How Did I Dream Up the Tall Toilet. Part 3
**This is the 3rd and final part of the series “How did I come up with this idea?” **
As the young building maintenance guy in an environment occupied by the seniors, I was empowered to make small adjustments to everything from furniture to, yes, toilets. And at the Safety Committee Meetings, we often discussed bathroom safety improvements – grab bars and installation of the raised toilet seats. I would often get a work order to purchase and install grab bars as well as raised toilet seats. And I could fully understand the benefit of the grab bars since they definitely enhanced safety in the bathroom. Any bathroom can benefit from the added safety of grab bars. They are sturdily mounted onto the wall, do not move and provide a substantial advancement to prevent falls. We would install them in and near showers and tubs, near the sinks and toilets.
We also received requests for raised toilet seats. And here is an important part of the story, because it all started with the raised toilet seats. Even after many years of managing buildings and fulfilling work orders to get the raised toilet seats installed, I had never become a fan of them. First of all, most of the raised toilet seats would easily move, which is not safe. I always asked my building maintenance crew to check the raised seats and we would rush to complete a work order of the raised toilet seat reattaching or starting to fall off. I was just concerned about the safety limitations of this device adding height to the toilet.
I do not know when or where I had my first thoughts about improving something as basic as the height of the toilet – it probably was a combination of things over the years. I was a doer, and I was always thinking about the safety of my buildings and the well-being of my residents. It was my job to prevent accidents and my job literally depended on it. So my mind constantly operated on high alert.
When you are a facility manager, you get called if there’s a leak in the ceiling. If there’s a strange noise coming from the mechanical room. If someone activated the fire alarm. If the heat was not working, the AC is not cooling. There were dozens of situations of getting a phone call and having to come in to work at night. We had to do it. Being on call was the basic rule in the building management business. And for every building I worked at, I was on call 350 days a year, with the exception of a few weeks of vacation time. But I was used to it. Being on high alert all the time has become a norm. Anything I could do to minimize those emergency calls was important. Any prediction of equipment failure or eliminating a near-miss incident, preventing a fall was ingrained as part of my daily work routine, a habit I developed fairly quickly. I had established a passion for forecasting an issue and taking the proactive approach to resolve it. As many of my fellow facility managers would say, I lived a preventative maintenance doctrine.
I knew that the one time I would notice a possible problem and not act on it, it was going to happen. That one time the ice melt does not get applied in the parking lot properly, someone could slip and fall. It was not an easy way to live and many people take the job building and facility managers perform for granted. There was so much responsibility, it was beyond complicated. It became a lifestyle.
As I was forecasting and sharing my thoughts at the Safety Committee Meetings, the fall risk of raised toilet seats would come up every now and then. It was one of those weird items that we could not resolve. How? I could not remove the raised toilet seat and throw it out – then the toilet was going to be too low. We knew about the problem and we did not do anything new about it. There was not much we could do. How did you get the 15” standard height toilet to 20” tall so the resident could get up and sit down more easily? You installed a raised toilet seat. There was nothing else we could do, there was no 20” tall toilet readily available in the U.S.
I slowly was getting pulled into the perfect storm of becoming an inventor of the Tall Toilet. But there had to be an event, a “super” dramatic situation where I would get a kick to finally take my idea and make it a reality. And there it was.
In this case, high occupancy rates can lead to job security and sometimes there are guarantees made prematurely to the potential new residents to get the future resident to sign the lease agreement. Sometimes the premature guarantees are easy to fulfill, but not always.
In this case, a potential resident asked the sales and marketing team if one important condition could be met, otherwise he would not be moving in. What was that one condition? You guessed it! The future resident was demanding a 20” tall toilet installed in his bathroom. That future resident was Joe. The sales team and the executive director had to get me involved. The occupancy of the building was not at its best at the time, so you can imagine the pressure on the sales team and now on me. I did a quick search for the tall toilets (again), and delivered a response – they were not available anywhere. The sales team did not budge and proceeded to make a promise they could not fulfill – Joe would get the tall toilet and the building maintenance team (me!) was on it. I was thrown in the middle of the new lease deal and left with no other choice – drop everything I was doing and find that tall toilet.
I was told to get in the car and visit all of the hardware stores and the plumbing supply houses around. I was reporting from those locations with nothing to show. I came back empty-handed and started sending inquiries to all big suppliers. The executive director started to panic and gave me a nearly unlimited budget to buy that unicorn kind of a toilet. Just get it here! When replies came back from the healthcare and facility suppliers, they all unanimously concluded that the tallest toilet available was pretty far from 20 inches. It was only 17” tall. I reported back with this information and the sales team was scrambling. Who would tell Joe his hard demand could not be met? Joe was ready to move in the next day, fully confident his condition was going to be met.
Then the unthinkable happened. The sales team sent me to Joe’s house hours before he was arriving to deliver breaking news – there was no 20’ toilet waiting for him in his new apartment.. We chatted for a few minutes and I was open about the situation. I told him, half-jokingly: Joe, no one in the U.S. was able to deliver a 20” toilet for your new apartment, and if I cannot find it, I will make one for you myself. Joe smiled, and replied in his calm voice: O.K., Ed.
That was it. The “O.K., Ed” meant Joe would continue his move into our community and I returned a hero. Joe moved in soon after, the building occupancy went up by one, the sales team was done and everyone forgot about the 20” tall toilet. But I was left thinking – did I just lie to Joe or was I really going to make the tall toilet? Should I drop the issue or pursue it? It was not my choice anymore – something clicked inside of me and I was so inspired to create something that was never created before. It was not going to be a high-end gadget, it was going to be something simple instead. It was going to be a height improvement of the common object and it was going to help so many.
Here and then my quest to design, engineer and manufacture the 20” height toilet lifted my enthusiasm for work to new heights.
I will tell you more about in the next blog post, but let me finish this one by answering a question you probably have. Did I fulfill my promise to Joe? I am so proud to say yes, and even now I get emotional to say that I did. After a lot of effort, I eventually delivered a 20” toilet to Joe’s apartment and had it installed for him. Joe could not believe it really happened. But it did.
And here is what I went through to keep my word. Read about my journey in The Community Paper blog post: How did I do it?
- How Did I Come Up With the Tall Toilet. Part 1
- How Did I Come Up With the Tall Toilet. Part 2
- How Did I Come Up With the Tall Toilet. Part 3