We all knew this time would come. I've shared way too many details of our construction process, so it can't come as a surprise that I'm going to tell you this one as well. So sit down, relax, and read all about how we chose a toilet.
First some background: Ted grew up about 15 miles from Brattleboro and I'm from the Chicago suburbs, so we both consider northern climates the norm. But we spent much of the last decade in Arizona, which radically skewed our definition of normal. In Arizona it can go months without raining—the so-called rivers are just sandy washes that occasionally flow with water after a heavy storm. Summer enters full swing by the end of April (daily high temps in the 90s, surpassing 100° in May), and it doesn't really cool off until mid-October (highs in the 80s). The hardest part for me was the lack of shade, since desert trees have very tiny leaves and don't grow especially tall.
This developer clearly had a sense of irony
But in 2010 we moved to Vermont, and after six years in Tucson (plus a year and a half in rural Cochise County) we felt as if we'd returned to Earth after living on a poorly-terraformed planet. Seasons! Tall shady trees! Plants that don't puncture you! Rivers with actual water!
It therefore seemed unnecessary to keep worrying about water conservation. Indeed, we had a dramatic excess of water last summer, and installing low-flow toilets seemed like a low priority. But my friend's recent blog post about toilets made me realize I wasn't actually off the hook, so I turned once again to the folks at BuildingGreen for some advice.
They told me that water conservation is, in fact, quite important hereabouts. Wet regions like New England are uniquely vulnerable to drought simply because we have so much to lose. Reduced rainfall could seriously change the ecosystem here, harming numerous existing plant and animal species. After a dry month or two, spring-fed wells can dry up, sometimes forcing homeowners to drill deeper at great expense. So we mustn't get complacent about water use, even though it's rained nearly every day for the last few weeks (not that I am bitter).
Ted and I therefore reevaluated which toilet to install in the house. Last fall we had followed our plumber's advice and selected the American Standard Cadet 3, which uses either 1.6 or 1.28 gallons per flush (I honestly can't remember which version I chose). But I hate the idea of flushing away 1.6 gallons of pristine water every time we urinate, and Ted's sense of smell prevents us from being an "If it's yellow let it mellow" household.
I thought our best alternative would be a dual-flush toilet, but Peter Yost recommended the Niagara Stealth, which he installed in his house more than a year ago. The Stealth ($300) is a single-flush, vacuum-assisted toilet that uses a mere 0.8 gallons per flush (most dual-flush toilets use that amount for only the small flush, and more for the big flush). It's very quiet (Peter let us test his) and by all accounts works great. We even asked a disinterested plumbing supply rep about it, and he told us that a customer with multiple rental properties is gradually buying them for all his units because it's saving him so much on water, and the tenants haven't had any complaints.
I obviously won't be able to fully endorse the toilet until we've been using it for a while, so if you're interested please remind me to post an update next year. And let us all hope that my tendency to overshare does not make you wish you'd never asked.
Before installing solar panels, get a home energy audit to find out where you're wasting the most energy. Your house will be more comfortable if you seal leaks and add more insulation, so don't just slap solar panels on the roof without curbing energy use.