San Francisco Apartment Association

Maintenance Corner

Buying the Best Toilet

by The Editors of Consumersearch.com

Toilets can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000, but in our research, we found that price didn’t always correspond to trouble-free performance. Though pressure-assisted and vacuum-assisted toilets are the newer technology, we found that several modern gravity toilets work just as well or better—plus they are cheaper to buy and easier to repair.

We used extensive toilet reviews in magazines like Fine Homebuilding and Consumer Reports, as well as reports from agencies like the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC) to find you the most powerful toilet, best one-piece toilet, lowest-maintenance toilet and best budget toilet on the market today. (See “Fast Facts” for a quick guide to the winners in these categories.) One common thread exists in all the toilet reviews we found: more money doesn’t always buy better performance, just a more upscale design. We also discovered a considerable amount of performance variation from flush to flush among toilets.

Types of Toilets
Toilets come in several main types: pressure-assist, power-assist, vacuum-assist and gravity toilets. Be sure to compare like categories when you are shopping. Otherwise, you end up comparing apples to oranges. In general, reviewers say to expect to pay between $250 and $350 for a good toilet.

Gravity Toilets
These are the most familiar type of toilet. Here, water drops from the tank into the bowl and trap, moving waste down the drain. Gravity does all the work, which makes them a good choice for homes that don’t get great water pressure (as low as 10 pounds per square inch should be fine). Gravity toilets have a proven design and appeal to those who want a quiet flush. Since there’s not much fancy technology inside the tank, repairs are easier. However, lower-priced models don’t typically fare as well in testing. Better gravity toilets can cost about as much as generally better pressure-assist toilets. Prices range from about $150 to $500.

Pressure-Assisted Toilets
These are the most powerful toilets, best suited for large families or heavy use. The toilet’s water supply provides the pressure to compress air within a sealed plastic reservoir inside the tank. When the incoming water reaches the fill line, the tank is pressurized and ready for the next flush. During flushing, the air under pressure creates a loud “whoosh” as water blasts into the bowl. Up to 80% of the flush water is used to purge the bowl, making for a very efficient flush. These toilets work great as long as the household water pressure is at least 25 pounds per square inch. Pressure-assisted toilets can solve problems in homes with older plumbing systems where gravity-fed 1.6-gallons per flush (gpf) toilets just aren’t strong enough to pull waste through the older pipes. Prices generally range from $225 to $400. Pressure-assisted toilets are generally better than gravity toilets, but their more complicated inner workings make them harder to repair.

Vacuum-Assisted Toilets
The water tank has a vacuum chamber that works like a siphon. It pulls air out of the trap below the bowl and quickly fills with water to clear waste. These toilets, like the power-assisted models, work well in close quarters, bathrooms located near bedrooms or anywhere you’d want a quiet toilet. In general, prices range from $200 to $350.

Power-Assisted Toilets
These toilets plug into a standard outlet and use electricity to power a pump that pushes water into the toilet bowl. These quiet operators work well in close quarters or bathrooms located near bedrooms. A self-closing seat, which may be added to any toilet for about $50, eliminates the loud clanking associated with a toilet seat dropping on porcelain. This type of toilet is expensive; prices start at about $900.

Other Types of Toilets
In home-improvement stores, you’ll see familiar-looking two-piece toilets alongside newer one-piece toilets. The one-piece models incorporate the tank, bowl and seat into one piece of hardware. A one-piece toilet is easier to clean, doesn’t leak between the bowl and tank and is typically more expensive than a two-piece toilet. The tank and bowl are separate in two-piece toilets, and the toilet seat is usually not included with the bowl.

The vast majority of toilets still mount on the floor over a trap that leads to the sewer main. But you can also find wall-mounted toilets, which require a special plumbing setup. Wall-mounted toilets are more expensive, generally over $500. A wall-mounted toilet allows for easier floor cleaning.

Toilet bowls are available in two basic shapes—round and elongated. Round bowls save space; elongated bowls are more oval in shape, and are a bit more comfortable as well. Elongated bowls are usually two inches longer than round bowls. With their larger water surface, elongated bowls are recommended by the ADA for seniors or those with disabilities.

Best of…

Gravity Toilets
We found the most buzz for TOTO toilets, in particular the one-piece TOTO UltraMax. The basic model is the TOTO UltraMax MS854114S (about $375, see “Fast Facts” on page 31) with an elongated bowl. Variations include a model with an ADA-approved 17-inch seat height and elongated bowl (the TOTO UltraMax MS854114SL, about $475). Six colors are available. Reviews tout this gravity toilet as the panacea for problem toilet owners. Testing products used in the evaluation include miso paste, sponges, plastic balls, baby wipes and paper wads. The UltraMax consistently receives high ratings, with perfect and near-perfect scores given for performance, ease of installation and overall satisfaction.

With its three-second flush, the TOTO UltraMax toilet thoroughly cleans the bowl without leaving behind any remnants. This easy-to-assemble toilet with G-Max flush is the most powerful toilet around. Engineers, consumers and plumbers alike repeatedly give the TOTO UltraMax high marks for its “deceptively powerful flush” and ”clog-free performance.” The soft-close seat also receives kudos for eliminating the loud clanking associated with a dropped toilet seat.

If you like the idea of a one-piece toilet, but don’t want to spend nearly $400 on the TOTO UltraMax, the Kohler Santa Rosa (about $250) is certainly less expensive. It is also less powerful, performing below the recommended 625-grams-solid-waste removal per flush put forth by the CUWCC. The Santa Rosa removed about 500 grams per flush, while the TOTO eliminated 700 grams per flush.

