Can Americans Cope With European Toilets?

"Part of being on the road means the ability to live a little more luxuriously than at home, and that means not having to turn off the lights and the TV." Now, that is a good ole American quote. But, I wonder how many Americans live "a little more luxuriously" at home all the time as well.

Here's another one that in my experience is quintessentially American: "People say they want to be green, but they don't want to compromise."

Those quotes come from a NYT article on American hotels going "green", which could also be summed up as American hotels catching up with the rest of the developed world. Some of the reporting is down-right comical.

A few hotels in the US are building master switches in the rooms to reduce power use, which are common throughout Europe, Asia, and elsewhere (you insert your key card into a slot just inside the door to turn on the electricity - when you remove your key to leave, the electricity shuts off as well). It's easy and cheap - and reduces power use. But, according to some market research, it might just be too much of a pain in the ass for Americans.

"Some," he recalled, "said they would suffer discomfort because they would get back to their room and it would be extremely hot." Others, he said, "indicated that entering a dark room could be a safety issue."

Those five minutes before the room cools down are a real bitch, especially if the boogie man is hiding under that dark bed.

toilet.pngEven more comical is the hotel industry's view on Americans and the European toilet (for those not familiar, it's a dual-flush toilet - to be blunt - one for #1 and one for #2). It uses 0.8 gallons and 1.6 gallons per flush as opposed to the standard 7 gallons per flush. Again, they tend to be the norm in many parts of the world, including Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. And for those that have not had the pleasure, trust me, the Europeans do not compromise on toilet performance - they work.

Could Americans embrace the two-flush European toilet? The hotel industry and Americans have their doubts. First off, it forces hotel guests to "think about how they use resources." Oh my god, should I hit the low or high flush button?

Luckily a few hotels have a bit more faith in Americans, and are installing European type toilets - saving a million gallons of water a month. And it looks like some Americans are able to cope with the two-flush choice after all...


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FSM only knows how they could cope with traditional Japanese style toilets, or better yet the all in one toilet/bidets that are becoming popular there and other places. "What does this button do?" Oh my.....

Doug, last time I was in Japan, I was intriqued by this funny little box of electronics on the wall so I pushed the button (perhaps not the best idea in all circumstances)

I was rewarded with the synthesized sound of running water providing a nice source of white noise to ......

Only in Japan

LOL - I was last in Japan in 77 and I remember going over to a friend's father's place and using their toilet during the winter and finding that the seat was padded and heated. Extravagant luxury :)

Here in the UK most people who define themselves as "environmentally aware" like to make token compromises. Stuff like walking short distances instead of driving, wearing extra clothes instead of turning the heating up, and using reusable bags at the supermarket.

It's not much, it's certainly not enough, and IMO it misses the point, but it's good in it's small way. From what you say, America isn't even at the UK's stage yet. Which is just a bit worrying.

While traveling in China in 2005 most of the hotels I stayed in had the key card operated master electrical switch in the rooms. I thought it was very clever and it didn't annoy me in the least.

America is falling behind and Americans are trying to live off a diet of denialism. We aren't producing the world's greatest scientists and thinkers anymore, our currency is slipping, we aren't making our own stuff anymore, and our major exports are wars and destabilization campaigns.

When I entertain guests from Europe, they are usually more worldly, better educated, and accept realities like the fact of evolution, and the need for birth control.

When a Presidential candidate goes around bragging that he was 894th out of 900 in his graduating class, it signals that Americans actually value stupidity. And W bragging about being a "C" student as well.

It signals other countries that Americans are stupid and worse, proud of their stupidity. As if being able to read only at the 5th grade level, and not do simple arithmetic is something to be proud of.

Not exactly where we need to be placing our values to regain our status as world leaders.

Low flow/high flow toilet actually seems like a really good idea. I would put some kind of labeling so people know what the buttons are for. Question: Do these require electricity to work? I would not want a toilet that did not work when the power goes out.

