Learning the Lingo: Bidets, Floating Vanities, and Other Bathroom Mysteries
Bathrooms have come a long way over the years. The British word for the toilet, “loo,” comes from the French garde à l’eau, meaning “watch out for the water.” In medieval Europe, people would yell this phrase out the window before throwing the contents of their chamber pots onto the streets. At least they warned passers-by.
But today, the once-humble lavatory has become a primary home oasis, often with some serious renovation dough behind it. In fact, bathroom remodeling requests have shot up 64% on HomeAdvisor, a marketplace for online home improvement services.
The bathroom is one of the rooms that prospective home buyers focus on most intently, and as such has been the focal point of a slew of innovation. So what do you call all the sexy features that are prized among homeowners today? Look no further than our Learning the Lingo series where, this week, we take a deep dive into the terminology of bidets, vanities, and more so you can navigate your choices for the best bathroom ever.
You know the standard 6-inch (or so) step at the entrance to most showers? Say goodbye to it in this increasingly popular design. In a curbless shower, the floor tiles run straight from the general bathroom area into the shower space, without a curb or lip of any kind.The seamless look gives a clean, modern aesthetic and is perfect for smaller spaces where every inch counts. Depending on the width of the entrance, it’s also accessible by wheelchair. Don’t worry, you won’t have a flood on your hands every time you shower: A glass wall or door typically blocks most of the spray, and a very slight incline in the floor leads to a center drain.
Yes, you can bring the spa home with you. You want steam? We’ll give you steam. These popular built-in devices heat a small amount of water and fill up the enclosed shower for aromatherapy sessions, postworkout pampering, or just chilling out in general. The steam shower originated in ancient Roman baths, but today’s modern versions offer a slew of features such as foot massagers and chromotherapy (lights). Some even have built-in cellular or flat-screen technology for those who desperately fear silence.
If you crave major tub time, consider a soaking version, which is deeper than standard models—in fact, it can usually fit two people. President William H. Taft—at 340 pounds, the largest POTUS—required a bathtub of “pondlike dimensions” that could hold “four ordinary men,” according to contemporary newspaper accounts. (On the other hand, stories about Taft getting stuck in his tub and requiring the assistance of White House butlers have never been confirmed.) Taft was ahead of his time: Today, the oversize soaking tub, or garden tub, has overtaken the jetted spa tub in popularity.
Yes, freestanding tubs are space hogs, demanding at the very least a few inches of wiggle room on all sides. But they’re also the centerpiece to the ultimate destination bathroom, continually rising in popularity over the past decade. According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, more than 60% of poll respondents said they had ordered freestanding tubs when renovating their bathrooms. While the claw-foot tub is the most iconic—and most popular—design, modern minimalist versions have been gaining speed in recent years
Most household toilets are gravity-assisted—meaning, as you might have guessed, that they use the force of gravity to wash down the bowl’s contents. Until about the 1930s, the pull-chain toilet (with a tank placed high on the wall) was used to maximize the water’s gravitational force. If you’re into the vintage thing (or the Italian restaurant murder scene in “The Godfather”), you can purchase a modern-day version.
You can attribute the loud whoooosh of most public toilets to this innovation, which uses pressurized air to suck waste through the pipes with more force and speed than gravity. Although more common in commercial spaces, you can buy them for residential spaces, but they remain a niche product (perhaps because midnight trips to the john have a tendency to wake up the whole house). Despite common perceptions to the contrary, they actually use less water than standard gravity models to achieve their dramatic flush.
These models flooded (sorry) the market when Congress mandated all toilets reduce their flush from 3.5 gallons to 1.6. And they did indeed conserve water. But early models also fell a bit short in the all-important “thorough flushing” department, so they suffered a backlash. The category has rebounded thanks to redesigns, and excellent low-flow options are now available. According to this water-savings calculator, you can conserve 7,000 gallons of water annually for a four-person, two-toilet home.
This smart combo combines water-conserving low-flow with more muscle when you need it: Push one button for flushing liquid waste (0.8 to 1 gallon of water) and another for solid waste (1.6 to 2 gallons).
Popular in Europe and Asia, the water-spray washing system is rare in the United States. While few bathrooms are large enough to accommodate a separate bidet and a toilet, theseat/bidet combo, or “washlet,” is a space- and cost-effective addition. Bidet lovers are bringing their enthusiasm here: Kitano, a Japanese hotel in New York City, is the first to offer washlets manufactured by Toto in all its rooms.
According to Toto, it offers “five warm-water rinsing modes, warm air dryer, an adjustable cleansing wand, heated seat, automatic air purifier, and wireless remote control.” We’re not entirely sure what the wireless remote does, but God bless modern technology!