creating domestic plumbing and municipal sewage systems.

One of my early fond memories of toilets is the Loo nicked named “Baby Loo” at my boy scout camp. A two seater box set over a hole that we used to sprinkle ashes on to keep the flies down. Later in life I built a collapsible hunting toilet for visiting Wisconsinites hence the cheese head.

Although much progress has been made in composting toilets and incinerating toilets we are finding that the most commonly used toilets are the flush and forget style, at least in this country.

Evolution from the out house



Despite the fact that we all visit at least one toilet a day, there are many mysteries that surround the darn thing. My wife is afraid of them because of an unfortunate overflowing episode in her formative years.

My neighbor Teresa said during a remodel that she never wants to use a plunger again in her life. She wanted “A flusher with gusto!” Marketing has evolved around how many golf balls you can flush at one time but the real test is done with some sort of hot dogs.

Since the invention of indoor plumbing the toilet was a problem, what to do with the smelly end result of digestion. Then someone created a water trap. It was just a “U” shape in a pipe but it allowed a seal to keep the smell stuck in the pipe. A siphon was the simple key to making it all work. We call um “P traps”, not sure exactly why? Could it be slang for urine?

Basically as water flowed into the “U” shaped pile it would spill over and suction would pull the contents of the bowl down with it. At the end of the process the siphon would be broken and a water trap would remain.

This system is still the primary function of toilets today. Sure there are fancy ones with air bladders and all sorts of contraptions to enhance comfort, but not much has changed since then. What has changed is the amount of water that is needed for each flush.

Water conservation

It seems like water conservation has been the driving force in toilet design over the last decade. What once took a gallon to flush now is done with .28 of a gallon. Sure problems arose when the amount of fluid decreased but they seem to have ironed themselves out.

With new coatings on the toilets that tout slickness and fears of blockages due to lack of water following the waste into the sewer pipes, municipal systems seem to be working just fine. Dual flush toilets also tout big water savings but it is all in how you use them.

Comfort height

Low boy green toilet

Low boy green toilet

The other change is that of a new height that has become the standard. It is called “Comfort height” and it is about 1 1/2″ taller that the old ones. It is surprising how much easier it is to get up. Unfortunately the toilet, specifically leaving the seat down, and aim has been the topic of many a domestic dispute.

Taking toilets to the next level


As with everything there are all sorts of options, hanging on the wall, one piece or two, different colors, round bowl, or elongated etc.

One thing that I am supporting is that you get one made here in the states. We have responded to several toilet related floods from foreign manufacturers. There is a fierce loyalty some clients get towards name brands and It seems to be related to the Toto brand for some reason. Kohler and American Standard are the two primary distributors in our region.

What the heck is a bidet

Pronounced “Bid-day”. I’ve been told that once you use one you will wonder how you ever got along without one. “Once you go washlet, you’ll never go back” I believe were her words.

This is where Toto shines. It is a Japanese company and they produce a washlet. It is a seat adapter that give you many options for cleaning and comfort.

I’ve added it to my bucket list.

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