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I am planning an extension to my house, including a new ensuite bathroom and a downstairs WC. To save money and embedded energy I'm thinking of buying secondhand basins and toilets. There seem to be plenty around, but I wonder if there is anything I need to be aware of, e.g.:

  • things like fixings, washers, pipe couplings may or may not be included or re-useable. Are these generally standard or are they manufacturer-specific so maybe hard to source?
  • I am assuming porcelain sanitaryware isn't subject to much "hidden" wear and tear (it's either broken/cracked/chipped or it's not) so it shouldn't be hard to avoid a lemon. Right?
  • I won't be fitting these. Assuming they fit in the space, and the appropriate fixings, pipe, etc are there (see 1.) will plumbers be happy fitting them?
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    One thing to keep in mind is that the water use of a new fixture may be less than an old one, so you may save some embodied energy by wasting a lot of future water/energy. If the fixture is new-ish and already up-to-date in terms of water consumption, this may not be a concern, but with very old fixtures you're probably not doing the environment any favors. – Nate Strickland Jun 12 at 20:41
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    @isherwood - putting 3 gallon jugs into an old 5 gpf flush toilet doesn't turn it into a 2 gpf toilet. It may only use 2 gallons, but it's not going to flush well. – Johnny Jun 13 at 15:01
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    I can go to a big box store and get a new toilet for $90. Used toilets at the local recycled building supplies store are $20 - $30, and if you're going to replace all the consumable parts (flush kit, seat, etc) you're probably out another $30 - $40, plus the time to source all the parts, clean things up, make sure it's all the right brand and it fits, etc versus just bringing that new toilet home and dropping it on the flange. The cost savings evaporates quickly. – dwizum Jun 13 at 17:51
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    @Johnny - but then, neither will the 2gpf toilet ... – davidbak Jun 14 at 0:33
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    @davidbak - you can find a good low-flow toilet, but you need to pay a little more... I have a nice Toto (Drake?) 1.6gpf toilet that flushes better than the 30 year old toilet it replaced. – Johnny Jun 14 at 3:02
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I applaud your effort at frugality and environmentalism. The "throwaway" mindset peeves me to no end. Many folks change out fixtures just to change the look or size, and there are plenty of good units to be had. In fact, I'll soon be swapping out a perfectly serviceable round-bowl toilet for an elongated one just to better accommodate an add-on bidet.

Some suggestions...

  • Look for well-known brand names. They tend to have better integrated components and repair parts are more readily available.
  • Some parts are replaceable and available from third parties, such as toilet valves. Some are proprietary and may be hard to find, such as toilet-to-tank connections. Do a little research as needed to avoid surprises.
  • Ask about condition from the seller/provider. You'll then be able to decide whether you can live with known issues.
  • Inspect porcelain closely for cracks, and be careful when moving. Even mild impacts with rigid objects (garage floors) can cause damage. Always use padding.
  • Give the items the sniff test. Long-term problems rarely fail to leave an odor trail, be it mold or... other material.
  • Clean things up very well to avoid extra charges from sub-contractors. Razor blades work well on porcelain to remove caulk. Plastic scrapers are good for counter tops, etc.
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    Make sure any hung basins come with their bracket(s). – Mazura Jun 12 at 22:23
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    Ask your plumber if you've already got one. Knowing someone who fits bathrooms and kitchens, they regularly see people getting rid of perfectly workable utilities just to put a new on in it's place - it's quite possible your plumber will be able to source some, likely at reduced cost, and they can choose to source those which they know they can easily fit. – djsmiley2k Jun 13 at 12:06
  • Just to add that newer toilets may be more flush-efficient, but they're made of pretty flimsy plastic parts. While they're in place and working they're okay, but the moment something breaks, it's pretty catastrophic and means you've got to replace vast swathes of unrelated plastic junk to fix one little thing that broke. It's going to be hard to inspect the plastic well enough, but just make sure it all works, and maybe take photos before disassembly so you know how to put it back together again. If the toilet cistern is full of slime/limescale, then maybe give it a miss. – Ralph Bolton Jun 14 at 11:59
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If you are going to spend good money to build an addition on your home why would you even consider someone else's thrown away junk. Spend money on "up to date" new and modern water saving toilets, sinks and faucets. If you supply them with old junk the plumbers will curse you for making them use this old stuff. If the plumbers have to clean the old stuff this will take time and cost you more. Labor usually costs way more than parts and fixtures. Another word of caution, I just threw away a fairly new toilet that had a crack in the porcelain you could not see but would weep water when the toilet was flushed.

