Take it to the toilets!

SN&R’s Eco-Warrior Princess outlines the dual-flush dilemma

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco-Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: a column about eco-friendly toilets! Don’t get too excited and pee your pants, because, unfortunately, this story takes an ugly turn.

As you may know, SN&R is green-renovating a building on Del Paso Boulevard in north Sacramento, and we’ve been debating whether to use dual-flush toilets in the bathrooms. These eco-friendly contraptions use even less water than conventional energy-efficient toilets, which use 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Press one button for liquid waste (uses 0.9 gallons per flush) and the other button for solid waste (uses 1.6 gallons). But here’s the major drama-for-your-mama: Because women use toilet paper, when they toss it in the bowl and flush, the toilet reads this as solid, so then they end up having to flush twice, thereby wasting water in the process. So if women want to be environmentally responsible, with this toilet, there’s a chance we can’t be.

That’s sexism! I know these things; I took women’s studies classes in college!

I stopped by Tubz, a plumbing-supply store in Natomas and spoke with co-owner Kevin Galt to find out the word on the street. He said a few customers have complained of this problem with dual-flush toilets.

Galt suggested SN&R go with a low-flow toilet that uses a respectable 1.28 gallons of water per flush. All manufacturers will be required to meet this standard in California by 2010—achieving a 20 percent reduction from current standards. However, another concern some customers express, he added, involves the low-water level of low-flow toilets, which means that sometimes people accidentally leave, um, “marks” behind if they don’t direct their unmentionables accurately into the bowl. Then they frantically flush and flush, and once again, waste water.

“People think because it’s less water it’s not going to work. That’s the big fear,” Galt said. But he doesn’t see any reason to worry.

Personally, I’m excited about the new standard, considering how much the United States needs to reduce our water usage. Americans use an average of 100 gallons a day, which includes hidden water use, like water that goes into producing the food we eat and products we buy. With such an alarming statistic, it comes as no surprise that 36 states anticipate water shortages by 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA sponsors a program called WaterSense: Toilets, sinks, landscape irrigation, showerheads and urinals with this logo indicate water-efficient products. We might think that old toilets are fine and functional; but ones built before 1992 use about 3.5 gallons of water per flush, while a new model saves 60 to 80 percent. And, while we’re on the subject, leaking toilets drip up to 200 gallons of a water a day—more than ridiculously long showers, making this the biggest water waster in the typical household.

Now back to the issue at hand! Determined to understand how deeply sexism penetrates the eco-friendly plumbing world, I embarked on an investigation and asked two green-building aficionados in Sacramento for their take on dual-flush toilets. One expert with three of these toilets in his house said, after checking with his wife, that, nope, female overflushing isn’t a problem. An architect in town who works in a building with dual-flush toilets relayed feedback from his female coworkers, who confirmed that they flush only once per liquid use.

Phew, what a relief! I guess we live in a fair and equal world after all!

But I asked Galt to present some other options for SN&R, just in case. He suggested a waterless urinal, in which urine flows beneath an oil base that traps odors from coming back up into the bathroom (maintenance tends to be a big issue with these bad boys). He also showed me a toilet with a bidet, complete with a dryer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t completely eliminate the need for toilet paper, because you’re still going to want to spot-check. Galt’s best advice for our bathroom-fixture needs: “You want it to work, especially the toilets.”

I think that’s something females, males and everyone in between can agree on.