Facial recognition technology foils toilet paper bandits

Visitors to the Temple Haven Park in Beijing are being looked at more closely – by the toilet paper dispensers. The dispensers use facial recognition technology to determine who gets toilet paper and who doesn’t.

Park officials installed the dispensers to curb rampant toilet paper thefts at the popular tourist site. The dispensers, which activate when a person stares into them for three seconds, rip off a precisely two-foot piece of paper. Thanks to the dispenser, a bathroom visitor can only get a new stash of TP once every nine minutes. Need more? Out of luck.

Visitors to the park aren’t particularly pleased with the high-tech TP guardians. Some think that the dispensers are a little too stingy with the paper; others lament the fact that the dispensers are even necessary.

Park officials found that locals, rather than visitors, were making off with the toilet paper in the park’s restrooms. To combat the thefts, they strategized about ways to discourage the bandits. Ultimately, they settled on facial recognition technology because it doesn’t require the user to touch the machine. Other rejected solutions used fingerprint readers and infrared scanners.

The dispensers cost northward of $700 each, but park officials believe that they’ll cut down on paper waste and paper theft. The restrooms at the park are somewhat of an oddity in China; most public restrooms don’t supply toilet paper in the first place. The Temple Haven Park has provided complementary wipes for about 10 years, but was being overwhelmed by the demand.

Some park visitors say that the toilet paper problem exemplifies the impact of poverty on ordinary Chinese citizens. In a country where the “squat toilet” is still the king of the hill, toilet paper is something of a rare commodity. Foreign visitors are advised to carry their own toilet paper when sightseeing, and putting the paper in the bowl when you’re finished is frowned upon. That’s because the plumbing in China often isn’t big enough to accommodate toilet paper.

Visitors who can’t bear the thought of using a public restroom in China are often advised to seek out a local McDonald’s or a western-style hotel, where flush toilets (and presumably free toilet paper) are standard.

Sometimes, even in the good, old US of A, your plumbing may not be up to the task. Objects that weren’t intended to be flushed can clog a pipe. Minerals and other deposits can also reduce water flow in the system. We’re always here to help with the most unpleasant problems that can crop up with your favorite flusher. Give us a call at (617) 288-2911. We don’t provide free toilet paper, but we’ll make sure your toilet is up to whatever you can throw at it!

Photo Credit: Simon Schoeters, via Flickr

Toilet Tidbits To Start The Week

At Boston Standard Plumbing, we spend a lot of time thinking about toilets. In case you missed it, here are a few current potty tales that caught our attention.

The glow of a golden throne. If you’re planning a trip to New York City soon, stop by the Guggenheim Museum and check out their newest exhibit entitled “America.” It’s a fully functional replica of a Kohler toilet cast in 18-karat gold by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. According to Cattelan, the toilet, which is installed in a private unisex bathroom that also features a sink and mirror, is only art when someone is “answering nature’s call.” Catellan came out of a 5-year retirement to design “America,” which allows the public to interact with a “luxury product” that would appeal to the 1%. The exhibit was supposed to open during the first week of May, but the museum encountered “technical difficulty” that has delayed the grand unveiling. As of this writing, the exhibit is still listed as “upcoming.”

This throne also glows, but for different reasons. Dave Reynolds, the designer of Night Glow Seats hopes that his product appeals to the other 99%. It’s not actually a toilet; it’s just a toilet seat, but as the name suggests, it glows in the dark. Reynolds, who formerly worked for Virgin Records, conceived and designed the green- or blue-glowing seats after he fell off the toilet one night in the dark. Night Glow Seats are made from photoluminescent plastic, fit either round or elongated bowls, and retain their charge for at least 8 hours from any light source, but work best under UV-light. The seats can be cleaned with standard cleaning products, and can last up to 10 years.

Only a no-account varmint would do this. Police in Columbus just arrested a man for dismantling public toilets and stealing the plumbing parts. Gilbert Duwayne Courts was arrested and charged with 12 counts each of burglary and vandalism. According to police, Courts targeted bathrooms in local restaurants, a hospital and a K Mart store, and sold the purloined pipes to support his drug habit. Police distributed surveillance photos of Courts, and tips from the public helped to flush him out.

