Game of Thrones: Buying New Toilet

Not all toilets are created equal. So when you need to upgrade yours, take time to review what’s available. You’ll discover that the market is flush with options.

To help you narrow down the choices, follow these tips from our consumer research team, based on interviews with toilet manufacturers and highly rated plumbing experts:

Get real about what you can afford. Toilet prices run the gamut, with lots of factors to consider, including color, height, flushing capability, technology and price. Many models will cost a few hundred dollars. But if you’re willing to part with $6,000, Kohler offers the Numi, which features a motion-activated cover and seat, heated seat, foot warmer, advanced bidet functions, air dryer, deodorizer, illuminated panels and music options.

Consider the current toilet and its location. Think about what you like and don’t like about the toilet you’re replacing. Examine the room. If you have a small bathroom or your door swings a specific way, you may need a round-front toilet. Be aware that while male users may appreciate the extra upfront room of an elongated toilet, it will require more space and the possible addition of a toddler-friendly potty seat.

Decide between a one- or two-piece. With a two-piece, the bowl and tank are separate. A one-piece toilet is easier to clean and less prone to leaks, but costs up to 50 percent more.

Stand up, sit down, get the right height. The standard ranges from 15 to 17 inches high; what’s known as “comfort height” is 17 to 19 inches.

Pick your preferred flushing capability. Not everyone was thrilled when the federal Energy Policy Act in 1992 required new toilets to restrict water usage to 1.6 gallons per flush instead of the previous average of 3.5 gallons. Some folks found they had to flush more than once, defeating the goal of saving water. Today, experts told our team, improvements to 1.6- or 1.28-gallon toilets allow them to work fine with one flush.

Also consider other options, including dual-flush toilets, which let you select 1.6 gallons of water to flush solid waste or about half that for liquid waste. Several states, including California, Georgia, New York and Texas, require 1.28-gallon toilets; some states offer rebates as incentives for people to replace inefficient toilets with ones that carry the EPA’s WaterSense label.

According to the EPA, the average family that uses WaterSense-labeled toilets can reduce water used in toilets by 20 to 60 percent and save an average $110 a year on water.

To know how much a toilet can handle, check its MaP, or Maximum Performance, score. Toilet manufacturers volunteer to have their products tested for the MaP score. The best models score 800 to 1,000, meaning they can flush 800 to 1,000 grams of bulk waste.

Experts our team interviewed recommend visiting a plumbing supply house and avoiding off-brand toilets, which they say may have unglazed or irregular trapways, extra thin porcelain and general flushing problems.

Now that you’re armed with what to know, let your own game of thrones begin!

Master Bath Makeover

Open the door and say, “ah.” Your master bath can be more than functional; it could be a spa. Bathroom remodeling continues to be one of the most popular home improvement projects. It ranks consistently among the top 10 most reviewed categories on Angie’s List, which has more than 700 home and health categories.

If you’re moving beyond the imagining stage and are ready to get serious about renovating a bathroom, here are trends and tips to keep in mind, compiled by our consumer research team.

What you can do with a bathroom depends on its size and who’s using it.

Hall bathrooms are commonly used by kids and guests. A master bathroom, however, is usually larger and more private. It’s a likely candidate for a spa makeover. The average cost of bath remodeling in 2013 was $18,538, down slightly from 2012, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Before you start talking to contractors:

∎ Check websites and magazines for designs and ideas. Research materials and products at showrooms and retail stores. This will help contractors more accurately estimate the time and cost for your project.

∎ Talk to neighbors, friends and family about their projects. Check contractors’ reviews on a trusted online review site.

∎ Get multiple bids and ask for and check references. Questions to ask include: Did the contractor meet expectations? Were there delays or miscommunications? How did the contractor handle requested changes?

∎ Get at least three written estimates that clearly define the project and what materials will be used.

∎ Make sure you can reach a contractor when you need to.

∎ Be sure the contractor you hire is appropriately licensed, insured and bonded. Bathroom remodeling work often requires electrical and plumbing work — two of the most often regulated trades.

∎ For most bathroom remodeling projects, expect to pay about 10 percent or more of the total project amount as a deposit. Never pay more than a third of the total cost as a down payment, and never pay in cash. Be aware that especially in bathroom remodeling, contractors will frequently find hidden problems that need to be addressed. Adding an additional 10 to 20 percent to the project budget can help reduce the strain of these types of problems.

∎ Plan for stress. How will the project change your routine, especially with the bathroom? Where will materials be stored? What are the working hours for the crew?