Royal flush: A new suite of products

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An electronic toilet.

It opens and closes automatically. It flushes itself and is self-cleaning. It has a heated seat. It “cleanses” its, umm, clients, with a gentle stream of water followed by a comforting warm-air drying action. It “takes olfactory senses into consideration,” with an air purifier.

In an industry increasingly oriented toward improved efficiencies and practicality, the Washlet toilets (self-proclaimed to represent “the evolution of clean”), may symbolize a gloriously self-indulgent alternative. And yet all that fun is a precursor of a new “intelligent toilet” system being developed in Japan which will measure sugar levels in urine, blood pressure, body fat and weight. And, you can still read your favorite magazine at the same time.

The intelligent toilet system is compatible with trends noted by Jeff Allen, president of Selco Plumbing and Heating. “We find homeowners doing lots of little things,” he said, “to improve their quality of life and make it easier to stay in their own homes longer,” as they age. “The proportion of ‘comfort height’ toilets as a percentage of all sales, for example, has at least doubled in the last few years.”

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In new construction, remodeling plans, and even when replacing one fixture at a time, people seem to be addressing both immediate comfort – with such amenities as body spray nozzles and rain-simulating shower heads – while also opting for improved efficiencies. Homeowners are replacing conventional shower-tubs with tub-sized showers, which feature easier access than tubs, and often have safety and comfort elements such as fold-down seats and pre-mounted grab-bars installed at the factory. At the high end of fixtures that combine comfort and practicality may be the walk-in tub units that also provide easier entry and egress while preserving the opportunity to bathe.

The earliest evidence of constructed plumbing traces back to 8000 B.C., and systems made of terra cotta and brick were in use in 2500 B.C. Flushing systems have been found in Minoan palaces from about 2000 B.C., and the Romans had elaborate plumbing systems using lead pipes that delivered more than 50-million gallons of water daily. All that history is leading not just to advances in comfort and convenience, but also toward development of more environmentally sensitive designs and devices. Lead-free faucets, the use of hot water solar collectors, and flush tanks filled with “gray water” recycled from dish washers or washing machines are becoming commonplace in new construction. Industry sources suggest that certification of “green plumbers” could become standard practice in five years.

And the luxury toilet isn’t the only bathroom element that uses electronics. Electronic shower valves control multiple shower heads with computer technology. Electronic faucets, familiar in airport and restaurant restrooms, are starting to find their way into private homes. Controlled-flow shower heads are much more user-friendly than the original limited-action ball-joint versions that frustrated so many hotel-based travelers a generation ago.

Many apartment owners have been quietly replacing shower heads and faucets for some time now, Allen commented, “and installing limited access thermostats, too.” The result has been dramatic aggregate savings in energy usage and water consumption.

With water expected to be the most coveted commodity of the latter part of the 21st Century, remodeling efforts today can be expected to render significant payback over time. “There’s some pent up demand for new products and systems,” said Debby Dickinson, showroom manager of Frank Webb’s Bath Center, “and we’re optimistic about this spring season.”

And, while it’s clearly not your grandma’s bathroom anymore, the new bathrooms will be a lot more attractive to grandma, too.

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