What you need to know about plumbing fittings and fixtures
Whenever I begin a project which involves plumbing selections, (aka fittings and fixtures), I start with the basics, why things cost what they cost. Many clients have a misconception about quality and pricing. One does impact the other. There is no bargain when it comes to selecting quality plumbing products. This is what I refer to as the dirty little secret about plumbing.
The dirty little secret about plumbing: All plumbing products are not created equal.
I work with my clients to make sure they are educated about the products they are selecting. After all, an educated client is a smart client. For most people looking to remodel their home, especially a bathroom, plumbing is probably not something they have researched. Fortunately, I have many years of experience in specifying fittings and fixtures. Allow me to walk you through what to look for when selecting plumbing fittings and fixtures for your home.
Price vs Quality
Big box stores advertise low-cost products all the time. The consumer has been led to believe that all products are created equal, and these stores are simply offering the same product at a lower price. I think deep down inside we know that is not true. Evidently, today’s consumer is looking at price and not quality. Obviously, everyone has a budget. What is overlooked is the long-term costs. Lower-quality products require more repair or replacement whereas a better-quality product will last longer with less maintenance.
Note all faucets are created equal.
The job of a faucet is to supply water. Simple right? You turn the handle, and you have water. Although this sounds simple, there is much more happening than meets the eye. A cartridge valve controls the flow of the water. Many less expensive cartridges are made of metal and plastic compared to better faucets using ceramic cartridges. Not to mention that ceramic cartridges rarely leak and aren’t affected by hard water deposits. Remember that faucets are the most used part of a kitchen or bathroom.
To begin with, choosing a shower set can be daunting. Basically, there are two types of shower sets. First is the basic pressure balance system. Here you can adjust the temperature from cold to hot while the water flow is constant. Second, is the temperature pressure balance system. With this system, you set the water temperature and then control the volume of water flow. This is a much more luxurious type of shower set. As well as being more expensive, this type of shower will cost more to install. Important to note, for hand-held shower heads, lighter materials are being used to avoid breaking tiles or toes if dropped in the shower.
The shower valve is the part of the shower control that is inside the wall. You do not see it. The best material for a shower valve is almost always brass. Lower quality and priced valves can be made of metal and plastic. Replacing a valve in a finished shower will be costly.
PVD stands for Physical Vapor Deposition. This process creates a molecular bond which results in more durable finishes. Higher-quality manufacturers are using this finish on their products.
Chrome is one of the original fitting finishes.
Basically, it is a chrome-plated finish. It is durable and easy to clean. Better quality chrome resists tarnishing, can be long-lasting, and is more budget-friendly. Beware of plastic that looks like chrome. Chrome will show fingerprints and watermarks requiring more cleaning.
Stainless Steel is gaining popularity.
This material is easy to clean and antimicrobial. The luxurious sheen makes stainless a great choice for your fittings. Like chrome, stainless is plated. Watermarks and smudges will be noticeable. Be sure to use a smooth cloth for cleaning.
Nickel is available in brushed and polished finishes.
Like stainless steel, it is more costly. The color is warmer than stainless or chrome. Fingerprints and watermarks aren’t as noticeable. You will need some additional maintenance on the nickel to avoid a white sheen from humidity.
Brass and Bronze
Brass and Bronze has become a trendy finish for fittings. Even so, a lower-quality finish can discolor, or tarnish so make sure to research the product and the warranty. Once again, use gentle cleaning products on these finishes.
Colors and More
Powder Coat is a trending finish for both the kitchen and bath. There are a wide variety of colors available. Of course, this makes the finish attractive. , On the negative side, powder coating is not as durable as brushed nickel or stainless steel. With this in mind, always avoid chemical cleaners on this finish.
If you follow these posts, you know that I am a big Toto toilet fan. Yes, there are many brands out there, but I still specify Toto. The cost is really in the seat, especially the bidet seats. So, what is the story behind the toilet? How it is made and what is inside. There are a variety of flushing used in toilets. The more powerful the flush the better the toilet does its job. Stronger flushing mechanisms add value and cost.
Toilets are made of pottery. Liquid vitreous china is pumped into a mold, fired in a kiln, allowed to dry, and then glazed. Sounds simple right? So where does the cost come into play? Value engineering requires cutting corners to produce a less expensive product. Whether it is in the glazing, the internal working, or how many toilets have been produced by that mold, there is a difference.
Work with a Professional
Bathrooms have become one of the most popular rooms to renovate. In my blog What Makes a Luxury Bathroom, and Remodeling a Bathroom? What Makes It So Expensive I explore what goes into planning and executing a bathroom remodel. If you are not working with a design professional on your remodeling project, I do suggest you make your selections with a reliable plumbing supply showroom. Here you will find the best guidance when making selections for your home.
For my projects, I always specify Toto toilets and Brizo or Delta for fittings. Which tub do I like? Bain Ultra especially for their air system. Kohler makes several tubs I like for secondary bathrooms. Robern is my go-to for medicine cabinets and when installing a steam shower, Mr. Steam.
Sharon L. Sherman, ASID, NCIDQ, CID, CKD
Sharon is the founder of Thyme and Place Design, headquartered in Wyckoff, New Jersey. She’s been practicing kitchen and bath design for the past 40 years and is a Past President of the American Society of Interior Designers – New Jersey chapter. She is a current member of the editorial board of KBB Magazine, the official magazine of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Sharon has also received a Kitchen Bath Design News 2022 Innovator of the Year Award.
Her award-winning designs and editorial comments have been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, Design Milk, Furniture Lighting and Decor, Designers Today, Bergen NJ magazine, Kitchen & Bath Design News, Woman’s Day, Country Decorating, Design NJ, New Jersey Home Magazine, 201 Magazine, The Best of Bergen, Savvy Living, The Vue, The Record, The Star-Ledger, and Aspire as well as several books.
Her blog “Tips from the Trade” appears in digital form on DesignNJ.com and KBBonline.com. She has also appeared on HGTV’s My Big Amazing Renovation and episodes of House Smarts with Lou Manfredini. Sharon was a featured speaker for *Voices From The Industry* at the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s international convention and The International Surfaces Event and is available for further speaking engagements nationwide on all topics related to running a successful kitchen and bath design business. She is also a CEU provider for IDCEC.