Category Archives for "History"

Sep 22

Low Flow Toilets and Other Green Changes.

By expertplumbing | Featured , History , Tips

So many toilets so little time.  In the olden days, 30 years ago, toilets used 3 to 3 ½ gallons of water to flush.

Then in 1988 Massachusetts became the first state to mandate low flow toilets.  In 1992  President George H. W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act. This law made 1.6 gallons per flush  mandatory for all new toilets.

When I was young man we would test the flush ability of a toilet with a cigarette filter.  Until it went down things weren’t flushing correctly.  Those days are long gone.  And so began the era of the double flush.


Manufactures, too cheap to retool their toilets, had to meet federal standards and began retrofitting their toilet tanks with plastic or foam liners.  This left consumers with 1.6 gal. tanks trying to flush 3.5 gallon bowls.  There were almost no American products redesigned for this change.


Enter TOTO.  Toto products, from Japan, were already using low flow technology.  Before Kohler or any else could do anything Toto took over 60% of the American commercial market.  Only then did Kohler and others spend the money to redesign their products.  Though some still have not made the jump.


The biggest surprise to me was the power assist toilet.  This is a pressure tank in the toilet tank that blasts 1.6 gallons thru your toilet bowl.  Though it certainly cuts down on skid marks, if you know what I mean, it presents that much more that can go wrong with your delivery device.


Now we see Toto, Kohler and a few others trying 1.4 gallon flush.  Both manufactures gave me one of their 1.4 gal toilets.  One is in my home and another in my shop. Officially the Kohler works better but neither works very well. 1.6gallons a flush is about all you can get away with if you want your toilet bowl to be washed down at all.  1.4 gal is simply the return of the double flush.


There are lots of brands and lots of claims to fame but for my money the Kohler Cimmeron and Wellworth are great and just about any Toto 1.6 gal. toilet will do the job.

The mechanical failing of this issue is all the clogged sewers we get to rod because there is not enough water to wash the waste product out to the main.

Water conservation might save the planet, (though I’m reasonable certain water is not escaping into outer space) but it’s not always the best thing for your family hygienically or financially.

And the real water saving products like waterless urinals and gray water filtering are declared the devils work because the cities have no way of taxing the usage in your sewer.








Sep 13

Famous Toilets: NASA’s $19 Million Dollar Space Toilet

By expertplumbing | History , Trivia

Expensive, hard to use, and seemingly incapable of avoiding the pun “out of this world”, NASA’s Waste Collection System is known all over the world, at least in passing. Here’s the real story behind space toilets:

The easiest way to explain the Space Toilet is to not start with the toilet at all, but rather the wet shop-vac, which is much closer to the space toilet than an actual toilet is. You see, without gravity pulling everything down, anything will just tend to pool up, attached to whatever it last was. This problem, in NASA technical jargon as it relates to human waste, is called “lack of separation”, and the space toilet’s function is mostly to facilitate separation. And so, the space toilet is both the fanciest toilet in the world, but also the most advanced shop-vac, since their solution was to narrow the opening for waste and create meaningful suction.

1. Pooping in space is hard to do.

As far as using one is concerned, it’s conceptually as simple as literally vacuuming human waste into the system. Flip a switch, and fans start up and create a vacuum. Number 1 is pretty strait forward, and with a handy flexible tube attachment, it is nearly impossible to mess up aiming for guys (sorry ladies). Number 2 is entirely different, and in reality, usually requires hours and hours of practice for astronauts to get right. Astronauts actually have scheduled space pooping training sessions on the ground, because failure in space is a much worse mess to deal with, and nobody wants to be famous for defecating on multi-million dollar equipment and having bits float about the place (NASA’s term for these are “escapees”). Talk about potential for being a bad roommate.

2. There is no water or sewer system to tap into. Also, no atmosphere to rely on.

This is why space toilets are so complicated and expensive, like so many other things in space. This isn’t just a toilet, it’s a whole municipal water treatment system in miniature, that runs with minimal water, and can’t get oxygen or anything else from the atmosphere, and has to contain it’s smells perfectly. Really, zero gravity is probably the simplest problem for the engineers to solve with the device, and the only advantage being in space give you for this is all the free “cold” you could want.

3. Even though the Space Toilet is awkward to use, it beats the Apollo and Gemini systems.

Before the Space Toilet, there was the “Fecal Containment System” and “Urine Containment Device”.

Number 1:

The urine containment device is basically a disposable condom that attaches to a bag for collection, and ultimately then the urine is to be ejected into space.


The secret to Kevin Bacon making the “Constellation Ur-ine!” before things got crazy on Apollo 13.

Since engineers needed the connection to be snug, so to speak, they handed out the different sizes – Small, Medium, and Large and surveyed astronauts about which condom size fit the best. Naturally every one said Large every time, and eventually they actually had to start labeling them Large, Gigantic, and Humongous. Simply so astronauts wouldn’t end up with wet spacesuits out of stubborn pride. At least back then you could watch it spray out into space, which was apparently one of the more unexpectedly pretty things you could see in space.

Number 2:

An inverted hat shaped doggy-doo bag.

An inverted hat shaped doggy-doo bag, but for people. Classy.

The all the elegance of a plastic bag, with finger bags (called finger cots in the tech specs) for manipulation. Bonus: Since there is live bacteria that will swell and rupture the bag over a period of many hours, you have the dubious honor of getting to massage some germicidal gel into the bag when you are done. Well, at least you are an astronaut at a time when ticker-tape parades were a thing, so you got that to look forward to. Also, these things probably cost a fair bit of taxpayer money, so it’s sort of decadent for the user in a way. So it’s all in the frame of mind.


As you can see, what amounts to a multi-million dollar shop-vac is a step up, and thus the Space toilet is the ISS preferred choice.

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