Excerpt: 'Guide to Sustainable Living' by Ed Begley Jr.

I got my first low-flush toilet in 1990, and it was called a Porcher. It was a French toilet, it had a single button on the top, and it used a lot less water. American Standard and Moen weren't making low- flush toilets at that time. So I bought what was available and it worked well. I had it for years, until it finally started to break down. The parts were difficult to find, but by that time, American Standard and a few other major manufacturers were making a low-flow toilet that worked very well.

There's a reason manufacturers have embraced the low- flush toilet model: For quite a few years now, local governments and utilities have been offering rebates and other incentives to get homeowners and business owners to change out their old toilets for more efficient models. It's a smart plan for everybody, because we use less water and the municipalities and states spend less money -- and less energy -- moving water around.

In fact, low-flow toilets are now required by federal law. Toilets that are sold in this country today must not exceed 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). Those are low-flow or low-volume toilets.

There is also the high-efficiency toilet (HET). It takes water efficiency to the next level and uses less than 1.3 gallons per flush. This is a new standard, and it's exciting. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its specifications for what qualifies as an HET in 2007. Best of all, the EPA has a partner program called WaterSense that's sort of the water-wise equivalent of the Energy Star program. Quite simply, in order to even be considered for a WaterSense label, a particular product must:

be about 20 percent more water-efficient than average products in thatcategory
provide measurable results
be independently certified to meet the EPA's criteria for water efficiency and performance

The idea is to make it easy for people like you and me to find products that save water without sacrificing performance. Obviously, in the case of toilets, we want them to flush properly. We don't want to have to flush them a second time to get the job done, since that's not going to save water.

The EPA actually says that if all the older, less efficient toilets in American homes—just in homes, we're not talking about businesses or public places here—were replaced with high-efficiency toilets, we could save nearly 2 billion gallons of water per day in this country. Per day!

Obviously, I'd like to encourage everybody to make this switch. It's easy to do now, since the WaterSense section on the EPA's Web site includes a list of HETs, and the list is updated regularly. You can scroll down the list and see that there are twenty American Standard brand toilets, twelve different Kohler brand toilets, thirty-something Caroma brand toilets (see Resources, page 341), and so on that all meet the HET criteria. That means they've been tested and certified by independent third parties. So when you go shopping, print out this list and tell the salesperson which specific toilets you're looking for.

A New Choice

So, as you can tell, I love CFLs. I'm probably their biggest fan. But now there's something even better: a CCFL, or cold cathode fluorescent lightbulb. My wife, Rachelle, tells me the name is just hideous, but this lightbulb is a beautiful thing. I absolutely adore CCFLs. CCFLs actually have several advantages over CFLs:

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