Tired of an Impoverished Flush? Go North!

Published January 1, 2001

One of the hottest imports from Canada these days is the old-fashioned 3.5 gallon capacity toilet. The toilets were outlawed for sale in the U.S. in 1994, when federal water conservation law set the new standard at 1.6 gallons a flush.

But no law makes it illegal to cross the border into Canada, where the 3.5 gallon toilet is still available, and bring a toilet back to the U.S.

U.S. toilet manufacturers—American Standard, Mansfield, Kohler, Eljer, and others—are permitted to make the 3.5 gallon toilets for export to Canada. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Americans can purchase them in Canada and bring them back to the states duty-free.

Seventy-two percent of respondents to a 1998 survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders reported problems with their 1.6 gallon toilets, which often required a second flush—canceling out their water conservation feature.

Advocates of 1.6 gallon toilets claim the 50 million low-flush fixtures sold since 1994 save 500 million gallons of water a day, making expensive investments in expanded water supply and sewage disposal facilities less necessary.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Tim Harmon, owner of Tim & Billy’s Salvage in Indianapolis, noted, “We have people building million dollar houses, but they come in here to buy an old toilet.” Harmon says he sells as many as 20 old toilets a week.

G. Gordon Liddy, who won notoriety for working with a different breed of plumber during Watergate, boasted on his radio program that he traveled overseas to buy banned toilets for his new house. In a monologue on toilet totalitarianism, Liddy warned, “next, government will require us to wear helmets in the shower, lest we slip and fall.”

Congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-Michigan) has sponsored legislation to restore “toilet choice.” His proposal to amend the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, H.R. 623, failed to move out of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power in April 2000. (See “Federal government has no business in your bathroom, Environment & Climate News, November 1999).