Believe me, I had never wanted to know so much about toilets. But after having to spend a lot of time and money to unclog our toilets, which worked most of the time but clog once a month or so, I decided I need to figure it out by myself.
Some people would say, you should not put toilet paper into the the toilet. To me, that is very unhygienic, since the waste basket in the toilet will be infested with bacteria. In any case, toilets are designed to deal with certain amount of toilet paper, and I have had no trouble with flushing tissues into toilets elsewhere.
We had relied on our condo building's technicians and outside contractors to solve the problem of clogging. They would come and declog, and then it would clog again a few weeks later. Maybe our building's technician had asked that the toilet be removed for them to check, but I had thought that it would be too troublesome if the problem turned out to be with the toilet. Then the toilet would be out of commission while we go looking for a replacement.
So I decided to look for a toilet that could flush really well. I will share what I learned about the features that one should look for when buying a new toilet in the latter part of this blog, but let me just give you the spoiler here: after I bought the new toilet, and the plumber removed the old toilet, we found that the clogs in my toilets had NOTHING to do with the design or manufacture of my toilet.
Photo above: After removing the existing toilet, we saw the misalignment of the sewerage line and the toilet bowl outlet. The brownish material around the sewage line is cement.
After the old toilet was removed from its location, we immediately saw the problem. The floor on which the toilet was sat was not flat as it should be. It had been dug out about three inches deep into a sort of oval shape from the sewage line. There was a big piece of human waste at the other end of the oval shape, so clearly, that was where the toilet's outlet located above the ground.
From my research, as well as advice from my plumber hired to replace the toilet, I know that a toilet's waste outflow should go straight into the sewage line. In other words, the centers of these two 'tunnels' should align vertically. Not only that, there should not be any gap between the two tunnels, so that the down flowing waste would not splash into any cavity between the toilet and the floor.
In the case of my old toilet, its outflow was located a few centimeters away from the sewage line. When a big item was flushed out, it landed on the rough cement surface below, instead of the sewage line. Presumably, when there was a lot of tissue piling on top of it, it clogged the passageway that carries waste away from the toilet bowl. When we unclogged the toilet last time (the day before), we probably managed to dislodge the tissues, but not the lumpy waste, which was stuck on the cement surface.
Had we not removed the toilet, the pile of waste would have stayed, and caused another clog later when toilet papers piled over it. This also explains why we often see what we call 'poop flies' in our toilet. The odor of the waste must have attracted them into our toilet. Since our toilet is S-type, there is a body of water that separates the bottom of the toilet from the waste catchment area. The smell was not too strong for human detection, but still it seeped through and was very attractive to this type of insects.
Why did this happen?
Why was our toilet not placed where it should be for proper flushing?
I think there are two causes. One, the developer of our condominium building did not build the sewage line according to the standard size of toilets. The sewage line should be about 300 millimeters from the back wall of the toilet. In the case of this bathroom, it was about 390 millimeters from the back wall of the toilet to the center of the sewage line. The sewage line was also too close to the side wall for the comfortable use of a toilet. I suspect badly located sewage line in bathrooms is not that uncommon in the Philippines.
Next, our contractor who renovated our condominium made a decision without consulting us. He wanted the toilet to sit prettily in the bathroom, this means no space at the back between the toilet and the back wall, and a lot of space on either side of the toilet so that the user can have enough space for the legs.
To do this and allow some flushing, he dug an area below the toilet's outflow, and created a slope from there to the sewage line. But apparently, the depth of the dug-out area was not high enough to accommodate some heavy-duty waste, and the slope was not slippery enough to encourage this type of waste to slide down into the sewage line.
New toilet installation
Having identified the problem, what could we do? Between a prettily sitting toilet that always clogs and a oddly placed toilet that flushes well, my decision was easy. I do not want to deal with another toilet clog if I can help it. Put the toilet at where it should be for best flushing result.
Even though the clog was mostly due to the misalignment between the toilet outflow and the sewage line, I still decided to put in the new toilet, since I spent so much time studying the features of a toilet that flushes well before settling on that new toilet!
Because of the space dug out by my previous contractor, the installation of the new toilet could not follow the norm, in which the floor below the toilet would be flat, and the toilet would be bolted onto the floor. He had to cement the toilet to the floor. Because there is a gap between the toilet and the surface of the floor within the dug-out area, he also could not put a sealing ring between the toilet and the sewage line. There will therefore some spillage from the toilet to the surface of the dug-out area, even though the two 'tunnels' are better aligned now.
