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Hotel Introduces Superstrong Toilets, Able to Flush Golf Balls

Feb 18, 2011 – 7:37 PM
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David Moye

David Moye Contributor

Most people considering a hotel look at amenities such as swimming pools, spa services and gourmet restaurants -- not the power of the toilets.

However, a clogged-up toilet is the sort of thing that people talk about on the, er, back end, according to Richard Senechal, the senior vice president of facilities for Loews Hotels.

"Guests want a reliable toilet," he told AOL News. "You don't hear about that on the front end, but if there is a problem, you hear about it."

Apparently, clogged toilets are enough of a problem at hotels that Loews tried to eliminate any problems customers have with elimination by installing high-tech commodes capable of flushing 10 golf balls down the chute at once.

The problem was first noticed by Tony Rodrigues, the regional director of engineering for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando.

He figured out that clogged toilets were affecting as many as 12 guests a day at the three hotels he worked at.

"The root of the problem was the mandated low-flow toilets, which clogged too often," Rodrigues said. "Often, the guest would clog a toilet and they would be embarrassed and delayed in their plans. In other instances, guests would use the restroom just before checking out and it was only after several hours of overflowing water before we discovered something was wrong."

Not wanting to leave customers down in the dumps about taking one, Rodrigues started looking for a toilet that would take a load off his engineers' backs.

That perfect pot -- or "bowly grail," if you will -- was found in something called the Champion 4, made by American Standard, a toilet so powerful it can supposedly flush 18 golf balls, 38 rubber tubes, 16 water wigglers and 40 feet of tissue without getting clogged.

According to James Walsh, American Standard's vice president and general manager of consumer fixtures, the Champion 4 proves that not all low-flow toilets do a crappy job.

"The first generation of low-flow toilets had such poor performance that they left many people under the impression they weren't, pardon the expression, worth a 'crap,' " said Walsh, whose knowledge of the inner workings of toilets has led some of his co-workers to call him "Professor Toilet."

James Walsh is so flush with knowledge about commodes that he is called 'Professor Toilet.'
American Standard Brands
James Walsh is so flush with knowledge about commodes that he's called "Professor Toilet." He says flushing pingpong balls is the best way to determine if a toilet has the proper flow.
Clogged toilets have increasingly been a problem ever since toilets were mandated to flow 1.6 gallons per minute from 3.5 gallons a minute about 15 years ago.

"Toilets in the U.S. work like siphons," Walsh said. "Once the toilet gets flowing, it pulls everything down. Early on in the days of low-flowing toilets, the only way to get the flow going was to reduce the size of the trap, which is the opening between the tank down into the pipe."

Walsh and company have eliminated the problem of clogs by increasing the size of the trap, or outlet; increasing the size of the flush valve from the standard 2 inches to 4; and changing the bowl design to get more flow going.

But how they test those toilets can make some people lose the lunch they lost when they went to the bathroom.

"We test toilets with miso paste," he said, describing a soy paste used in Japanese cooking that is close to the consistency of human defecation. "We use up to 400 grams [about 14 ounces] at one time, while the average amount of human waste I think is about 250 grams [8 ounces].

The miso paste is used in a variety of ways to simulate real human waste, which Walsh divides into three categories: sinkers, floaters and semi-floaters.

"We test it like this to figure out how to keep the bowl clean, because you don't want -- how should I put it? -- skid marks," he said.

Although various products, including corn cobs, pencil shavings and rubber tubes, are put into the pot, Walsh says pingpong balls are actually the best test of a toilet.

"Pingpong balls float, so if you can flush them, you know you have a good flow," he said.

But it was the golf balls that sold Loews on the Champion 4, and Senechal believes a good toilet flow can lead to a good cash flow.

The Champion 4 toilet made by American Standard is so powerful it can flush 18 golf balls at once.
American Standard Brands
The Champion 4 toilet made by American Standard is so powerful it can reportedly flush 18 golf balls at once.
The hotel chain usually only updates its plumbing every 10 to 12 years, but it was so flushed with excitement about the elimination of clogged toilets that it is starting to install the super-commodes in its 18 properties six years earlier than normal.

"Rodrigues was able to show a good return on investment, since the engineering staff time spent on unclogging toilets has been reduced by 80 percent," Senechal said.

Will other hotels get off the pot and start installing the toilets?

Barbara De Lollis, who covers business travel and writes the Hotel Check-In column for USA Today, thinks so -- to a point.

"People love to complain," she said. "If a hotel can reduce even one complaint, that's good. Now, it's not like it's a Heavenly bed, but it's a selling point."

There is one potential problem Senechal admits he's not excited about facing.

"I hope people don't bring buckets of golf balls to test out the toilets," he said. "So far, I haven't seen it."

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