Throne rooms, powder rooms, the WC… let’s talk basics. Australian homes are being built with too many toilets and its wasting precious resources.

Who remembers the thunder box at the rear of the back yard and the cheek-squeezing, knees-together quickstep it entailed? Families were larger in the little-house-out-the-back’s heyday: a minimum of five members, seven hardly noteworthy. Nowadays, a new residence has a good chance of having more toilets than residents.

My first dunny was on a dairy farm where the home and cows’ night paddock were one and the same. It was a classic six foot by four foot chamferboard building on short stumps, nestled in a grove of Pepperina trees. 

A night trip to the loo involved going along the veranda and down a full flight of stairs, taking a short walk across the paddock, hoping you missed any sloppy cow pads, then into the monster-filled never-lit dunny that was covered with spider webs. Not to mention bumping into a cow along the way – scary enough to send you back to bed.

In Lewis Mumford’s The City in History, the American historian observed that the fall of the Roman Empire was preceded by a mounting obsession with bathrooms and bath culture. Mumford drew dire parallels with the United States — and that was in 1961.

What are archaeologists going to conclude when they excavate what’s left of our civilization in a few millennia? That the inhabitants of the era regularly suffered from the trots?

Dunnies are expensive and mono-functional, so why the unnecessary repetition in dwellings? Are they a real estate agent con that feeds herd mentality? “An ensuite to every bedroom, that’s what the market wants, mate!” “Gotta have one at the living level, pal!”

Dunny multiplication removes space. In most homes, bedrooms, and living and dining areas have to be reduced to make room for the toilets.

We are getting rid of our personal waste at the greatest cost per square metre, ensuring money can’t be spent elsewhere. One less toilet in your home could pay for photovoltaic solar panels to perpetually cut your power bill. Get rid of another toilet and a large water tank could forever reduce the water bill.

In Queensland, builders have whinged about the extra cost to add water tanks to residences and the government foolishly agreed. But nothing was said about the cost of multiple dunnies. It just shows you where community values lie.

And, it gets worse. Ensuites!

Already an indulgent luxury, they now come with his and hers basins. Huh? If you’re that desperate for your own basin, there is always the laundry tub, two toilets, the kitchen sink, the bath, or the shower to use.

What do double basins really represent? More leaky taps and more blocked waste pipes.

These days, you can buy a crapper without a cistern. The visual horror of a porcelain cistern above the bowl has been solved for those of delicate aesthetic sensibilities. The porcelain hippopotamus head is all alone on the cubicle floor. This marvel of modern technology is achieved by a hidden water storage area within the walls. There is no gravity to feed the water to the bowl as is the case with the traditional cistern. The flushing of this marvel is achieved by an electric pump. So, there is an electrical connection required, an electric motor and a water pump, all demanding excessive maintenance and future replacement.

Some of these toilets even have heated seats to add to the ludicrous pseudo luxury.

As to the future, there is only terror ahead: the dunny app. Push the dunny icon on the magic phone and the flap lifts, the seat heats before you squat, your selected repertoire of excreting music plays, the sensor of completion is activated and when you are finished the robotic bum washer/wiper cleans up, followed by the powder puff machine. Nirvana.

There could be one advantage of such an app: at the flip of a button, the seat flap would immediately lift and return after use.

Are there answers?

First, we need to stop using euphemisms. Let’s get rid of references in real estate promotional material to “powder rooms” for starters.

Second, apply a tax to homes with multiple toilets and bathrooms. Nothing is fairer than indulgence taxes.

And finally, all dunnies should be composting toilets in this environmentally enlightened age, even in high-rise buildings.

Russell Hall is a Brisbane-based architect with experience in residential, retail, commercial and industrial design. He is interested in designing whatever comes along.


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8 replies on “Let’s ditch multiple “powder rooms” and return to the days of the thunder box”

  1. Having more toilets does not change in anyway the amount of material disposed. It just solves the problem of waiting uncomfortably and sometimes soiling clothes meaning more water and energy spent on cleaning

  2. Great article. We should all really use chamber pots and reuse the waste on the garden.
    Luxury and convenience is highly over rated.

  3. Be careful with these claims – however, agree with your sentiments. But referencing the person with the sprained ankle, you never know when physical disablement will visit you, your family (or your visitors) and then you realise access to a toilet enables or disables your life both at home and in public. Also think ageing in place. BTW One third of households have a person with disability – you can check with ABS – and that doesn’t include people with a chronic illness (22%) ABS counts those separately.

  4. To some extent I agree with this; however, when I badly sprained my ankle, not having a toilet on the ground floor was a nightmare; and little kids going through toilet training can’t always make it all the way upstairs.

    Those new 2br/2bath flats are intended for anyone who can’t afford a place outright – it’s easier to rent out a room if it has it’s own bathroom. Says more about the price of realestate that noone can afford to live alone, not even a couple.

  5. Excellent article on a number of fronts.
    -Euphemism, for starters. What’s wrong with Spade=Spade?
    -Resort Obsession. Why this push for every living space to look like a Whitsundays hotel? A balanced productive life is not that of a goldfish in a glass bowl next to a sun deck. A bit of shadow and ‘framing of the view’ is also an option.
    – Progress. ‘Smart’ houses that load buildings up with a thousand moving (or electrically charged) parts (including intuitive toilet seats) are not always that smart.
    Developers and their designers assume things about consumers. I suspect though that the number of bathrooms is tied up with the euphemism game. Toilet and bathroom numbers are selling points in buildings that lack in other areas – like insulation, shading, manual craftsmanship and thermal mass, (not to mention venustas)
    In a world that allows McDonalds to self declare as a ‘restaurant’ we should not be surprised at the power of euphemism. Concerned yes. Surprised, no.
    To paraphrase Warren Beatty’s Bullworth ‘How much (pretentious imbalance) do you guys actually need?’

  6. Can’t find a new 2 bed apartment without multiple bathrooms, it’s a sheer madness obsession with developers, more bedroom or lounge space is preferable.

  7. Best article for a while, forgot to mention the induced flush effect. It’s the build it and they will come version for toilets – more toilets = more water use.

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