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    second hand doesn't mean old. It can be very up to date (owner refurbs bathroom in order to sell the house, new owners immediately rip it out becuase they want a different colour; items bought in error or before a change of plan...etc). Helpful point re the crack. – aucuparia Jun 12 at 13:46
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    Demonstrator parts are excellent too - they're new and uninstalled other than being set up in a shop display. Sometimes the retailer will return them to supplier new-unused but not fit for sale. – Criggie Jun 13 at 4:01
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    The question was what to look for in second-hand fixtures, not whether OP should consider them at all. This does not really answer the question. – PhilippNagel Jun 13 at 15:02
  • Because their thrown away junk actually flushes when you pull the lever. That's the good ole boy version. The eco version is new toilets don't make themselves. – Harper Jun 13 at 20:29
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I'll be honest here: old toilets are terrible.

I bought a house with original toilets from the mid 70s. These things were beasts that took a whopping 2 gallons per flush, and relied solely on gravity to do the work, which meant that it sometimes failed to get all the stuff down the drain (which meant another 2 gallon flush). That's pretty crappy (literally).

When some other stuff broke and necessitated getting a loan to fit it, I threw in some extra money to replace the toilets with new ones. 1.28 gallon flush, glazed down the bend (helps stuff get over the literal hump) and a horizontal jet in the drain to give it a good shove. They rarely clog (my son has done it twice, and both times he used WAY too much toilet paper) as well. Honestly, a newer flush may pay for itself over the lifetime of its use.

You might get lucky buying second-hand, but I would be on the lookout for these warning signs

  • No jet in the drain. While it's not necessarily a sign of a bad flush, most old school flushes don't have one
  • A large tank with a high water line
  • A high water line in the bowl (more than halfway up the sides)
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    2 gallons is nothing. Some of these old toilets use 6 gallons per flush. I had one of these that used an insane amount of water and it didn't even flush well. – JimmyJames Jun 13 at 13:41
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    I don't think we're talking 70s or even 80s stuff here. The 90s weren't that different from today. Heck, plenty of folks are pulling out stuff from the 00s already. – isherwood Jun 13 at 14:27
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    @isherwood It's not really clear from the question how old this stuff is but I would stay away from early (US) low-flow toilets. Most were just tweaks on old designs and didn't work as well as later models. – JimmyJames Jun 13 at 15:23
  • Just a side note on gravity toilets. I always use these to avoid noise issues and they can work just fine, even with 1.28 models. The last one I got is a Toto with an oversized flush valve and it's great. The tank needs to be a bit higher on these but doing the research is key. – JimmyJames Jun 13 at 15:26
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Speaking from experience of doing just what you suggest...

When doing up a house (UK) for my daughter we got a complete bathroom suite from Freecycle. All the porcelain and the enamelled bath were in good condition. The sink and bath waste fitting points took standard new wastes and traps, the sink just needed a suitable tap (single hole fitting). The waste out of the WC is a standard size and a standard toilet waste coupling worked fine. The bathroom has been in use for 3 years now without any problems.

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I would buy new If I was building, because that way you have warranty, and can save a bunch on labor in the process. Putting something used in a new build may only save you enough to buy a biscuit once you factor in incidentals. So long as you understand that....

If you insist on using used fixtures, all I can say from my experiences with used fixtures in my own home, is go slow. Take pictures. Measure everything 3 times, write it down in 5 places...ok , that's a little exaggerated, but you get what I mean. Preparation is absolutely vital. Take your time in selecting pieces, clean them thoroughly, inspect them. When you get ready to install them, make sure all the parts match, or that you have a plan to make them match. I could tell horror stories about finding a cool bathroom faucet that became useless because it would not fit in the basin nor was is compatible with the plumbing.

So you can do the Recycled thing, so long as you are willing to be Very Thorough, Very Careful, and understand why you are doing things that way.

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