At Boston Standard Plumbing, we can do a lot of things, but we probably can’t get an Italian artist to create a solid gold toilet for you. However, if you can get your hands on one, you can avoid “technical difficulties” by allowing the pros at Boston Standard Plumbing to install it! We can also save the day if some dirty, rotten scoundrel makes off with your potty parts. Give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911 anytime!

Photo Credit: Night Glow Seats

Water Efficiency: The Averages v The Ideals

If you plan to watch the Super Bowl this weekend, you’re likely to see a little water efficiency activism, thanks to Colgate-Palmolive. The Fortune-500 superbrand is using its Super Bowl spot to remind people to turn off the water when they brush.

Leaving the water running can send as much as 4 gallons of fresh water down the drain. The ad reminds viewers that those 4 wasted gallons are more fresh water than some people around the world get in an entire week.

Turning off the water while you brush you teeth can save about $40 per year. If you’re looking for some big savings, think about this: the three biggest water consumers in your home are your toilets, your washing machine and your shower. Let’s look at two typical Boston families (four people each) – the Average family and the Ideal family – and how their relative water efficiency shows up on their water bills.

The Bathroom
Each member of the Average household flushes the toilet about 5 times per day, so the Average family uses more than 25,500 gallons per year just to clear the bowl. Toilet usage accounts for nearly one-third of the Averages’ water bill.

The Ideal family installed new water-saving toilets in their home. Each member of the Ideal family also flushes the toilet 5 times, but since their toilets only consume 1.25 gallons per flush, the Ideals use only about 9,000 gallons of water per year on flushing.

If the retail rate for water and sewer services is $0.015 per gallon in their town, the Averages will spend about $380 per year to flush their toilets, while the Ideals will spend just $135. By switching to a new toilet (or even a high-efficiency toilet using just 1.25 gallons per flush), the Averages can reduce their water use by 16,500 gallons per year and save about $250 per year!

The Laundry Room
The Averages have an older washing machine that uses 32 gallons of water per load. The Averages do 12 loads of laundry each week, so they use about 20,000 gallons of water for laundering in a year.
The Ideals have a new high-efficiency washing machine that uses 13 gallons of water per load. They also do 12 loads of laundry each week, but their washer uses only about 8,100 gallons of water each year. Using the same retail rate for water and sewer services, the Averages will spend about $300 each year on laundry, while the Ideals will spend just $122, a savings of $178 annually.

The Shower
Each member of the Average family spends more than 8 minutes in the shower, which uses about 20 gallons of water per shower at a cost of about $0.30 per shower. In a year, the Averages use more than 29,000 gallons of water for showering. The Ideal family installed a WaterSense showerhead, which reduced their shower usage to about 16 gallons per shower at a cost of about $0.24 per shower. They reduced their consumption to about 23,360 gallons per year. The Averages spend about $438 annually on showering, while the Ideal family spends just $350.

In terms of water, the Averages consume nearly 75,000 gallons of water each year, while the Ideals use about 40,000 gallons per year on the same activities. In all, the Averages spend $1,118 on water and sewer, while the Ideals spend about $600.

If you’d like more information about water-efficiency, and how you can make your home more water efficient, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’d be happy to help you select and install water saving fixtures around your home!

Photo Credit: Bob Smith, via FreeImages.com

Water Efficiency: Steps You Can Take

Water efficiency may not be a familiar concept, but it’s one that you’ll be hearing about a lot in the near future. The term “water efficiency” describes a “right-sizing” approach to the amount of water you use for a particular purpose. Using the right amount of water, rather than using less water, is the goal of becoming more water efficient.

Naturally, the biggest consumers of water around your home include the washing machine, the dishwasher, the shower and the toilets. You may also have some “jumbo” consumers if you have a swimming pool or lawn irrigation system. If you’re serious about improving your home’s water efficiency, here are a few steps you can take.

