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Nashville Scene Potty Politics

Americans should flush once. And only once.

By Walter Jowers

NOVEMBER 16, 1998:  Forget Newt resigning. Forget the impeachment hearings. In the next Congress, here's what'll make a difference in your everyday life: Our faithful public servants will once again take up the burning issue of how much water we Americans can use in our bathrooms.

Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) will try to remove the low-flow provisions of the 1992 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which requires all new American commodes to flush with a stingy 1.6 gallons of water. The same law requires all new American showerheads to be of the low-flow variety.

The way I see it, the American way of life took just a little turn for the worse the day the feds tried to put every citizen's butt on a commode that just plain won't get the job done. A commode is a simple thing, with basically one job: Take the crap out of the house. All the way out. Never to be seen again. For decades, we Americans had this down to a science, and it's one of the things that sets us apart from Third World countries where they need a Jeep-load of American volunteers just to show 'em how to build an outhouse.

But starting in '92, we took a giant step backwards, when people from sea to shining sea started losing time and productivity to double- and triple-flushing, scrubbing out skid marks, and relearning the art of using a plunger. If we'd just left the dang commodes alone, people could've gotten a lot more done, and the Dow would be at 12,000 today.

Worse yet, the law turned perfectly good citizens into criminals. Today, in South Nashville, a bold plumber is resisting the federal low-flush tyranny by bringing in truckloads of 3.5-gallon commodes from Canada. He tells me he can't get 'em down here fast enough to meet the demand. This gentle, otherwise law-abiding citizen has a pony-size Rottweiler chained to the door of the backyard storage shed that holds his stash of contraband commodes. He'll probably end up in Leavenworth, but if you ask me, the man's a by-God patriot.

As bad as the low-flush commodes are, the low-flow showerheads are even worse. I've got pre-1992 showerheads at my house, the kind that'll blow hard-packed gardening dirt right out from under my fingernails. With low-flow showerheads, I have to run around in the shower just to get wet. In the time it takes me to get the soap out of my hair, I could've rotated the tires on my car. Every time I stay at a motel that has a low-flow showerhead, I take the thing apart, remove the flow restrictor, and throw it away.

Despite all common sense, and Americans' rightful desire for streak-free, single-flushing commodes and for powerful showers, Rep. Knollenberg won't have an easy time repealing the low-flow regs. Overwrought environmentalists and water-utility management types like the restrictions, and the commode manufacturers don't want to have to retool their current models.

Knollenberg has gotten the support of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). "We feel it's a consumer choice," says Patti Burgio, NARI's director of governmental affairs, in the November Journal of Light Construction. "And it's more of a state's right or a local code issue."

If Knollenberg fails, and if the FBI shuts down the South Nashville commode smuggler, we'll probably just have to learn to put up with the low-flush commodes. There is some good news on this front. Some of the problems with the earlier low-flush toilets have been cured, or at least reduced, according to David Ion, a member of Contractors 2000, who is quoted in the same article in Journal of Light Construction.

Apparently, one problem with the early models was that the trapway was reduced when it should have been enlarged. Another was that the trapways were enameled only where users could see the enamel. Just around the bend, the trapway turned rough, so it snagged waste and caused clogs. Finally, many of the new low-flush models have an improved swirling action, which is more likely to clear the bowl after just one flush.

If you have to buy a new commode tomorrow, here's the first thing you need to know: Cheap ain't cheap. If you buy a commode that costs less than $200, you might as well just pick up a plunger and a plumbing snake while you're at the store.

One of the best low-flush commodes is the Gerber Ultra Flush #21-302, says Ion. Consumer Reports magazine agreed in its May issue, naming the Ultra Flush the best low-flush commode, and a best buy at $279.

The pump-assisted Kohler Trocadero Powerlite K-3437 took second place in the Consumer Reports roundup, but the dang thing costs $940. I'm all for spending whatever's necessary for a fully functional commode, but I can guarantee you that there will never be a near-thousand-dollar commode in the Jowers house. I can also guarantee I'll never plop my butt down on anything called a Trocadero.

The Crane Economiser 3-804 and the Eljer Berkeley 081-1595 tied for third in the Consumer Reports survey; they cost $230 and $420, respectively.

I say 300 bucks is plenty for a commode. If you're buying today, get the Ultra Flush.

Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nashscene.com>, or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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