Toilet Tryouts and Showering for Science

Some toilets are hot, and some are not.

My wife and I recently took one of our "affordable" vacations, meaning that her company paid for her airfare and our hotel, and her frequent flyer miles paid for my ticket. We've gotten to Paris, France, and Miami Florida together thanks to her company, which we affectionately call Papa. We went to Japan in October (thanks Papa).

The Sushi was incredible, and Michele, who got up at 3 a.m. to go visit the Tokyo Fish Market, said it was well worth it.

I was interested in the toilets.

I was raised in the Home Energy family to believe that the Japanese, with 150 million citizens living in a country about the size of California, are both very polite and efficiency experts and that all Japanese households (and hotels) had low-flow, dual flush (half a flush for "#1" and a full flush for "#2"), water efficient toilets. But everywhere we stayed, the toilets had bun warmers! Surely this must use a fair amount of energy.


I discussed the toilet issue with Alan Meier, Home Energy’s Senior Executive Editor, a frequent traveler to Japan, when I got back to work. He assured me that there are strict energy use standards for the bun warmers, even though the majority of Japanese households use them. Alan thinks that it may have something to do with the aging population. When you get old, the circulation doesn't always work so well.

But what about U.S. bathrooms? The average house built today is about twice as big as those built 50 years ago, and the difference may be the bathrooms! Today's tubs are the size of yesterday's swimming pools, and some showers mimic a rain forest during a monsoon. Shower heads manufactured before 1994 in this country tend to use 3–7 gallons per minute, while the more recent models use around 2.5 gallons per minute. But if your shower uses 3 or 4 shower heads...

Jon Harrod and Lexie Hain of Snug Planet, a building performance contracting firm, went looking for the perfect very-low-flow shower head. They know that the best shower heads are the ones that people actually buy and use. They recruited family and friends to "shower for science" and rate their experience. Their research found that there are indeed very-low-flow shower heads, that use as little as 1 gallon per minute, that give great showers. The Niagara Chrome Earth shower head combines the best price with good performance (go to for more information on the Niagara model and other very-low-flow shower heads).

For the best performing very-low-flush-volume toilets (complete flushing of "#2", if you catch my drift), you have to go to the Bible for toilets, the Maximum Performance (MaP) list. You can find it on the Web site of the California Urban Water Conservation Council ( For more information on bun warmers-- I'm afraid you're on your own.

Jim Gunshinan is Managing Editor of Home Energy Magazine. He holds an M.S. in Bioengineering from Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, and a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree from University of Notre Dame.

latitude: 37.8783, longitude: -122.287