It was only a matter of time before the computer technology that has transformed kitchen and laundry appliances migrated to other rooms.
Those little chips gave us the dishwasher with sensors that determine how dirty the plates are and calculate wash time accordingly, as well washing machines that choose among 12 cycles and precisely calibrate the amount of water required for each load. They have now moved into the bathroom.
I saw it all at the annual Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas last month. Toto Ltd., the world's largest toilet manufacturer, now offers the Neorest 600. A high-tech fixture that looks like something out of "Star Wars," the 600 lifts the lid as it senses your approach. If you sit down, the seat warms up. If you want to lift the seat, you can do so with a touch of the brushed stainless steel remote-control pad. Then, within 30 seconds after you walk away, the seat and lid go back down and the toilet flushes. In addition, a high-tech deodorizer also provides white noise that masks sound.
The Neorest 600's real triumph, however, is its built-in bidet. Unlike its European antecedent, which is a separate fixture, the Neorest 600 bidet is built into the toilet. A touch on the remote and one of two wands moves into place as needed for cleaning. You can also adjust the water temperature, the amount of pressure and the oscillation of the spray. A 10- to 30-second wash cycle is followed by a 30- to 60-second drying cycle.
If there is a power failure , the Neorest 600 goes into manual override mode and performs like an ordinary toilet.
The Neorest 600 costs $5,200. Should this seem a bit steep, Toto offers a Neorest 500 toilet with everything but the remote control for $3,200. Toto also sells several $800 to $1,320 Washlet bidets with similar features that are incorporated into a toilet seat, which can be fitted onto any toilet.
Two other firms make similar bidet seats. Illinois-based UCI Inc. offers three Bio Bidet models that range in price from $450 to $600, and Wisconsin-based Bemis offers its Purite model for $800.Toto also provides another unusual option: a urinal. Though a somewhat startling idea for the average homeowner, Toto's $600 Lloyd urinal is admirably practical, eliminating drips and spills. As to where to put it, one possibility is in a compartment along with a regular toilet.
Perhaps you're not interested in all these bells and bathroom whistles, and you merely want a toilet that works well with the federal-government-mandated 1.6 gallons per flush required in all new houses since 1994. When the low-flush toilets were introduced, many consumers complained that they did not work well, frequently requiring several flushes, which negated any water savings.
Over the years, toilet manufacturers have re-engineered their products. Some have added a second sealed tank that sits inside a conventional toilet tank and uses air pressure to give the smaller amount of water an extra boost; these are referred to as pressure-assisted toilets. A few manufacturers added a pump to move the water through quickly and effectively -- these are called power-assisted toilets -- but these won't work when the electricity is off.
Still other manufacturers have looked at ways to modify the old gravity-fed toilets so that they would work well with far less water. Many of the newest ones work better than the old ones ever did. Recent innovations have included doubling the size of the outlet from the tank so that water enters the toilet with more force, altering the shape of the rim so that water shoots around it creating a more powerful flush, and changing the bowl's shape and trapway so that water and waste can pass through easily without clogging.
I saw several toilets with these new innovations at the bath industry show, each one enthusiastically endorsed by the manufacturer's sales rep. How well do they actually work?
According to Veritec Consulting, an environmental testing firm in Mississauga, Ontario, Eljer's new Trojan toilet ($410) bested the average by 100 percent. American Standard's new FloWise ($395) did nearly as well as the Trojan with even less water (1.1 gallons) than the manufacturer claimed (1.28 gallons). None of Toto's latest innovations, including the Neorest, Guinevere and Soiree models, has been tested yet, but Toto's products have performed well in previous Veritec tests.
Another attractive toilet innovation displayed at the show was pint-sized fixtures for children's bathrooms. Gerber's new PeeWee Collection includes a $350 toilet with a 101/8-inch rim height (standard rim height is 14 inches) and a pint-sized toilet seat. It can be switched out for a regular-sized toilet when a child is tall enough. For most children, this means at the age of 7 or 8.
Gerber also offers a white porcelain, wall-mounted Pee Wee sink for $44.50. It's serviceable, but I would spring instead for one of Elkay Manufacturing Co.'s new, adorable, pint-sized Scrub-a-Dubs sinks that go for $249. Made of a solid surface material similar to Corian and available in seven bright colors, the sinks come in the shape of a fish, tulip, heart, butterfly, football and "whimsy design." A special detail for a small user: The overflow hole is designed so that a child can't get a finger stuck in it.
In developing this product, Elkay held a focus group with its employees who are parents to determine which shapes and colors would appeal to a 3- or 4-year-old and still be loved when that child is 10 or 12. Judging by the results, I would say they were right on target.
Katherine Salant can be contacted at www.katherinesalant.com.
(c) 2005, Katherine Salant
Distributed by Inman News Features