Those Japanese engineers, they're amazing. According to a recent article in the New York Times, they're designing some of the smartest toilets on the planet. From devices that will automatically open the lid to built-in stereo systems to temperature-controlled jet spray systems (don't ask), the number and diversity of new features on Japanese toilets appear endless.
By comparison, American toilet technology seems downright pedestrian. Okay, mine does have a voice-activated seat lowering system, but that voice is mine and it's usually shrill.
Curious as to whether it's only a matter of time before my toilet starts talking to me, I spoke to Michele Hudec, Residential Bathroom Brand Manager for American Standard. She works directly with engineers at the company's new design center in Piscataway, NJ. It's not a one-size-fits-all market, she stresses.
"We don't currently offer those types of features on our toilets here, primarily because our customers have not been asking for them," she says. "Americans are more interested in the performance of the toilet. They want it easy to live with and easy to maintain."
Legislation in 1992 created an enormous challenge for engineers: To conserve water, all new toilets were required to have a 1.6 gallon flush, down from the standard 3.5 gallons.
"The whole industry was really set back on its heels at that point," recalls Hudec. Given significantly less water to work with, engineers struggled to bring the performance of low-flush toilets up to an acceptable level. It wasn't easy. "If you bought a toilet in the early 1990s, chances are you're flushing twice," says Hudec. Developments to improve toilet performance continue apace, she says, with engineers experimenting with the shape of the bowl, the height of the tank, and the design of pressure-assisted siphon jets. "The home plumbing products industry has not always been known for its innovation, but today there are some exciting engineering developments underway," says Hudec.