Toilets come in a variety of types – one-piece, two-piece, and wall-mounted just to name three broad categories. But as a buyer, do you have any reason to care? After all, you just want the thing to look good, work well, and operate reliably with near-zero maintenance. Well, it turns out that to get all those values it does help to know a thing or two about the pros and cons of the different toilet types.
Basic Geometry, Basic Definitions
Don’t be turned off by the word “geometry” in the section heading. No math required. I just mean it to refer to how the toilet is put together: one-piece, two-piece, or wall mounted. As the names suggest, a wall mounted toilet mounts to the wall, a two-piece has a separate tank and bowl, and a one-piece unit has those parts fused together seamlessly.
But, again, do you have any reason to care? Yes, several – if you’re interested in reliability, low maintenance, and (not least) their average price.
It would take the entire article to detail prices for the different toilet types. They vary widely depending on finish and detailed design, manufacturer, and of course where you buy. Even so, it’s possible to outline the average for each variety.
Two-piece toilets tend to be the least expensive, on average. Note that I say “least expensive” rather than “cheap”; only a cheap quality toilet is cheap, i.e. low price, and even then “low” doesn’t mean “really low” these days. Today, toilets cost a lot, no getting around it.
It’s not hard to understand why the two-piece is on the lower end of the scale, though. They’ve been around forever and they’re among the easiest to manufacture. They’re also the easiest to find replacement parts for, in part because they are so common and traditional.
A one-piece model typically carries a larger initial price tag, anywhere from $100 or more than a two-piece design. That’s compensated for somewhat by the positive values they provide but I’ll cover some of those below.
The higher cost is equally easy to understand; it takes time and labor to take those two parts and ‘weld’ them together. Or, alternatively, it requires a higher initial investment by the manufacturer to buy the machines to create a one-piece. Then there’s just that supply-demand thing. Some designs are more hotly desired, hence more expensive. That’s certainly true of one-piece toilets.
Wall-mounted toilets tend to be the highest price of all. Supply and demand comes into play here, too. They’re something of a specialty item and so they carry a slightly higher upfront price tag. They’re also more difficult to install, which raises the initial overall investment on your part.
Maintenance and Use
When you read the word “maintenance” you might think of repair or replacement, which is reasonable. But the most basic form of maintenance is cleaning and you have to do it regularly. So, to keep that aspect to a minimum, consider the time required by the different toilet types to do that.
Wall-mounted types are usually the easiest to keep clean. Getting down on the floor is often the most strenuous part of the job, particularly for older individuals who may have limiting health conditions.
That’s just the sort of person for whom the wall-mounted design is often intended, in part because they’re easy to clean underneath. There’s nothing on the floor. So, it’s easy to mop around without bending down. They also tend to lack some of the parts or shapes that make the other types harder to maintain.
Next in line is the one-piece. Because it lacks the join and crevices inherent in a two-piece toilet design there are fewer places for grime to hide. A seamless transition between the base and the tank make it easier to swipe the whole area in one go.
Still, there are those pesky places where it meets the floor, as well as the underside of the lid, not to mention behind the toilet. Also, a one-piece toilet will still frequently have those annoying curves at the base that make cleanup more difficult.
That last problem only grows larger with a two-piece design. Here you see all the traditional cleanup difficulties – hard to reach backside, tiny half-caves on the base, the area around the toilet seat hinges, and so forth. It adds to that the classic overhang and join of the tank that make cleaning the toilet everyone’s least favorite chore.
There’s another, more subtle cleanup problem with some two-piece designs. They cost so much less than a one-piece, yet still may carry a hefty price tag. So, some manufacturers try to cut corners and drive the price down even further. One way to do that is to forego glazing the entire trapway. That’s the ‘tunnel’ that leads down into the floor pipe, where the waste goes.
If part of the trapway is left unglazed it will be like the rougher porcelain of the interior tank walls. That’s ok inside the tank but it can cause paper hangups and increase messiness inside the trapway. That’s something you have to clean and, as you know, it ain’t pretty or fun.
And Now For Some Pros…
There are positive aspects to all the toilet designs – one-piece, two-piece, and wall-mounts – and some are more positive than others. Let’s shift gears and look at some of the advantages offered by each.
The (relatively) low price of the two-piece has already been mentioned but there are offsetting advantages. One of the biggest occurs soon after you buy it. Installation of a two-piece could hardly be easier. If a guy like me, possibly the world’s clumsiest amateur plumber, can install one then anyone can.
Being able to easily obtain parts is another big plus of a two-piece toilet. Since they’ve been around forever, you can pick up a replacement part anywhere. Ditto, in some cases, it’s easier to get a replacement tank lid if yours happens to get cracked.
Those comments go almost equally for a one-piece toilet. I say “almost” because the installation can have one potential problem. They tend to be heavier and (potentially) more unwieldy because of the shape of some designs. It helps to have two people for the job. Unfortunately, there isn’t always enough space for two where the toilet has to be placed. A dilemma.
