Upgrades to household plumbing affects all plumbing systems in a residence. Consumers are probably most familiar with the term when it’s used in conjunction with new construction. Anytime a prospective new home buyer walks into a sales office one of the first things pitched is an
upgrade to he plumbing. The following are some examples of the upgrades that can be offered to a homeowner.
The very first thing being offered as an upgrade is the plumbing fixtures.
Faucets – The standard faucet offered for a bathroom in a mid level spec home is a single handle lavatory faucet in chrome. Not a lot of style, function is paramount. The counter top drilling for this type of faucet has a single hole or three holes. Three hole 4″ center sinks or counters have drillings that are equidistant from the center with a total spread of 4″ across.
The first thing offered for an upgrade would be the finish. Polished Brass, Stainless Steel, Brushed Nickel are just a few of the finishes available. The finish selections on entry level faucets are more limited however recently the faucet manufacturers have been offering more current finishes i.e brushed nickel and oil rubbed bronze.
The next upgrade would be to install a mini wide spread (4″ centers) or a widespread faucet (8″ centers). These types of faucets have separate hot and cold handles and separate spout and tend to have a full line of finishes and styles to choose from. Most faucet manufacturers now offer very high end single handle faucets and regardless of which upgrade you choose, those faucets should be solid brass, have PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) finishes with a lifetime guarantee and have a upgraded cartridge usually made of ceramic.
Toilets – The standard toilet offering is 1.6GPF (Gallons Per Flush) round front toilet in white. (A round front toilet has well…a round front. It’s design is compact and any man over 185lbs can’t stand them. They may never complain but they have a pretty small toilet seat.)
The first level of upgrade would be to get a toilet with an elongated bowl. The elongated bowl gives you a few extra inches in front, however some bathrooms don’t have the space to accommodate the bowl so check your dimensions. We have seen extremely high end homes have round front bowls and it still boggles the mind.
The next standard upgrade and it’s becoming more and more popular is having a “comfort high” bowl. This is essentially an ADA height bowl measuring 17″ from the floor to the rim. It’s easier on the knees both sitting down and standing up.
Toilets come in myriad colors however most china manufacturers have reduced their color offerings dramatically over the last five years. The most popular colors are white, bisque/linen, bone/almond, gray and black.
Most standard toilet seats are made of laminated wood, over time the lamination and layers of wood separate and the seat begins to break down. You can upgrade the seat to molded plastic to sharply increase the life of the seat.
Other toilet upgrades involve the flushing mechanism. Pressure assisted and HET(High Efficiency Toilet)/dual flush are a couple of such upgrades.
Showers – The shower or tub/shower in the mid level spec home is commonly a single handle pressure balanced valve with a chrome finish. As with the lavatory faucet, function and value is more important then style.
The type of finish is the first line of upgrades, polished brass, stainless steel, and brushed nickel are a few. On most occasions the shower faucet matches the lavatory in style and finish.
Another common upgrade would be to add a hand held shower on a holder or on a slide bar. The valve could be changed to a thermostatic mixing valve (unlike a pressure balance valve that protects the user by cutting off water depending on the water pressure, a thermostatic valve protects the user from scalding by sensing the temperature of the water. If the water gets too hot the valve slams shut.) Most thermostatic mixing valves have a separate volume control.
You can also get complicated and add diverters, body sprays and rain dome shower heads. Steam generating units can also be installed to a walk in shower to enhance the shower experience.
For the ultimate in showering experience Kohler manufactures a product called the DVT valve. It is the most advanced shower system readily available to the consumer, it combines steam, water, sound, light and even the web in a wall mounted control unit combined with an digitally controlled set of valves. It’s expensive but for the customer with no budget it’s awesome.
Tubs – Most entry level homes get a 5ft or 6ft bathtub that can be a drop in or fit in the tub space with a front apron. They are made in enameled steel or better they are made in cast iron. Enameled steel tubs are lighter than their cast iron counterparts but are thinner and don’t have the same heat retention properties.
We suppose getting a cast iron tub would be considered an upgrade but they are offered in quite a few new homes. Enameled steel tubs are very popular in apartment buildings.
With regards to real upgrades, tub depth is one, requesting a drop in soaker tub is another and you can get that soaker tub with whirlpool jets.
Tub color and length are upgrades to choose from but the tubs’ construction and material are where the real upgrades begin. Steel is by far the cheapest and least durable, gel coat fiberglass can be made pretty cheaply and in any color but if scratched will show the white undercoat.
Upgrading to acrylic is the way to go when choosing a fiberglass backed tub, the color is all the way through the surface material so its scratches are not as apparent. Again if budgets mean nothing Kohler makes several cast iron models that have therapeutic jets, bubble massage jets and jets that just fill the water with bubbles for ascetics only. These tubs can be bought with LED lighting and remote controls for added pleasure and convenience.
Kitchen Sink – Drop in stainless steel sinks in 20 or 22 gauge are building standard. They are naturally stain and corrosion resistant but they are thin, the finishes aren’t very good and if you drop something in them they ring like a gong.
