Q: We recently returned from a vacation in France. Many toilets had two flush buttons — one for a small flush and one for a full flush. I thought they were a great idea, as they save water and, when needed, actually clean the bowl; the lack of cleaning action is a common complaint with many water-conserving toilets.

I recently remodeled and could not find any similar toilets at Home Depot or Lowe’s. I ended up with something that was satisfactory, but I was disappointed. Are there any dual-flush toilets being manufactured or sold in the United States?

A: We fondly remember the days of the standard 3-gallon flush toilets — one flush and the package was delivered every time. Nowadays, with 1.6-gallon models mandated and ultra-low-flush toilets available, a good plunger is required equipment for every household, office and business.

Both of us have 1.6-gallon flush commodes. Kevin has three and Bill has one. None of them works all that well. Even the jet-propelled commercial toilet at Kevin’s office fails from time to time. Although it’s like riding the rocket in "Dr. Strangelove," occasionally it doesn’t deliver the goods.

We don’t see the conservation logic in flushing twice or more to empty the bowl. Perhaps we are showing our age, and we know the green folks may not approve, but we sure would like to find a throne that works at a reasonable price — even if a little extra water is needed to do so.

The dual-flush toilet you discovered on your trip is a worldwide phenomenon, developed in the 1980s and mandated for use in Australia and Singapore. For some reason the concept is relatively new to North America.

A dual-flush toilet is controlled by two buttons on the tank. One discharges a larger amount of water (1.6 gallons in the United States) into the bowl to flush solid waste. A second, smaller flush (0.8 gallons) is used to clear urine.

The concept of using only the water you need to discharge the waste makes as much sense to us as it does to you. A recent study supports this position. According to research done by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., flushing the toilet accounts for approximately 30 percent of total residential indoor water use.

In terms of water conservation, using a dual-flush toilet is a no-brainer. The Canada study showed that flush volumes were reduced by 68 percent in single-family homes. But customer satisfaction was a mixed bag with 85 percent of participants rating the dual-flush toilets either "good" or "satisfactory" for appearance, clearing solids and clearing liquids. But just 66 percent of respondents said they would definitely recommend dual-flush toilets.

In the States, Caroma and Toto make and distribute dual-flush toilets. Unfortunately, when you remodeled your bath, you looked at the big-box stores for this specialty item. Home Depot and Lowe’s are great for getting standard materials and fixtures. But when you’re in search of something out of the ordinary, shop where the pros shop. In this case you should have gone to a plumbing supply house.

As we’ve said before, even though these businesses cater to the trades, they are usually happy to do business with the public. A caveat here, though. Know what you want before you go in.

Here you knew. You’d seen the toilet in your travels and had enough information to tell the salesman what you wanted.

Another option to narrow the search is the Internet. Google "dual flush" and you’ll find links to Caroma and Toto. Check out these sites and you will find a number of models available for $300 to $600.

Dual-flush toilets seem like a good idea to us. If they work without the occasional double flush, great. If not, perhaps the industry and lawmakers could compromise and increase the volume of water for the larger flush so that solid waste is consistently cleared from the bowl.


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