Unfortunately, I Have Lately Had Cause to Lament the Same Thing

Via Mises Blog:

The hidden hand behind this unsanitary calamity is the US government. The true origin of the mess was not in the hour before I arrived but back in 1994, when Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act.This act, passed during an environmentalist hysteria, mandated that all toilets sold in the United States use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. This was a devastating setback in the progress of civilization. The conventional toilet in the US ranges from 3.5 gallons to 5 gallons. The new law was enforced with fines and imprisonment.

For years, there was a vibrant black market for Canadian toilet tanks and a profitable smuggling operation in effect. This seems either to have subsided or to have gone so far underground that it doesn't make the news. I've searched the web in vain for evidence of any 3.5 or 5.0 gallon toilet tanks for sale through normal channels. I wonder what one of these fetches in the black market. This possible source has no prices and an uncertain locale.

The toilet manufacturers, meanwhile, are all touting their latest patented innovations as a reason for the reduced hysteria surrounding the toilet disaster. I suspect something different. We have all gotten used to a reduced standard of living "” just as the people living in the Soviet Union became accustomed to cold apartments, long bread lines, and poor dental care. There is nothing about our standard of living that is intrinsic to our sense of how things ought to be. Let enough time pass and people forget things. So let us remember way back when:

  • Toilets did not need plungers next to them, and thank goodness. Used plungers are nasty, disease carrying, and filthy. It doesn't matter how cute the manufacturer tries to make them or in how many colors you can buy them. In the old days, you would never have one exposed for guests. It was kept out in the garage for the rare occasion when someone threw a ham or something stranger down the toilet.
  • Toilet paper was super thick and getting thicker. None of this one-ply nonsense.
  • You never had any doubt about the capacity of the toilet to flush completely, with only one pull of the handle. The toilet stayed clean thanks to five gallons of rushing water pouring through it after each flush.

It concludes:

"Capitalism achieved something spectacular in waste disposal. Government came along and took it away from us."


  1. Evil Red Scandi:

    Let the crappy government jokes commence.

  2. artemis:

    I also remember when washing machines washed clothes. Like... massive amounts of clothes. What was ONE load in my Maytag A20, is three or four in my new "High efficiency" washer, and takes 5-6 times as long. Yep buddy, that's efficiency. It takes less water per load, but it takes us three days to wash clothes, towels, bed sheets, etc for our family, instead of one.

    And my A20 had a "Water Level" setting where you could set the water appropriately for the number of clothes... provided that you had two brain cells firing at the time.

  3. ElamBend:

    People look at me weird when I talk about this, but it is so, so true.

  4. John:

    Our new dishwasher didn't dry the dishes worth a darn. A call to GE revealed that the feds now require the heating elements to be below a certain wattage threshold. GE's solution? Always press the "Extra Dry" button, which causes the heating element to stay on twice as long. Another "solution" that not only doesn't save energy, but pisses off consumers.

    Oh, and GE's other solution? Always use JetDry. Yeah, the energy required to manufacture and ship that product surely isn't worth adding a few hundred watts to my drying element. Arrrrgh!

  5. gn:

    The low-flow toilets take 1/3 the water half the time, and 5-10 times the water the other half of the time (repeated attempts to clear with plunger).

    I once cracked the tank on an old toilet and, rather than fix it (I know, dumb), I replaced it with a new one. I put the old one out in the alley behind our house and it didn't last even an hour out there before someone snagged it..

  6. Doug:

    I now permanently have a plunger next to my toilet. It plugs on average 1-2 times a month. My dishwasher doesn't always clean because phosphorous is being phased out of the detergent. It then causes me to prerinse the dishes and run a longer cycle. Where is the savings there? How is that better for the environment. This whole green thing is full of crap.

  7. will:

    You can always manually flush the toilet. Just keep a bucket of water handy and rapidly pour it in after use - it is just as good as flushing. A 5 gallon bucket should do fine. Why you should have to do this because people vote for stupid governments is outrageous.

  8. kirk:

    I live in Norway where the toilets seem to use a lot less water than the ones in the U.S. - just a small amount of water at the bottom of a more cone shaped bowl.

    I have long thought it strange how often I encountered toilet issues in the U.S. (this was back 20-30 years ago before I moved) and have never encountered or heard of one here in Norway. The toilets here seem to be much better designed somehow.

  9. artemis:


    the amount of water in the "bowl" has almost no bearing on the total water used by a toilet. the water used is determined by the water used on a flush. in tank style toilets here in the US, that is determined by tank size, but in many toilets it is handled by a pressure value in the flush assembly and there is not way to just watch a flush and determine that "more" or "less" water is used from one toilet to another. However most mechanisms are marked for the amount of what that they use.

    toilet "problems" are a function of several things, which all work together, not independently

    1. amount of water used in flush
    2. type and style of drain used beyond the toilet
    3. design of the toilet itself
    4. products used for hygeine
    5. diet and regularity of the average user.

    Given the vastly different nature of Norway, it could be any of the above, though I'd say five is the least likely. In any case the amount of water in the "bowl" isn't much to go on. It could be any of a number of things.

    And this is exactly why congress shouldn't go passing laws about it. They continue day in and day out, year after year, to assume they can just legislate one piece of any system without any consideration of the rest of the system... without any specialized knowledge of the system (which in this case varies widely, state to state), and everything will just work out exactly as they have planned with no side effects.

    It's endemic of a system that has come to believe that anything can be solved through government micro-management.

  10. Dr. T:

    The best way to get 3.5-5 gallon toilets is when an older house is being renovated or torn down.

    I like the high capacity toilets, but there is a problem. The vendors keep changing the "innards" of the toilet, and they don't sell replacement parts for older innards. Annoyingly, each new version is harder to maintain and less sturdy. They also use plastics that are beloved by molds. The toilets I grew up with in the 1960s were extremely easy to maintain and repair, rarely harbored molds, and often went 15 years without a problem. The new innards typically break within 5 years and have to be completely replaced (because only complete assemblies are sold now, even at plumbing stores). The vendors get away with this because the assemblies cost less than $15. I'd pay twice that for a 1965 assembly, but none is available.

  11. ParatrooperJJ:

    Keep in mind that dishwashers are not designed to clean dried food off of plates.

  12. Henry Bowman:

    With the exception of the problems with the "innards" that Dr. T. notes above, the modern (i.e., more recent) low-flow toilets do not seem to have any problems described in the linked article. A lot of the early models (especially Kohler, proving that one doesn't always get what one pays for) were truly horrible.

  13. damaged justice:

    Quit eating fiber. You'll be healthier, and you won't have to worry about even the wimpiest toilet clogging or requiring multiple flushes.

  14. Anonymous EcoCriminal:

    When we remodeled some years back, we had "the best" low flow toilets installed. The plumber remarked that "this baby can flush a hamburger."

    In fact, they worked quite well - they managed to compress air in the water tank, and when you flushed, the water came out with a lot of force and usually did the job.

    The one of the gadgets malfunctioned. Replacement for the water tank component was $400. Our plumber put in the old fashioned ball and flap, and now we have no problem.

  15. Myk:

    You're wrong. The amount of water in the bowl is relevant. If you've got five gallons of water in the bowl, flushing with 1.6 gallons doesn't move enough of the water in the bowl. But if your bowl only contains a gallon, then every you'll pretty much flush away anything that's there.

    You get a good flush by having more water in the flush than in the bowl, and making sure that the water in the bowl can easily flow down the pipe. If the water sitting in the bowl is only just wider than the pipe, it'll flush easily, too.