The biggest consumers of water may not be the biggest water wasters. Before you get started on water efficiency, make sure you’re not wasting water needlessly. Dripping faucets, run-on toilets, plumbing leaks and broken shower diverters all send water down the drain before it can fulfill its intended purpose. These sneaky losers do nothing except raise your water bill.

A dripping faucet may need a new washer or gasket, but more often than not, newer fixtures are sealed, making a repair impossible. If that’s the case, plan to replace the fixture. It’s usually a simple matter of “out with the old, in with the new.” This kind of project typically doesn’t take more than a few minutes and common hand tools. In addition to getting a new fixture, you may want to invest in some Teflon tape to discourage leaks along the fixture threads.

Repairing a leaking toilet often involves replacing the flapper valve at the bottom of the toilet tank. Over time, this valve can crack, causing water to enter the bowl. Your bowl won’t overflow; instead, once the water reaches a certain level in the bowl, it will drain on its own. You can get standard replacement parts for toilets at your favorite hardware or home improvement store.

Plumbing leaks should be addressed immediately. A leak may happen at a weak joint, or could be caused by over-pressure or damage to the plumbing. Whether the leak is out in the open or enclosed in a wall, getting the leak repaired is Job Number 1. Leaking water can cause damage to floors and walls, and can promote the growth of mold and mildew.

A diverter is part of your bathtub/shower fixture. When you use it, you close off the tub spout to force the running water through the showerhead instead. A broken diverter can cause a loss of water pressure or weak water flow at the showerhead or throw off the balance of hot and cold water flow to the shower. If it’s not working at all, it will route water out through the tub faucet and straight down the drain. Broken diverters can also be very noisy!

Some shower fixtures use a diverter cartridge, which can be taken out and replaced. Others have a mechanical diverter that’s part of the spout. You can usually find standard cartridge-style replacements at the hardware or home improvement stores, but you may need to order one directly from the manufacturer. If you have a spout-mounted diverter, you can remove the entire spout and replace it. Tub spouts are either mounted with a setscrew or just thread directly on to the pipe. In either case, you’ll notice the difference on your water bill once you address this problem!

In my next post, I’ll talk about some other ways you can right-size your water-using appliances and fixtures. In the mean time, if you have a plumbing leak or problem that you want us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating to address, give us a call anytime at (617) 288-2911. We offer true, 24-hour emergency plumbing service, and we’re happy to lend a hand.

Photo Credit: Zhang Jing, via FreeImages.com

Roman plumbing wasn’t all that

History books make much about the fact that the Romans had plumbing and public toilets, but you might be surprised to learn that Roman cities weren’t really all that sanitary. For all that the Romans did to promote public sanitation – baths, public toilets, sewers, waste removal and running water – these civic improvements didn’t really live up to the promise of a good, old-fashioned public works project. And they certainly didn’t improve the health and well-being of John Q. Publicus.

The Romans had the right idea, but they went about public sanitation in the wrong way, say researchers at the University of Cambridge, who actually spent some good quality time at the bottom of ancient Roman latrines. The evidence they uncovered strongly suggests that Romans had just as many human-unfriendly parasites as less fastidious civilizations that came before and after them.

Researchers found evidence of whipworm, roundworm and amoebic dysentery in about the same concentrations in ancient Rome as they found in earlier Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements. They also found these parasites in similar concentrations in settlements from the Middle Ages, well after the fall of the Roman Empire. Layer on the presence of pests like lice and fleas in ancient Roman baths, and the overall evidence implies that Roman sanitation practices weren’t really effective against some of the most significant health hazards of the time.

Where did the Romans go wrong? While some health issues can be traced to Roman hygiene practices – not changing out bathwater regularly and keeping the water steamy warm – a bigger part of the problem had nothing to do with their sanitation practices, but rather, their agricultural ones. Romans used human excrement as a fertilizer. This isn’t much different than us using cow manure as a fertilizer, but today’s manure fertilizer doesn’t come straight from the source, so to speak. An aging process kills the bacteria in the manure, rendering it safe (and sanitary) for use on food crops. Romans weren’t patient people, it seems. They didn’t age their fertilizer, which allowed disease-causing parasites and parasite eggs to survive and enter the Roman food supply over and over again.