Another toilet, the two-piece TOTO Drake CST744S (about $225, see “Fast Facts” on page 31) is less expensive than the one-piece TOTO UltraMax, but also performs well. In tests by the CUWCC, the Drake and the UltraMax were both excellent at flushing solid waste. The TOTO Drake gets high scores from plumbers for its low noise. Variations include an ADA-approved version with a higher seat height: the TOTO Drake CST744SL (about $300).

The Eljer Titan 091-0777 (about $300) is another two-piece gravity toilet that gets good reviews. Like the TOTO Drake, it also has an elongated bowl. But the two-piece Drake is quite a bit less expensive than the similar Titan toilet.

Cheaper gravity toilets don’t do nearly as well in reviews. Models like the two-piece American Standard Patriot 091-2120 (about $165) with a round bowl and the American Standard Patriot 131-2175 (about $175) with an elongated bowl fail to completely eliminate waste on one flush. The Kohler Wellworth K3422 (elongated) and round-bowl K3423 (about $150) is a popular toilet with builders of new apartments and homes because they are inexpensive, but according to reviews, it’s not the best toilet. The Wellworth has a tough time flushing solid waste, achieving some of the lower grams-per-

Pressure-Assisted Toilets
In general, reviews say pressure-assisted toilets are the best bang for the buck, and they generally outperform gravity toilets. The pressure-assisted toilet that receives the number one slot in laboratory tests is the Gerber Ultra Flush. The base elongated model is the Gerber Ultra Flush 21-312 (about $325, see “Fast Facts” on page 31). Similar models include a version with an ADA-approved seat height, different sizes and 14 color choices, including powder blue and pink (colors other than white cost extra). The round-bowl version is the Gerber Ultra Flush 21-302 (about $300).

Equipped with the Sloan Flushmate Flushometer-Tank System, the Gerber Ultra Flush consumes less than 1.6 gpf. The high performance of this pressure-assisted toilet is achieved by using compressed air inside the tank, which creates a turbo-charged flushing action for effective bowl cleaning. This toilet features one of the largest water surfaces of any low-consumption toilet, which helps keep it clean and prevents stains. Reviewers agree that with its quieter flush, this toilet is a great pick for master bathrooms and smaller living spaces. Pressure-assisted toilets are usually considered noisy, but the Gerber is an exception.

If you are on a tight budget, the pressure-assisted Eljer Aqua-Saver 091-7025 (about $200) is an excellent value. This two-piece elongated toilet is noisier than the pricier Gerber Ultra Flush. It is also somewhat less powerful, falling short of the Gerber and TOTO toilets in testing by the CUWCC, but outperforming other budget toilets, like the American Standard Patriot and Kohler Wellworth, by a very wide margin.

We also saw good reviews for the American Standard Cadet 2333 (about $300). This two-piece pressure-assisted toilet is a good performer. However, it is easily confused with some other American Standard Cadet toilets that are gravity fed, not pressure assisted. The gravity Cadet toilets generally get very low marks, so be sure you’re looking at the pressure-assisted Cadet.

Low-Maintenance Toilets
The Niagara Flapperless (about $250, see “Fast Facts” on page 29) is interesting in that its design eliminates flappers or any other type of flexible seal in the toilet. Deteriorating flappers and seals can lead to a leaking toilet, which means repair hassles and higher water bills. This theoretically maintenance-free toilet uses 1.6 gpf, like most other toilets. We found good user comments for the Niagara Flapperless, and it gets very good ratings from the CUWCC. However, it is hard to find anywhere but the manufacturer’s website, www.niagaraflapperless.ca.

Regular gravity toilets are also a good bet. Although they use some rubber parts and flappers, these components are inexpensive and easy to replace. If you need to put a toilet in a low-usage area, or an unattended area, the Niagara Flapperless may be worth seeking out.

Basement Toilets
If you need a toilet for the basement or spare room, Saniflo toilets require no floor drain. This toilet can be easily installed in less than a day. Waste is flushed out of the back of the toilet into a box where it is broken down. The result is pumped through a .75-inch line into the household soil stack. This completely reversible system doesn’t require breaking into the floor, and it works as far as 9 feet below the sewer level (and up to 150 feet away). The cost is $600 to $1,000, depending on the Saniflo model.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of SFAA or San Francisco Apartment Magazine. ConsumerSearch.com finds the best reviews on a given category, distilling results into one comprehensive report, complete with the best products plus an index of reviews and additional resources. Topics range from washing machines to digital cameras to lawn mowers.


Fast Facts

Best Low-Maintenance Toilet:
Niagara Flapperless (about $250)
The unique Niagara Flapperless eliminates flappers or any other type of flexible seal in the toilet, which means you won’t have to replace those parts as you would with regular toilets.

We found good user comments for the Niagara Flapperless, and it gets very good ratings from the California Urban Water Conservation Council. However, it is very hard to find except through the manufacturer’s website, www.niagaraflapperless.ca.

Most Powerful Toilet:
Gerber Ultra Flush
21-312 (about $325)
The two-piece Gerber Ultra Flush toilet gets the highest ratings for removing the most on a single flush. The high performance of thispressure-assisted toilet is achieved by using compressed air inside the tank, which creates a turbo-charged flushing action. This toilet also has a large water surface, which helps keep it clean and prevents stains.

Best One-Piece Toilet:
UltraMax MS854114S
(about $375)
Because the gravity toilet doesn’t use any fancy technology, the UltraMax is easy to maintain and repair. It can be installed in homes with lower water pressure. Engineers, consumers and plumbers alike repeatedly give this toilet high marks for its powerful flush.

Best Budget Toilet:
Drake CST744S
(about $225)
The two-piece Drake isn’t quite as easy to clean as the one-piece UltraMax toilet, but it costs a lot less and is actually more powerful. Because it is a gravity toilet, it uses simple, easy-to-repair technology, and it’s a good choice for homes with low water pressure.