The cut off the power when the key is gone is nice idea though there might need to be a few caveats. No AC until you arrive is not going to work in Phoenix right now unless one thinks that a room in excess of 100 degrees F are acceptable. That kind of temperature can be a medical risk. Of course stopping the customer from running it at 65 degrees F when they are not present would still be a good idea. Of course that kind of objection would not apply to hotels where that kind of heat is not an issue. And it only makes sense to automatically kill power to the TV, etc. when the guests are not in the room. If safety is an issue, it would not be hard to turn on a low-wattage light automatically when the card/lock is activated.

Heating could be done in a similar manner taking care not to let a room ever get too cold as to burst a pipe.

I travel to Texas a lot. I have found, in many cases, the room air conditioner has been set to "Arctic" by room service. It usually takes me hours to get the room back to a comfortable temperature. But I wonder if management knows how much money is being wasted or if they approve this policy to impress guests. Either way, it's a blatant waste of energy.

By Old Bogus (not verified) on 03 Aug 2008 #permalink

I recently spent three months in China for a research collaboration, and stayed in a studio on campus in the foreign students' dorm ("foreign" there meant mostly non-Chinese Asians and Africans; I was the only westerner on campus). My "facilities" consisted of a cubicle with a shower hanging over a squat toilet. Rather... basic. Makes it vital to be well awake BEFORE taking a shower in the morning, to watch your step. For the rest, my stay was a very interesting experience, but coming home to Europe was what meant luxury in this case!

Double flush toilets are great, it's true. By the way, normally they don't require electricity. It's a simple mechanism that activates partial or full release of the flush water tank differentially.

By Chelonian (not verified) on 03 Aug 2008 #permalink

"Low flow/high flow toilet actually seems like a really good idea. I would put some kind of labeling so people know what the buttons are for."

Well, yeah. Have a look a the photo again. See if you can guess which button is a half flush, and which is a full flush.

"Question: Do these require electricity to work? I would not want a toilet that did not work when the power goes out."

No, dude. Fixing up a mechanical whatsit that delivers only half the cistern when the half button is pressed is not a difficult engineering feat.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 03 Aug 2008 #permalink

Speaking of toilets, here in oz - land of droughts and flooding rains - the normal policy during dry times is:

"If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down."

Although that rule usually doesn't apply if you have guests around.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 03 Aug 2008 #permalink

Ok, I would be perfectly willing to install a dual-flush toilet in my house, if I knew where to get one. Is that one of those things that is expensive to get in the US (as in, a hotel could import 200 from Japan with no problem, but little ol' me will have to spend a ton)?

This takes no electricity and no water, but can be exhaustingly athletic for some people... ;-)

It seems this post is an education to everyone. Half the readers learn that dual-flush toilets and hotel card master switches are not common in America, while the other half learn that they are abundant everywhere else. I'm Australian, so you can tell which category I fall into.

However, American readers should also be informed that the buttons on dual-flush toilets are always the wrong way around. The full-flush button is almost always on the right and the half-flush button on the left, so that the full-flush button the easier one for right-handed people (i.e. most people) to reach. Further, when the buttons are different sizes (which is common), the larger button is invariably the full-flush, and the smaller button the half-flush. In summary, the full-flush button is both the more reachable AND the larger target, and both factors make it the easier to press.

Yet if dual flush toilets are meant to encourage better water conservation habits, then the more ecologically friendly button ought to be the one that requires less effort to press. So the positioning of the full-flush and half-flush buttons is the opposite of what it ought to be on ecological grounds. In practise, in my experience, people almost always press the full-flush button out of habit, whether or not the half-flush button would do.

Most hotels in Europe now also only change the towels on request, when they used to do it daily. Of course this saves massively on the laundry bill, but the selling point to the customer is the power and water savings. Is this done in America?

And let us not forget soap dispensers, instead of every day changing the little soap bar that you've only used once or maybe twice. This unfortunately has not made very great inroads in most places I've been to.

I have a pre 1994 toilet (3.5G per flush). while at a local hardware store I saw a 2 button conversion for $17.00. that converts to 1.0g for #1 and 2.0g #2. I rent so this was an easy solution as apposed to asking to replace the old toilet. the conversion took about 15 min and a few general tools. nothing fancy. If we all do just small things to save water its will have a big impact. water will be more important then petro in years to come. Like everything else, the issue won't be delt with until it's too late.