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There are a confusing number of plumbing fixtures on the market today. What defines a plumbing fixture? What are the different types and how do residential fixtures differ from commercial fixtures?
A plumbing fixture is device or vessel that is permanently or temporarily installed in a commercial facility, residence, hospital, school etc. and maybe connected to the potable water system. That device discharges used water and suspended solids into the facility sewer line. Not all plumbing fixtures have a water connection but all must be able to remove drainage away from the device via the sanitary system.  Most times you can use the water that is supplied to the fixture for drinking, bathing, cooking etc.

All plumbing fixtures must be made of a smooth, non-corrosive, non-absorbent material. These materials are naturally anti-microbial and promote easy cleaning.


  • Bathroom plumbing fixturesBathtubs
  • Bidets
  • Drinking Fountains/Water Coolers
  • Emergency Showers/Eye Wash Stations
  • Lavatories
  • Sinks – Kitchen Sinks, Service Sinks, Laundry Sinks, Mop Sinks/Basins
  • Showers
  • Urinals
  • Water Closets/Toilets


Plumbing fixtures can be put into two or three different classifications; residential and some people lump commercial, industrial and institutional together. Residential fixtures are usually installed in facilities with attached sleeping quarters; private homes, condos, hotels and apartments to name a few. You can separate institutional from commercial and industrial because they have several features that are unique. The types of facilities that institutional plumbing fixtures can be found are; hospitals, prisons, nursing homes etc. Lets be clear that residential type fixtures can be used on commercial/industrial and institutional projects but there are some pretty distinctive differences. Here are some of the qualities and fixture types that make commercial, industrial and institutional unique.

  • Plumbing fixturesSimplified Design – No fancy stuff, one button or automatic flushing, one piece construction and chrome finishes for ease of cleaning (most companies are making their brass faucets, flush valves and accessories in myriad finishes and the fairly new PVD coatings are extremely tough, however chrome is still the preferred commercial/industrial/institutional finish.) At the urging of quite a few people we will explain briefly PVD finishes. PVD (physical vapor deposition) It is a type of electroplating using the deposition of zirconium nitride, titanium nitride or other metallic ion combinations under low vacuum conditions. That is the text book definition, here it is in laymen terms; the better the finish of the metal that needs to be coated the better the final finish. PVD coating bonds to the surface layer of the metal being coated so the finish is almost tarnish and scratch proof. PVD coatings can be done in almost any color from satin nickel to bubble gum pink.
  • Open Front Toilet Seats – (Have you ever wondered why are commercial toilet seats split in the front? First of all most commercial plumbing codes specify open front toilets. The reason is pretty simple. They don’t want your junk to rest on the front of the seat.)
  • Multiple Use Fixtures – A battery of showers, multiple-use wash sinks as you’d see in stadiums, schools etc. Some of the major manufacturers that offer multiple user fixtures are Acorn, Sloan, Bradley and Willoughby. Here are several pictures of the aforementioned lavatory stations.
  • Vitreous China, Solid Surface, Stainless Steel or Solid Brass Construction – Most commercial grade plumbing fixtures are constructed using a vitreous china, some sort of solid surface (All of the manufacturers have their own brand name for their solid surface fixtures. It’s usually made with quartz and some kind of resin. Sloan’s is called Sloan Stone, Acorn’s is called Corterra®, Bradley’s is called Terreon and Willoughby keeps it simple by calling it “solid surface”) stainless steel or solid brass. They have to take a beating and the aforementioned materials can take the abuse. No pop-metal faucets in a commercial bathroom.
  • Drinking Fountains/Water Coolers
  • In Wall Fixture Supports – a large percentage of commercial/industrial/institutional fixtures are installed on behind the wall fixture carriers/supports so they are able to sustain higher weights. In order to cut costs, some will install wooden support backing and eliminate fixture carriers. The major fixture carrier manufactures happen to also be the major floor and roof drain manufacturers. They are as follows: J.R. Smith, Zurn, MiFab, Josam, Watts and Wade. Please see pictures below:

Institutional fixtures have some pretty distinctive features used to accommodate their unique applications. Prisons use fixtures that cannot be broken or shattered to ensure the safety of the inmates so they are usually made of stainless steel with vandal-proof accessories. These fixtures usually have hot and cold supply buttons and integral lavatory faucets. In recent years ambulatory care facilities have been forced to try and get a toilet, lavatory bedpan washer and dialysis hook-ups into smaller rooms thereby forcing manufacturing companies to make custom modular patient care units that effectively squeeze 10lbs of stuff in a 5lb basket. Acorn, Metacraft and Whitehall are the leaders in prison and hospital patient care units (PCUs). Here are some pictures below to give you and idea of how much engineering goes into manufacturing:

Although some residential and commercial, industrial, institutional fixture designs have remained relatively unchanged for fifty years or more, many companies are constantly being engineering and re-engineering to improve performance and durability.

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