Now onto the wall-mount toilet. I wanted this to be a generally positive section but since we’re talking about installation there’s no getting around one negative of a wall-mount toilet. Installing one can be tough.
Not only do they require lifting up on the wall, much harder than just sliding into place as with a one or two-piece, but they require special mounts to prevent pulling the wall out. Leakage is much more likely with a wall-mount design though floor leakage can occur in the others, too, especially with age.
Still, most floors are easy to seal well and will bear the weight of even a big one or two-piece with room to spare. But placing the weight of a toilet – and allowing for its intended future users – puts whole new requirements on the process.
More than one user has had to redo a wall-mount installation – after repairing the wall damage – from an iffy first try or an over-vigorous or uber-heavy user. When you have to pay someone to do that a wall-mount can soon look like more trouble than it’s worth.
But, shifting back to the positive, a wall-mount design offers several pluses when the installation is done well. They generally leave more space in the bathroom. You have more room to place decorative stands or just enjoy a more open appearance. A good design can hide the outlets, hoses, and so forth that are obvious with a one-piece or two-piece toilet.
That’s an esthetic issue but there are functional considerations, too. A wall-mount design is often used by the handicapped or elderly who have difficulty getting into place. More floor space eases that difficulty considerably. It can be a lot easier to move a wheelchair or walker close to one.
There’s no necessary relative advantage of a one-piece over a two-piece toilet in this category. Some one-piece units are smaller than their two-piece cousins but some are larger. Still, as a general issue, the one-piece designs tend to be a little larger. So, slight advantage to the two-piece here.
Here we get into iffier ground because style is such a personal thing. Still, most buyers will prefer something that looks higher tech. Most people want something that more closely resembles a toilet design you’d see in a super-nice hotel or the home of a wealthy person.
What that looks like may be hard to define in words but you can usually spot it. Still, this is an article not just a photo set so I’ll name a few things you’d expect to see in one versus another.
One obvious aspect is a streamlined shape, one that’s narrower or more ‘jet age’ looking. We all tend to associate that with high tech or high class, even in something that is usually neither in reality, like a toilet.
You can see that, for example, when you look at photos comparing two-piece designs to one-piece models to wall mount units. Typically, the two-piece just looks plainer; the one-piece is often a little more streamlined and a wall-mount model even more so.
In part, that’s just the result of tradition. Our great-grandparents had two-piece toilets and only two-piece (if they had one inside at all). Since that time, we’ve come to associate the older design with lower style. We may all be nostalgic sometimes about function – wishing “things were made the way they used to be” (not always accurately, in reality) – but many buyers prefer newer looks even so.
Of course, there are those who like to harken far back to an ‘antique’ look in bathroom fixtures. I’m one of them – when the design is carried out uniformly throughout the room. But even a Victorian design can have a stylish, up-to-date appearance since many classic designs periodically make a comeback. It’s happened before but the latest instance is probably the influence of the international success of the Downton Abbey TV show.
In any case, if “streamlined” or even the modern-looking-but-actually-quite-old “Art Deco” design is your preference, you’re more likely to find it in a one-piece model than a two-piece. It’s even more likely in a wall-mount model. There are many exceptions, but that’s the general trend.
The other aspect of style revolves chiefly around materials. Here, there’s both less and more variation between a one-piece, two-piece, and wall-mount toilet.
In one sense, there’s little difference between any of the design in terms of material. Economics, tradition, function, and even legal requirements all place constraints that tend to produce a toilet that is the now-ubiquitous porcelain. Sure, seats (and, on occasion, even tops) are sometimes wood but everything else is almost always some kind of ceramic.
On the other hand, the word “materials” covers more than just the basic compound used to make the base unit. Glazing styles, color options, and more are also material choices and here the sky’s the limit.
Black, green, pink, yellow, blue and other colors have all been used and will continue to be. Personalizing designs – everything from metal scroll work to hand-created paintings – has been incorporated in every type of toilet.
Still, it’s more common to see those ‘additions’ or ‘tailoring’ in more expensive models. That means they’re more likely in the more ‘fashionable’ one-piece models, and even more so in wall-mounts. Since the latter two cost more to begin with, many buyers are willing to pay yet more for a little extra embellishment.
Whether that’s worth anything to you personally is, it should go without saying, a strictly personal choice. Some people prefer a strictly utilitarian toilet design or are just indifferent to the issue. Others want their whole bathroom to continue the same sense of fashion or decoration as the rest of the house. To each her own.
When you go to buy a traditional two-piece toilet, one of the modern one-piece styles, or a wall-mount design consider cost, maintenance, and space needs or personal limitations. That will narrow your choice to a reasonable few. Then, let yourself go and opt for your favorite style! After all, you’re going to live with this thing for a long time.