smart spending

Should you buy a smart toilet seat?

Potty, loo, commode, porcelain throne. The toilet has many names but only one purpose, until now. Enter the luxury smart toilet.

The future of the bathroom will be automated. Innovative new commodes come with washing and drying functions in addition to a host of high-tech and water-conserving features.

Wait, luxury toilet?

You may have been unaware that since 1989, Japanese plumbing product manufacturer Toto has been selling a line of toilet seats that double as bidets to American consumers. Not just a bidet, but a seat that sprays clean, warm water and provides a gentle drying with warm air. If you're wondering why you're just now hearing about this, join the club.

Fancy toilets cost a bundle

Price
Kohler Numi$6,097.60, plus $575 for a standard remote
Toto Neorest$4,500 and up
American Standard AT200$4,200

Maybe you think a toilet that washes and dries your bottom is superfluous, but how do you feel about one with Bluetooth, speakers and ambient colored lighting? That exists in the Kohler Numi. It doesn't come cheap though: It's priced at around $6,000, without the remote. American Standard just got into the act this spring with the AT200. And the Toto Neorest line includes tankless design, oscillating water sprays, adjustable temperature, built-in air purifying system and heated seats.

Kohler Numi

The Kohler Numi

Why so pricey?

Innovative toilets are trying to change the potty habits of the well-heeled, and by doing so, encourage regular Americans to expect more from their potty time.

For instance, American Standard is targeting luxury consumers before going after mainstream consumers. Very wealthy buyers have the cash to flush on toilets, first of all, but their globe-trotting lifestyles may have already prepared them for the benefits of full-service commodes.

"(Luxury consumers) probably have more familiarity with this routine and experience," says Margaret Monteleone, director of luxury product marketing at American Standard.

According to Monteleone, American Standard plans to learn what people like and want from bidet-equipped toilets and bring more to the marketplace for the masses.

Bargaining chip in home sales?

Will the fancy toilets help you sell your house? Maybe not. As terrific as they seem, upgraded toilets may not necessarily sway homebuyers.

"I would say specialty toilets would play little into the decision-making process. Considering the application of the item we are discussing, I think most buyers, if they had to, would want to choose their own way to flush," says Jerry Grodesky, managing broker at Farm and Lake Houses Real Estate in Illinois.

Then again, you may not want to actually leave it behind.

"We've even had celebrities tell us,' I sold the house. I took the Neorest,'" says David Krakoff, president of the Americas sales division for Toto USA.

It would be a little bit like buying the house and getting the owner's car in the deal, says Rob Baugher, owner and CEO of Baugher, a design and remodel company.

"This type of toilet is too personal and speaking bluntly, if I had one of those, I would trade it out for a $300 comfort-height toilet and take it with me to my next house," he says. A comfort-height toilet is about 2 inches higher than standard.

Skip the commode; upgrade your seat

Toto has sold bidet-equipped replacements for regular toilet seats since 1989 in the United States.

"The Toto Washlet is one of our core products," says Krakoff. "By replacing your toilet seat with a Washlet, you get a lot of personal cleaning and comfort benefits that you probably never associated with the toilet before. Basically, the Washlet allows you to stop cleaning with dry paper and use water instead."

Toto Washlet S350e Night Light

Toto Washlet S350e model

The manufacturer's suggested retail price on the base model Washlet is $649, but online stores boast sales prices starting around $350.

Similar products sell for as little as $250 to as much as nearly $2,000.

There are some homebuyers who may see a Washlet-style commode and appreciate it enough to consider the toilet experience when buying a home, particularly the elderly or people with limited mobility. But buying the replacement seat instead of the entire fixture may be an option for people who want the experience without the big investment.

Price of dignity

"The only alternatives to a Washlet are the bidet -- more maneuvering around the bathroom, doubling the space with an extra fixture -- or having an assistant perform post-elimination cleanup. And how do you monetize dignity and privacy?" says architect Deborah Pierce of the American Institute of Architects, author of "The Accessible Home" and principal at Pierce Lamb Architects in West Newton, Massachusetts.

"Comparing the price of a Washlet to the price of a personal-care assistant is really the question, along with a year's worth of toilet paper. The Washlet is affordable, hygienic, safe, stylish and easy to use," she says.

Toilet paper savings

According to the paper company Kimberly Clark Corp., maker of Kleenex and Cottonelle, Americans use on average 46 sheets of toilet paper per day. According to Consumer Reports, toilet paper can cost as much as $0.35 per 100 sheets. That can add up to nearly $60 per year on toilet paper per person.

If you require baby wipes as well, that drives the yearly potty costs up. There may be no way to really rationalize expensive bidet-equipped toilets on a purely cost basis, but the replacement toilet seats -- those are worth looking into.

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