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Great Moments In The Evolution Of Toilet Technology

By Bruce W. Maki, Editor

When I was a teenager I had a friend who had grown up in Europe where his father had been serving in the military. One day he showed me some family photos of camping trips they had taken to the south of France and Spain. I remember an unusual picture they had taken of the toilet facilities in one campground: literally a stall with just a small hole in the concrete floor. I was shocked. How can anybody use that, I asked. Both my friend and his father insisted that squatting was the way people were meant to go. The bowels were positioned better, or something like that.

I had never thought about it, but what they said was true: the toilet had not always accompanied the human race. In later years I did indeed hear and read other accounts that confirmed this "get down" method of relief.

Milestone #1: Take A Break 
I suppose after a few thousand years of this technique, somebody discovered that sitting on a log was much easier on the legs, and the idea of the "rest room" was born. Except that rooms hadn't been invented yet.

Milestone #2: The Outhouse
Over the millennia people invented structures. Huts, tents, wigwams, yurts, cabins, castles. I don't know when it happened, but at some point in history some clever person decided to make a small outbuilding for the purpose of sheltering people when they needed to do their personal business. In urban areas they used chamber pots. I recall a high school English teacher describing Charles Dickens and life in 19th century London. It was considered polite for a gentleman to let his lady walk next to the buildings, as that gave her shelter from the inevitable person who would open a second-story window and hurl the contents of their chamber pot onto the street. No wonder Dickens' writing was so bleak and depressing.

Milestone #3: Indoor Plumbing
Being able to stay indoors to relieve oneself is a relatively recent invention. It has been less than 1½ centuries since the widespread adoption of indoor plumbing and the toilet. This must have been considered a big step forward at the time, especially for us people in Northern climates.

I believe that great leaps forward are often accompanied by small steps backwards. But we tolerate those setbacks. Take cell phones, for example. Mobile phones give us the ability to be reached almost anywhere, but the sound quality is a step back from landline phones, even cordless landline phones.

I'll bet that in the late 1800's, some people had their doubts about this form of progress called indoor plumbing. Let's face it, people make smells. With an outhouse far away in the backyard, those odors would stay away from the house. But bringing the bodily waste functions indoors also brought a lot of unpleasant odors. Considering that many houses built around the turn of the century had the bathroom adjacent to the kitchen, and since bathroom exhaust fans didn't exist yet, the aromas were free to waft wherever the air currents carried them. I understand that back then people didn't congregate in the kitchen like they do today. No wonder! Back then the kitchen was "a woman's place", and we all know that men tend to leave the worst smells. Hmmm, is that "passive sexism" or what?

A hundred years ago most houses didn't use any form of insulation and were quite drafty. This fact alone may have preserved a lot of household peace. Later, chemical air fresheners were invented. These may seem like a great invention, but they really just mask the odors. Sometimes the combination of smells is worse than the original.

Milestone #4: Ventilation
Alas, the bathroom exhaust fan was invented. Now the smells could be whisked away, relieving your loved ones of the burden of knowing too much about you. If only we could get everyone to use the fan. This is an imperfect invention, because the fan is almost always 8 feet or farther from the source. The vapors still have a chance to mix in the air, so the fan must be left running for a few minutes afterward.

Now there are super-quiet fans that can be left running forever. When used as part of a whole-house air management system they remove stale air and let in fresh outdoor air. Of course, if you live in Los Angeles you might decide that the air in the bathroom is fresher than the outdoor air.

The typical bathroom has one fan in the center of the room. This is supposed to remove foul odors and steam from the shower. But the air intake is too far from the source to perform either function at maximum effectiveness. Recently some companies have developed fans that have multiple intake points, and an air intake is placed on the ceiling above the toilet and above the shower. Sounds good.

Milestone #5: Solving The Problem At The Source
Then along came the folks at Evolve Corporation with a product they called FreshVent. They pursued the smart approach and devised a way to capture odors right in the toilet bowl. I first saw their invention at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in April 2002. Quite frankly, at first I thought it was a bit extreme, but after a while I began to realize that their product really makes sense. Think about it… we make some pretty nasty smells in the comfort of our own homes, and then share the experience with our families. Why? Does it have to be that way? Especially in a master bathroom, where a couple getting ready in the morning may be using the facilities in close sequence. And considering the close proximity of the bed to the "throne", doesn't the master bathroom deserve the best technology in air cleanliness?

Update: 2009

This new toilet design could have become a big seller, even though it would require special ducting to handle the exhaust. However, it appears that Evolve Corporation is no longer in business making this toilet-of-the-future. I did an extensive search for their company... it appears that they are now a mechanical contracting firm in Novi, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

What a pity. When I first learned about their product in 2002, I offered to help promote their new toilet on HammerZone.com, but they declined. That's too bad... HammerZone's traffic grew like crazy in the years after that. I was really broke in those days and for a couple of hundred bucks a month I would have plastered their ads all over my site. By 2004 or 2005 they would've been seen by several million people each year.

Let this be a lesson to you business owners, especially companies with new products. Web publishers can help you promote your new products, at a price that's a lot cheaper than magazine advertising or trade shows.

 

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Copyright © 2002-2009  HammerZone.com

Written May 2, 2002
Revised January 23, 2009