We have a decided advantage over ancient Rome when it comes to understanding germs and germ theory, and we’re better equipped to keep germs and pests out of our homes and public spaces, but the ancient Romans also remind us about the narrow difference between what seems sanitary and what actually is.

PhC Klaus Sandrini, via FreeImages.com

Toilet: a luxury or an indispensible?

How much would you pay for a toilet? If you think about toilets for more than about six seconds, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that, while a toilet is an indispensible fixture in an American home – in fact, you can’t get a Certificate of Occupancy without one – it’s usually the opposite of a “luxury item.” Aside from maybe the sewer connection, the lowly toilet clearly has the worst job in the house.

And yet … there are those folks who will gladly pay as much as $10,000 for a toilet. Not just any toilet, mind you, but a Toto washlet – arguably the Rolls Royce of toilets. What makes the Toto washlet so attractive? Well… it changes the whole experience of using the toilet.

No one questions the ingenuity of Japanese engineering, so it’s so surprise that a Toto washlet comes to us from the Land of the Rising Sun. A washlet is far more than your all-access pass to the sewer. It’s certainly much more than an aesthetic marvel, although it does look beautiful.

If you’ve ever paid attention during the Olympics, you know that every culture has its own take on going to the bathroom. In some cases, it’s a minor shift from what you might be accustomed to. In other cases, the differences are mind blowing. Now, Toto makes a lot of conventional toilets, but the washlet is anything but conventional. From a functional perspective, the Toto washlet is where East meets West.

If you’ve ever visited Europe, you’ve seen a bidet. We don’t do bidets in the US. The people who do use them swear by them, but for the most part, you won’t find a bidet here. Then there’s the washlet. The washlet combines a toilet with a bidet, and adds some serious luxury to the package. Heated toilet seats with adjustable temperature controls. Seats that self-raise and lower. UV light to kill germs. Remote controls. Front and rear wash with adjustable direction and power. Air drying. Automatic deodorizing. 2-person memory settings. A night light. Touchpad operation. Patented glazing to resist soiling, and tinted to match the unit for a decorative touch.

You really don’t need toilet paper.

The mind boggles.

The washlet can actually be purchased separately as a kit upgrade for a standard toilet from any maker, but some washlet kits are designed exclusively for use with Toto toilets. The upgrade kits vary in price, depending upon the fixture features and size. You can also buy a “basic” Toto fixture and washlet upgrade for about $2,500 give or take a bit, again depending upon the model and features you choose.

It’s an understatement to say that the experience of a Toto toilet renders other toilets pedestrian. In fact, many Toto aficionados say that standard toilets are just plain crude.

Toto has gone to great lengths to turn America on to its toilets, but it’s been an uphill battle so far. For many Americans, conversion starts with a trip to Japan or another Asian country, where Toto toilets are standard. Toto will be opening an educational gallery in Manhattan this spring, in the hope that more Americans will see the wisdom in changing their bathroom habits.

If you would like more information about Toto toilets, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911.

Photo Credit: Toto

China Does A New Take On Public Restrooms

China Does A New Take On Public Restrooms

China Does A New Take On Public Restrooms

How do you celebrate World Toilet Day in China? By rolling out new public restrooms, of course. Forget everything you know about public restrooms, because China has designed what it hopes is the restroom of the future. (At least in China.)

Sure, the new public restrooms contain sinks and toilets, but why stop there? Need cash? Use the ATM. Stressed out? Listen to a little Enya. On a road trip? Empty the trash from your car into the recycling containers you’ll find in the public restroom. And speaking of road trips, you probably aren’t the only one who needs a little break. Plug in your electric car into one of the charging stations while you relax, refresh and hit the vending machines inside. When you get into the stall, flip on the flat-screen TV and catch up on the day’s news or your favorite TV program. It’s all there, just waiting for you!

