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I didn't expect to be writing about toilets, today. As it turns out, my leaky bathroom toilet opened a flood gate (pardon the pun) of information that leads to a great comparison between the Democrats of the early 90s and today's Democrats.

Our bathroom has a hard wood floor and a wood sub-floor. When we discovered water had been standing on the floor behind the toilet we knew we had to do something, quick, or we'd have dry rot. I could just picture sitting on the john first thing in the morning and finding myself one floor lower than when I sat down. The thought of staring up at the gaping hole I'd just fallen through, pants around my ankles, water from the now-broken supply line gushing everywhere, didn't appeal to me. It was time for action! I donned my cape and headed to Home Depot, Lowes, and local plumbing stores.

What the hell? Every toilet I looked at was white (or cream) porcelain. It had a place to sit and a tank on the back. There were "low" toilets and "high" toilets, but other than that, why would I spend several hundred dollars more for "that one" than $150 for "this one"? Sure, one said it would "flush a bucket of golf balls", while another was "high efficency". Some had a "stay clean surface", but what does that mean to me? I returned home confused and disappointed. I'd have to live with this decision, every day, for the next several years. I realized just how uninformed I am (was) about toilets.

Like any nerd I hit the internet. "Best toilet" was typed into google and my adventure began. Being a fan of "Married With Children" (and given my experience with 4 toilet-plugging kids) I wanted a toilet that could "flush a basketball". The kids are grown, but they still visit. I'd be ready for them, next time!

That's when I learned some history.

Did you know that Representative Philip R. Sharp (D-IN) introduced the Energy Policy Act of 1992, with 54 co-sponsors (most of them Democrats)? It's quite comprehensive, covering, among other things, uranium mill tailings and energy efficient lighting in buildings. It also covered flow rates in toilets.

Believe it or not, flow rates in toilets was quite controversial at the time, but Phil and his co-sponsors were not deterred. (pdf)

In 1992, the United States Congress passed, and President George H. W. Bush signed, the Energy Policy Act. This Act made law that all plumbing fixtures in the United States meet a maximum allowable flow-rate standard. The maximum flow-rate established for toilets was 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). This was quite a change from older toilets that until 1992 had operated with anywhere from 3.5 to 7.0 gpf.

While striving to meet the requirements of this new law, toilet manufacturers were forced to rush a product to market. This first generation of low-flow toilet was quite disappointing. That is why chances are if you have ever heard mention of a low-flow toilet, you have heard a complaint. Anyone moving into a home built in the early 1990’s or renovating a bathroom was exposed to this new type of toilet. They quickly became disappointed at how poorly the bowl cleared, and found that frequently two to three flushes were required.

This additional flushing in many cases actually resulted in an increase in water usage over older models. People soon began talking of a "black market" where higher-flow toilets could be purchased to replace these less efficient low-flow types. Society as a whole became united in their complaints of these fixtures. The outcry was so strong that Congress actually considered repealing the Energy Policy Act.

But the toilet manufacturers stepped up, and second and third generation low-flow toilets were quickly on the market.

The standard toilet is a gravity flush model. It works just like the water tower you undoubtedly have near your house (if you live in a city). The water in the tank is higher than the bowl, and water runs down hill. The bowl is higher than the drain in the floor, and water keeps running down hill. That little bend (you'll see it if you look) between the bowl and the floor drain? That's the trick. It adds suction to the flush (analogous to siphoning gas from your neighbor's car while he's sleeping). As the water enters the drain it reaches a point where there's a bigger water column in the pipe than in the toilet, and it literally sucks the bowl dry.

There are also pressure-assisted toilets, vacuum-assisted toilets, and pump-assisted toilets. You have to plug that latter into the power lines. For some reason I find that funny, and potentially dangerous.

Armed with this new knowledge I headed back to Home Depot (the closest store to my home) and bought myself an American Standard Champion. This baby will flush a watermelon (10 out of 10 rating), features the ever-clean surface, and has a "whisper quiet seat" (hilarious to watch if you like "toilet humor", it lowers the lid slowly onto the bowl when it's closed to avoid that "lid slam" sound in the middle of the night), all for under 250 bucks. One wax ring later and I'm back in business (pardon the pun). Not only is the flush much quieter than my last toilet, I'm going to use about 15% less water from now on.

The only down side is, I now live with the fear I'll forget to stand up before I flush. I'd hate to lose a body part.

So, what does this have to do with today's Democrats?

If the Democrats of 1992 could establish energy useage standards in spite of pissed off home owners demanding a better flush (is that another pun?), the Democrats of today should be able to pass a "public option" health care bill with 70% public support. They should be able to market a new energy policy as a way to end "funding for terrorists" and get it passed.

If they can't, we should flush them. I've got just the thing...

Originally posted to Timbuk3 on Sat Jun 27, 2009 at 06:40 AM PDT.

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