We have just installed the new toilet, and have to use it for a while to see if there is any problem. Its location looks odd, as there is a big gap of about 9 cm from the wall to the back of the toilet, and the distance to the side wall is a little bit small for the user to sit comfortably on the toilet. But we hopefully do not have to deal with clogs, at least frequently, from now on.
Having a toilet removed is an expensive exercise and takes a few hours. Our plumber charged us nearly P4,000 for the job, and took two persons nearly four hours. A lot of time was taken for him to chip away the cement that glued the old toilet to the floor. If it was bolted on, probably less them would be needed to remove the old toilet. But from experience, you really need to have the toilet removed to properly figure out why your toilet always clogs. Do not go and buy and new toilet before that.
Work around if you do not want to relocate your toilet to properly align it with the sewage line? Maybe adding some soap in your flush may help to move the sticky waste into the sewage line a few centimeters away. Definitely putting those harsh chemicals would not help.
Tips on buying a new toilet
First thing to look for is the "rough in" of your bathroom's sewage line. This is the distance between the wall and the center of the sewage line either on the floor or the wall. Yes, you need to know where the waste is drained.
If the waste drain is on the floor, then you get a S-trap type toilet. If the drain is on the wall, get a P type.
Check the specifications of the toilets that you like, and see if they have the right dimensions of rough-in.
For S-type, the standard rough in in condo buildings in the Philippines seems is 305 millimeter, or 12 inches. If you buy a toilet that has a longer rough in, then you will not be able to fit it in the toilet. If you buy a toilet with a shorter rough in, then there may be a gap behind the toilet and the wall, but you still can fit the toilet there. One complication is that the builder may not be good at measuring distance, and built the waste pipe at a non standard distance from the wall. Then you will have to use your own judgment. Ask the building admin for the rough in, but the only certain way to find out is to remove your existing toilet. I have not bothered to do that and just bought a new toilet with a standard rough-in distance of 30 cm, and accept the gap behind the toilet.
After that, we need to find a toilet that is designed for very good flush. Factors that are important are the flushing mechanism, valve size, the passageway size and the passageway surface.
The flushing mechanism, including the flush valve, is located in the water tank. We want the flush valve to be as big as possible so that a larger volume of water can be discharged into the towel bowl, and thus giving a stronger flush, as compared to what is possible under a small valve. The usual valve size is 2 inches, but if you can find a toilet that has a 3-inch valve, get that. The valve nowadays can be a flap valve, or a canister looking contraption, but I cannot find discernible differences between them in terms of flushing performance.
The usual flushing mechanism is to have a water storage area, like a tank, and then water is used to flush out the waste. In my research, there are two types of flushing mechanism, one is a siphonic and the other is washdown. Washdown toilets let gravity drain the water into the toilet bowl. A siphonic flushing mechanism makes use of a vaccum in front of the trapway (or passageway) to get the waste sucked out from the toilet bowl.
In practice, I am not sure if any toilet sold in the Philippines for condominium use is washdown type, because washdown types do not have a body of water at the bottom of the toilet bowl to catch the waste from the user, and this is regarded as not very hygienic. Washdown toilets seem to be more common for squat toilets, which are more found in public toilets than domestic toilets.
Then there is the smoothness of the passageway. Make sure it has a glaze so that it is smooth enough to help the waste slide down.
There is a big range in terms of the price of a toilet. Well known brands like Toto and Kohler can sell for P40,000 and above. American Standard, HCL are less premium brands, but still are quite popular. I bought a Kohler before, and it is flushing well. But I do not have a good idea of why these brands justify the much higher price. This time, I bought a lesser known toilet, Vivari, because it is midway between Kohler and the cheapest toilets (around a few thousand pesos), with a few features that I thought should lead to good flushing performance. Its passageway is glazed, I know because I touched the inside of one in the showroom, The size of the flushing valve is bigger than that of our existing toilet. It may not be as good as a Toto or Kohler, but it should be good enough. The point is, a good compromise is what is often sufficient.
Assessment of our new toilet: compared to the Kohler, the flushing strength and speed of the Kohler is much stronger and faster. In the Kohler, the water flowing from the rim of the toilet bowl to the bottom goes down at an angle, so there is like a swirl effect and that seems to clean the bowl well. So based on this simple comparison, the high price of a Kohler has some justification.