While this all sounds a little opulent, it’s also environmentally conscious … sort of. The toilets use wastewater from the sink for flushing, separate urine from solid waste at the toilet, and the bathrooms aren’t connected to a sewage system, per se. They have their own septic tanks, which will be pumped out weekly.

This public restroom design is a go. The Chinese government says it plans to install nearly 60,000 carbon copies of this setup around the country in the next three years. What’s the rush? China is hoping to capitalize on Western tourism leading up to and following the Olympics. China hosted the Olympics in 2008 and has won the right to host The Games again in 2022. Taking a lesson from the most recent Olympics in Sochi, when host country Russia took it on the chin for its bathrooms, China is getting its public restrooms in order before inviting the world over for some fun!

The Internet hasn’t been left out of this arrangement. There are tentative plans to use public restrooms as a “depot” of sorts for package delivery. It works like this: order something online. The retailer delivers it to a designated locker in a convenient public restroom, where the buyer retrieves it.

China’s new public restroom model has a little something for everyone. In more rural areas of the country, where power could be a problem, public restrooms can be outfitted with solar panels. Better still, the solid waste will be treated onsite and made safe enough for local farmers to use it for fertilizer.

The latest public restroom design in China is just one of many steps the country has taken to improve its sanitation. In the last quarter-century, China has upgraded toilet facilities for nearly 44% of its 1.36 billion citizens and has a plan in place to continue modernizing its sanitation infrastructure.

Happy World Toilet Day!

Photo Credit: Wostman

Happy World Toilet Day! You’re pooping wrong

Happy World Toilet Day! You're pooping wrong

Happy World Toilet Day! You’re pooping wrong

An Israeli study from 2003, which looked at the way adults poop, found that pooping from a sitting position really isn’t the best way to do it. The researchers asked adult participants to poop from a seated position using a standard height toilet and a low toilet. They also asked the participants to poop from a squatting position – the position we’d naturally use if we were… you know … natural.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that pooping from a seated position (whether higher or lower) requires more effort and more time than pooping while squatting. Over time, researchers say that our unnatural pooping position can cause digestive problems and other physical maladies, like hemorrhoids.

Don’t get rid of the flush toilet yet, though! There are a lot of things to like about our porcelain thrones, but their ergonomics isn’t one of them. Coming to our rescue is a number of designers, who are bringing a number of friendly alternatives to the bathroom.

In fact, the University of the Arts in London held a contest to design a human-friendly toilet that was based on the idea of squatting rather than sitting and the results were not only artistic, but practical.

If you’re ready to go beyond concepts, for as little as $35, you could try the Squatty Potty, which isn’t really a potty at all. It’s a little step that elevates your feet and legs when you sit on a conventional toilet. The positional aid helps you to achieve a better, more natural posture during elimination.

If you are looking for something a little more hard-core, try the Lillipad Toilet Squatting Platform from New Zealand, which fits around your toilet and lets you squat on top of it. The Lillipad comes in two different heights and will set you back about $160, including shipping. You can also find other foldable or collapsible toilet platforms that range in price from about $80 to $160 that will also allow you to poop while squatting.

Squatting may seem unnatural to us, but two-thirds of the world’s population poops from a squatting position, and sitting while pooping has only been around for about 150 years. Just something to think about on World Toilet Day.

Photo Credit: Jenny Rollo, via FreeImages.com

Celebrate World Plumbing Day!

Celebrate World Plumbing Day!

Celebrate World Plumbing Day!

Today – March 11 – is recognized as World Plumbing Day, a day on which we recognize worldwide the importance of clean water, safe water treatment and water conservation. In the developing world, water is quite possibly the most valuable natural resource, and billions of people in the world do not have access to clean water or sanitation.

In the United States, we are fortunate in that we have access to both. That simple fact enables us to avoid illnesses and water-borne diseases that are common in other parts of the world. But World Plumbing Day reminds us that we can do more to preserve the quality of our own lives, improve the quality of life for others, and ensure that we have adequate water and sanitation for future generations.

