The humble loo has a thankless task.
It has to deal with all the unmentionables we throw at it (hopefully not literally), while all it gets in return is a half-hearted scrub with a toilet brush when we remember.
Your toilet has doubtless been in place as long as the rest of the bathroom, and it’s probably not the first thing you’d think about having replaced - but if you’re willing to think outside the box, there’s a world of toilets out there waiting to be explored.
From smart toilets to eco-friendly composting units, your bog doesn’t have to be basic - in fact, it could even surprise you.
The high-tech Japanese toilet has become something of a cliche, but there’s no doubting that toilets in Tokyo are a fair bit more advanced than here in the UK.
Many Japanese toilets incorporate a range of features and functions beyond a simple flush - everything from a bidet functions that sprays water, through to air drying, heated seats, night lights, sensors that let them open and close without touching, and even playing music to help you relax - or drown out any other noises.
These futuristic facilities are usually controlled either with a control panel affixed to the side of the toilet, or a remote control unit that you can keep to hand or affix to the wall.
Despite their exoticism, these toilets have become increasingly popular in the UK in recent years, for a variety of reasons.
For those looking to improve their home’s green credentials, having a toilet with integrated bidet means being able to slash your use of toilet paper - apparently in the UK, we use 2.5 times the European average. Some models can also regulate the amount of water to be used in flushing to minimise the amount water wasted.
For others, the method of cleaning is just a matter of preference.
But doubtless everyone can agree that a model of toilet that cleans itself is pretty useful.
When it comes to adding a smart toilet to your home, there are two options - installing a fully integrated unit, or adding a dedicated seat to your existing toilet that is plumbed into the toilet’s water supply - generally a cheaper option.
In both cases, a plumber is best placed to help you install your new pride and joy.
Composting toilets - those which don’t use water and instead store waste to be turned into useful compost - are usually associated with places like campsites and festivals, rather than your average semi-detached home.
But as more and more people start to take notice of their carbon footprint and try to upgrade their home’s green credentials, eco-toilets have been a useful weapon in the war on waste - by turning waste into something useful.
Since 2010, building regulations have allowed for the installation of composting toilets in homes, meaning they don’t have to be plumbed into the mains - in fact, they don’t use any water at all. Instead, solid waste is stored, where it can later be collected, while liquids can be directed into a soakaway - as long as it’s 10m from a water course, and the output is less than 10 litres a day.
In UK homes, around a third of our daily water consumption is spent on flushing the toilets, all with drinking-quality water, while the extensive water treatment process is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
With composting toilets, no flush is needed - solid waste (often referred to as “biosolids”) is simply stored, mixed with a carbon source such as sawdust, wood ash or even cat litter, and collected when needed to be added to a garden compost heap. After 12 months of breaking down, it’s ready to be used for gardens as “humanure”.
Even if you’re not ready to take the step of installing a composting toilet in your home, they are a perfect solution for adding toilet facilities to garden rooms and other outbuildings - rather than having to install extensive plumbing, eco-toilets can be put almost anywhere.
Access all areas
One popular change many people make when renovating their bathrooms is to swap their traditional toilet for more accessible models.
A standard UK toilet usually stands at around 15 inches high, whereas a comfort height toilet tends to be anywhere from 17 to 19 inches from seat to floor - not a huge difference on paper, but a big enough change that it can greatly increase the accessibility of a toilet for people with mobility issues.
Swapping a regular lavatory with a more accessible one is a simple job for a plumber or bathroom fitter, and can typically be done in half a day.
Toilets of tomorrow
The impetus to originally create toilets wasn’t just to make our lives easier, it was to make them healthier. Sanitation has already gone hand in hand with good health, and there are still too many places in the world where poor sanitation, including a lack of access to toilets, plays a major part in the spread of illness.
Some engineers are still designing toilets to be at the forefront of living healthier lives. The loo of the future might be able to analyse waste to try and anticipate and manage health problems - monitoring things like protein levels to help people keep on top of conditions like diabetes.
We’ve all had moments when getting to the loo just in time has felt like a life saver - but imagine if a toilet really could save your life by spotting the warning signs of an impending illness?
That’s worth treating your toilet to more than a quick squirt of bleach.