August 1, 2014

Review: American Standard’s Champion 4 Toilet Flushes Almost Anything

Owning a home is the American dream, but there is one aspect for which I was not prepared: Toilets. Over the last decade, at four homes, I have repaired countless flush valves and spent hours “working the plunger”. I had resigned myself to this plumbers work until an episode of NPR Science Friday introduced me to a clog-resistant commode. I have now purchased and installed two American Standard Champion 4 toilets, and am pleased to say they are indeed a vast improvement.

Note that this review differs from my typical electronic gadget and enterprise IT focus. Although certainly possessed with high technology, modern sanitary plumbing is a topic that not all readers are comfortable with. I have been promising this post all year, and feel it is finally time to get it done. As with my robotic cat box review, I shall endeavor to use as many euphemisms and synonyms as my thesaurus will allow!

This is the American Standard Champion 4.
Yes, this blog post is about a toilet.

The Problem with The Potty

Sanitary plumbing is perhaps the most important invention of the modern world, and has likely saved more lives than penicillin. But many cultural taboos regarding “what goes on in the loo” prevent us truly from celebrating this achievement. The fixtures in the water closet have become familiar and mundane, at least here in the West, and are often overlooked until they are no longer functional.

“Potty time” is a private moment, and no one wants to be known as “the clogger”. It comes as no surprise, then, that the cause of plumbing issues usually remains a mystery. Most blockages require only a few pumps on the plunger, but others can be puzzlingly challenging. Despite my frustration, my own hangups always stop me from asking the obvious question, “what did you do in there?”

So it often falls to me (the father, husband, and homeowner) routinely to unclog and clean up whatever mishaps occur behind closed doors. Interestingly, unlike so many other hands-on maintenance areas, fathers and sons do not regularly “passed the plunger” and transmit repair guidance between generations: It took me many years to realize that plungers work on suction not compression!

Toilets stink past the clogs, however. As is often the case with commodity components not selected by the end user, a race to the bottom has drastically affected the quality of toilet parts. Cheap flaps, flimsy arms and plastic chains, and shaky, sticky floats are all too common. Every home I have purchased still contained the original “builder quality” porcelain, and I was forced to replace the guts of almost every privy!

Behold the Champion!

Although most crappers are crap, plumbing companies like American Standard are hard at work innovating to eliminate the excrement. The current champion is fittingly called the Champion 4, and I have purchased, installed, and tested two examples of the type.

The Champion is engineered to reduce the most common causes of clogs, and it has proved effective and “hands-off” in my real-world testing (which is a good thing). There is nothing particularly radical about it; American Standard simply optimized the fluid dynamics. This increased water flow is remarkable: The Champion flushes just about anything, as shown in this irresistibly campy video:

Seriously. Sliders and water wigglers and chicken nuggets? It must be weirdly fun to be a potty engineer!

I snapped a few photos of the key optimizations as I installed my second Champion.

Unlike the flimsy flaps inside most tanks, the Champion features a wide lift-off valve that dumps more water faster, dramatically increasing the flushing power. But it takes some muscle to move!

The inner surfaces are coated and slick, unlike the rough uncoated porcelain in cheap thrones. That plastic insert is the “sanitary dam”, which sounds like a type of contraceptive to me.

American Standard optimized the curving trapway to eliminate kinks that collect “debris”.

The upshot of these optimizations is easy flow, and this means cleanliness. This thing really runs smooth!

No Tools Installation?

It must be hard to sell large, expensive plumbing components at retail. After all, nearly every home comes equipped with cheap bulk fixtures and most homeowners aren’t aware of the benefits of an upgrade. Even those who want something better might be put off by the prospect of monkeying with this particular piece of equipment.

American Standard does what they can to market and promote the Champion to consumers. There are an array of videos on YouTube, and these glowing white pieces are given prime placement at retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s. My little ones just love playing with the potties when we pass through the plumbing section of the store!

American Standard’s claims mostly hold water…

One consumer-friendly element of the Champion is the bold claim on the carton: No Tools Installation! I suppose this is meant to reassure buyers that they can handle the task, but it’s pure marketing. After all, anyone likely to tackle some heavy plumbing work probably already has a reasonable tool assortment, and anyone without tools really shouldn’t attempt this task!

Let’s be clear: It does require tools (and parts!) successfully to install a Champion toilet. Sure, certain tools aren’t needed as some parts are optimized. But this claim is simply untrue.