When you start getting into the mid level home or condo they’ll offer a drop-in cast iron sink, which as said before is tough, naturally sound deadening and has great heat retention properties. Cast iron sinks come in a variety of shapes and colors. (You can get an enameled steel sink, it is also an entry level sink and has the same pros and cons as the steel bathtub)
Laminate counters have drop-in sinks meaning they are self rimming. When the home owner upgrades the type of counter tops to granite or a synthetic aggregate, although you can still use a drop in sink, most choose to buy an under-mount sink. The sink is mounted underneath the counter using clips usually pre-drilled by the counter top supplier/installer.
Upgrading to an under counter mount stainless steel sink is the most popular choice when the counter tops are also upgraded. Stainless gives you an attractive color contrast between the counter and the sink as previously stated is extremely durable.
Please take note, several years ago upgrading to an under counter mount stainless assured you of a heavy gauge sink with superior sound deadening and a lustrous finish, there are many that have taken advantage of the sinks’ popularity by making a cheaper sink. Beware. If you have any questions regarding a certain type sink leave the question here and we’ll give you an honest answer.
When installing a Corian or another acrylic based solid surface counter top the kitchen sink can be integral, meaning it is fused to the counter top. The sink can be the same color as the counter or more preferably a contrasting color.
Finally and fairly recently quite a few manufacturers have begun manufacturing quartz based drop in and under counter mount sinks. They are available in a very limited selection of colors white, black, granite (gray/beige) are the only ones available at the present. They are extremely durable, some are up to 80% quartz and their sound deadening is on par with cast iron. Most builders are calling this an upgrade to cast iron when in fact they are very similar in price and in some cases less money.
Kitchen Sink Faucets – The entry level faucet is a chrome single handle faucet without a side spray. You can obviously request the same faucet with a side spray and it would be an upgrade but only about $25.00 list. Similarly to the lavatory faucets you can upgrade the finish and again even the entry level faucets have a few of the popular finishes.
The first real upgrade to the faucet comes in the way of a pull out spout. These faucets are manufactured by almost every major plumbing fixture company and are pretty convenient. You can buy entry level faucets with pull out spouts or again upgrade and these upgrades will affect the finish, durability and the cartridge material. The selection of finishes and styles for kitchen faucets are many so be sure to look at the manufacturer’s website to find the right faucet for you.
Garbage Disposals – You either ask for one or you don’t, if not used properly they can be a pain for your lucky plumbing professional. As a general rule of thumb as the price of the disposal increases so does the horse power rating, the quality of the housing material increases and the sound insulation gets better as well.
Miscellaneous upgrades – The next upgrades that we will list will be to the entire plumbing system.
- Cast Iron Waste Piping – There will always be a debate about which material is superior but this we can say with certainty, cast iron is quieter piping. However it’s heavier, more difficult to cut, prepare and install so we’ll call it an upgrade.
- Copper Water Piping – PEX plastic tubing is code approved in just about every state however most plumbing professionals would agree that copper water pipe and fittings is a superior installation. However the disparity in skill level needed to install a copper water distribution system is huge. Copper is expensive and the labor to install is expensive so for arguments sake we’ll call it an upgrade.
- Water Softener – Depending on the hardness of the water in your area you may want install a water softener. It is our recommendation that you have your water tested so you can install the correct softener. Softened water is easier on clothes, skin and the the plumbing piping in your home. The only downside to having a softener is maintaining the salt that needs be added to the system for proper function.
- Whole House Water Filter – This is a water filter that removes the the taste, odor and sediment from the entire house water supply. How often the filter cartridge is changed is dependent on the quality of the incoming water. If the quality of water is poor and the water has a high amount of suspended solids the cartridge gets clogged and the water pressure in the entire house drops off drastically. It can be inconvenient but at least you are certain when the filter needs replacing.
- Water Heater – Most average homes are installed with either a 40 or 50 gallon water heater. You can upgrade to a larger storage tank or even go with a tankless. Be advised tankless heaters work superbly if installed correctly, but are usually more than double the installed cost.
- Hot Water Recirculation Pump – If a home has a long footprint the hot water may take awhile to get to the farthest plumbing fixture, having a recirculating pump installed decreases the wait time for hot water dramatically.
- Pressure Booster Pump – Depending on the water pressure in a municipality, the owners of a home with higher than average water demands may want to look into installing a pressure booster pump. These pumps come in two basic models, manual; you flip a switch when you need higher water pressure and variable frequency which turns on, on demand. Obviously the later is the more expensive of the two but it is a more convenient system.
- Underground Sprinkler System – Most home builders offer automatic lawn sprinkler systems or landscape sprinklers. Some times when a lawn sprinkler system is installed a water pressure booster pump also needs to be installed to supply adequate water pressure.
- Battery Back-up Sump Pump – In areas where basements are installed battery back-up sump pumps are extremely popular. In the event of a power failure a battery back-up will continue evacuating the sump pit removing ground water away from the foundation for up to 8 hours of continuous pumping. If the pump activates 3 times an hour you’ll get close to 24 hours of protection.
- Fire Protection System – In quite few states this isn’t even an upgrade anymore in a new home it is standard and code required. However in the states that it is not required it’s usually offered as an upgrade. We don’t think we have to say much more to sell this upgrade, it can save lives.