The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, December 02, 2015 1:43 am

Inconvenience flushed

Rosa Salter Rodriguez The Journal Gazette

Homeowners typically harbor a wish list of luxury features they’d love to add to their house – granite countertops, spacious master closet, high ceilings. 

But a bathroom in the basement? Well, maybe not.

With more folks stretching their living space to accommodate boomerang kids or elderly parents, having a basement comfort station looks less and less like a frill. But because of the mess and fuss, not to mention the dollar signs, the wish often goes unfulfilled.

Now, however, basement bathrooms are no longer out of reach for many, says Doug Gaff of Elkhart, regional sales agent for Saniflo, a manufacturer of unusual toilets for spots where a conventional loo just won’t do.

Saniflo units can be installed in basements, garages and other places, he says. People buy them for pole barns, workshops, lake cottages and pool houses.

"They’re good for tight spaces, too. We’ve even put them in closets and under a staircase," Gaff says.

The versatility is possible because Saniflo, like similar units marketed by other companies, takes a different approach to plumbing.

Unlike conventional toilets, which flush down and rely on a gravity assist to get the waste to underground sewer lines or a septic system, Saniflo toilets have an electric pump that can send waste up or laterally to meet existing pipes, Gaff says.

Because no demolition of an existing concrete floor or slab is needed to install additional plumbing, typically several hundred or even thousands of dollars and several days or weeks of labor can be shaved off the cost of a basement bathroom, he says.

"It’s one of those things that a lot of people say they’ve always wanted to have, a bathroom in their basement," he says, noting that the equipment typically costs about $1,200, plus installation. 

Dave Fuller, superintendent of the Allen County Building Department, says there’s no way to know if there’s been an uptick in installations of such toilets. They’re often called macerating toilets because they mash up and essentially liquefy waste before feeding it to the outflow pipe. 

Building permits don’t specify what kind of fixtures are being installed in bathroom remodels or additions, Fuller says, pointing out that in Allen County, adding a macerating toilet requires a permit and a state-licensed installer.

But he doubts that the toilets are taking the area by storm.

"It meets a need, but it’s not something that people are going to be putting in if they’re building a new house," he says.

Ray Abbott, sales manager for Korte Does It All in Fort Wayne, says he also doesn’t expect huge growth.

Macerating toilets have been around for a couple of decades, he says, but recently have been more widely advertised and available in home improvement stores. 

"We have, over the years, put in maybe two or three of them. I’m really not a fan," Abbott says.

He says that’s because the pumps are "loud" and the units are more bulky than regular toilets because of the need for a pump housing.

About the size of an airplane carry-on bag, the housing generally goes behind or next to the toilet, although the pump unit also can be hidden behind a wall near the toilet, Abbott says. But the latter strategy makes it difficult to access if it needs repair, he says. 

Gaff, however, plays down the noise, saying it’s more like hearing a basement sump pump click on and off for seven or eight seconds after a flush. As for aesthetics, he says many homeowners say the convenience outweighs the appearance of a pipe or housing.

Gaff says the units typically can pump up about 15 feet and 150 feet laterally. Systems are now made that will allow wastewater from a sink, shower and laundry facilities to be fed in to the macerating unit in addition to the toilet waste, he says. There are also whole-house systems that use one pump and water-saving models.

There’s also a system that boosts the macerating blades with a grinder to allow the system to accept bulkier disposables such as wipes, he adds. 

The systems are sealed from the factory, eliminating the possibility of odor or sewage gases, Gaff says. Proper installation requires venting, he notes.

Since its start in France in 1958, Saniflo has sold units in 23 countries. The company has been in the United States since around 2000, Gaff says, but has just begun to expand into the Midwest, where its products are largely sold through professional plumbing and contractors supply stores.

Other companies, including Liberty Pumps of New York and Thetford Corp. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, also offer macerating toilets. 

Saniflo units have caught on in the Northeast, Gaff says, in part because of space constraints and older housing stock.

"You can’t always expand (the floor plan of) the house to add a bathroom there because there’s no space. In the Midwest, you don’t have that as much," he explains. "But even five years ago, back when we had the recession and the economy was terrible, Saniflo was still growing.

"We think the market is there."

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