I used the following tools and parts when swapping out an old builder-grade bowl for this new fancy-pants perch:

  1. A large, long flat screwdriver is a must to secure the bolts holding the tank to the base while loosening or tightening the nuts. It’s also required to install the seat.
  2. A ratcheting socket set is handy to remove the tank and floor bolts.
  3. A small “Channellock”-type wrench is very helpful for the water lines.
  4. Speaking of water lines, the Champion is so tall I had to replace the existing line with a 20″ replacement.
  5. A putty knife is handy when cleaning up the old wax ring (easily the nastiest aspect of this install!)

Note that this is one mighty chunk of porcelain. If you’re doing the install, make sure you’ve got sufficient upper body strength (and a healthy back) to heft some serious weight. And wear something you don’t mind getting “soiled” when pulling out the retired recliner…

Now you see it, now you don’t! Installation took about an hour.

Experiencing the Champion

In regular use, the Champion excels without calling much attention to itself. There is no bidet, music player, or power seat. It just sits in its corner and effectively does what it does.

Installing a Champion eliminates many crappy situations:

  • No more plunger – seriously! My crummy crappers required too-frequent assistance. The Champion requires none at all, and I’m able to remove “the suction cup” from public areas of the home.
  • Houseguests seem to have special trouble in unfamiliar surroundings, and this leads to horror all around. No clogs means no overflow, which saves face as well as hard wood floors!
  • Turbo-hydro-self-cleaning? I can get behind that!

But not everything is glorious when you invite a Champion into your home:

  • This is one tall stool, so the younger folks might have issues climbing aboard. This is ironic, since they’re the prime villains in “The Battle of What Did You Do In There?” Happily, my little ones are big enough to sit in comfort.
  • That big valve requires some serious pull to activate, and the little lever doesn’t use physics to its advantage. It took a while for the little folks to get the hang of hammering the handle down hard enough. There’s no way a tiny tot could manage it.
  • The Champion ships with a thin, hard seat with a flimsy lid. Strangely, one (from Home Depot) came with a slick “soft-close” mechanism while the other (from Lowe’s) bangs down with abandon, even when you’d like it to remain aloft. Many folks will just replace the seat with a classier circle.

Stephen’s Stance

The American Standard Champion 4 really is as effective as the company promises, eliminating one of my least-favorite homeowner tasks – plunging clogs and cleaning “overflow”. Although the product isn’t perfect, it’s well worth the cost since it reduces plumber house-calls, embarrassing situations with houseguests, and nasty rubber-and-wood tools laying around. It’s a slam-dunk!

Pros:

  • Works as advertised, flushing clean without clogs
  • Fairly straightforward to install (with some tools and help lifting)
  • Reasonably inexpensive and available at most home improvement stores

Cons:

  • Requires a new water line and install tools (contrary to claims)
  • Tough for small children to use (tall seat and flush lever requires lots of force)
  • Uniqueness raises concerns about long-term availability of replacement parts
  • http://twitter.com/MBLeib Matthew Leib

    I’ve actually installed two of these in my house. Work like a charm. 

  • ya_bewb

    I’ve installed two as well, had them for almost two years. Both work great and I love the right height feature. The only real issue I have is the flimsy handle, it isn’t very well designed and feels cheap.

  • http://twitter.com/netdad Michael Kantowski

    Thanks for the detailed rundown on this product.

  • Grease

    Ok, I’ve had one for about 7 years.
    My old style valve broke, they sent me a new style.
    Could not get the new style to flush good!
    Had to double flush almost every time.

    Here, I notice, the diagrams on the instruction manual are wrong.
    The side view shows the vent tube next to the flush valve.
    But on the top view, it shows the vent tube away from the flush valve.
    Well, I had mine set up like the side view diagram.
    And guess what, you have to have it on the right side, when facing the tank.
    If you have it on the other side, the water flow blocks the venting!
    I’ve seen videos of people with it next to the flush valve, which is incorrect!

    Mine works like a champ now!
    Just my 2 cents!
    I think American Standard should get there diagrams correct on placement of the new flush valve!

  • Chloe Benson

    Wow! What a great article! I have been doing my research, lots of it, on the American Standard Champion 4 and I really wish I would have come across this post about 15 articles ago, could of saved myself a lot of time and reading!

  • drew458

    The 1.6gpf version is slowly being replaced with the 1.28gpf version. The newer one does not have as good a bowl rinse. The rim jet holes should be cleaned monthly with a pipe cleaner or bit of wire, especially with the $199 no-tools kit toilet from Big Box.

    The PRO model is very similar but uses a metal lever. There are several styles available from AS; one is a bit longer and will give you a better toggle: less effort to push the lever down.