Conserving water – that is, reducing water usage – is one of the most beneficial things we can do in the United States. By installing water-conserving fixtures, showerheads and appliances, consumers have reduced demand for treated water by three-quarters of a trillion gallons since 2006. In addition to reducing the demand for treated water, consumers have also significantly reduced the energy required to treat and deliver clean water to their homes and businesses. In fewer than 10 years, that has produced a savings of more than $14 billion dollars.

But we can do more. When you shop for new water-consuming fixtures, look for the EPA’s WaterSense label. This designation means that the labeled product works as well as standard models while reducing water consumption by at least 20%. WaterSense labeling is available for a variety of household and commercial plumbing fixtures, including toilets, faucets, showerheads, urinals and irrigation products.

Becoming more “water-efficient” is not only a good idea, it’s essential to preserve the quality of life for our future generations. Drought is a common occurrence in the western United States, but drought conditions affect all of us. According to NOAA, drought conditions are likely to intensify in 14 states between now and June, and new drought conditions are likely to form in at least seven states, including two states in the Great Lakes area!

By adopting water-efficient fixtures on a national basis, we can help reduce water consumption and ease the impact of drought conditions where and when they occur. In addition, by reducing water consumption, we can help ensure that we have adequate water available for human consumption, agriculture and recreational uses.

This is one area in which you can act very locally, and have a positive impact not only on your own expenses, but also on the quality of life in this region. The Boston area has made great strides in the last 30 years to improve the quality, quantity and safety of our municipal water supply. To continue on this path, we all need to take steps to reduce water consumption whenever and wherever we can.

If you would like more information about water-saving fixtures, or ways in which you can reduce the amount of water your home or business consumes, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to review your current plumbing fixtures and show you how you can reduce water consumption without sacrificing comfort.

Photo Credit: macleod, via FreeImages.com

Thanksgiving Can Put A Strain On Your Plumbing

Thanksgiving Can Put A Strain On Your Plumbing

Thanksgiving Can Put A Strain On Your Plumbing

While most Americans associate turkey, food and family with the Thanksgiving holiday, a large number of households will add “plumbing emergency” to that list. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is, on average, the busiest weekend for plumbing-related emergencies, and it’s all rooted in our beloved national holiday.

Thanksgiving creates the perfect storm for plumbing problems. An increased amount of disposal waste, large amounts of cooking grease, and stringy foods like pumpkin and squash combine to form the perfect recipe for an unwelcome holiday drain clog. Combine that with your houseguests, and the holiday may just overwhelm your household plumbing.

Cooking grease from poultry makes a pretty good plug, because it congeals in the drainpipe into a gelatinous substance that makes a form-fitting, waterproof seal. Your turkey isn’t the only table item that’s working against you. Pumpkin strings and rinds dry into a hard, glue-like substance once they escape the disposer. Combined with other food scraps, your kitchen drain doesn’t stand a chance.

Your bathroom might not fare much better. Additional showers from houseguests may put too much pressure on an already slow drain. Guests may also try to flush items like disposable wipes, diapers, tampons and paper towels. And a convenient powder room may be pressed into service when the kitchen sink is too crowded.
Here are a few tips to help your drains survive the holiday.

• Do not throw turkey grease, drippings or gravy down the drain. Instead, drain the grease into an empty milk jug or other similar container, replace the lid and dispose of the grease in the trash. You could also reserve the drippings in a container in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, skim off the fat, and convert the remainder to stock for use in turkey soup or turkey pot pie.

• If you plan to use your garbage disposal to eliminate non-greasy food scraps, run the water in the disposal for 30 seconds after the disposer has cleared the wastes to ensure that the scraps make it out of the house!

• Do not put pumpkin shells, pumpkin guts, or squash guts down the drain. Always dispose of them in the trash.

• Provide extra (or larger) waste containers in the bathroom for added sanitary waste.

• Keep a plunger handy in all bathrooms.

• Clear slow drains before your guests arrive!

If you find yourself in the middle of a plumbing emergency, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating offers true 24/7 emergency plumbing services year-round. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime!

Photo Credit: widiwidi, via FreeImages.com