Friday, July 3, 2015

Choosing Plumbing Fixtures

Remodeling or building a new house or apartment brings about a series of decisions which may feel daunting for the Owners or even for some designers.  One such decision is related to bathrooms and kitchens: how to select the correct plumbing fittings. Everyone comes in close contact with plumbing fittings so their visual appearance is as important as architectural hardware (discussed in another post). In general, plumbing fittings refer to faucets as well as the valves which are usually behind the walls.
c 1930 kitchen mixer in brass

c 1930 taps in brass and nickel plated 

There are practical and aesthetic considerations to keep in mind when choosing plumbing fittings. Fittings have been fabricated in brass since the 1800’s. The brass bodies of less expensive fixtures were left un-plated.  Unless they were constantly polished they would develop a brown patina and tarnish so, manufacturers started using polished nickel as an applied plated finish to the brass. Since the nickel is a soft metal, constant polishing eventually led to wearing off the finish and leaving the brass exposed in some areas…an unseemly look.

c 1930 Mueller tap in chrome

c 1930 Chicago faucets
In the 1930’s manufacturers switched to polished chrome because the polished surfaces are easy to clean and they stay shinny for a longer period of time; people associated them with hygiene. Today one can choose among many finishes including satin and polished nickel, chrome, brass, oil rubbed bronze, and even gold plating.

There are 4 types of faucet mechanisms: stem, ball, disk, and ceramic cartridge. Stem faucets have been used from the beginning of indoor plumbing and they require rubber 
washers that wear out regularly. Ball and Disk faucets do not require rubber washers and they usually have a single lever which operates by moving up or down to open and close and side to side to regulate the temperature. Ceramic cartridge is the latest invention in faucets.  They are found in the most expensive sets and are beginning to make their way into most quality faucets.  Ceramic cartridges resist wear and tear for a longer time. 

Stem faucet with a rubber washer
Ball faucet
Disk faucet
Ceramic cartridge faucet
Faucets are available in 2 general categories: widespread and centerset. Generally, when space is at a premium, centerset faucets are specified. They are available in single handle or two handle options.  Most two handle type fixtures are 4 inches apart. The majority of residences have ample space for a generous bathroom sink which makes widespread fittings (8 inches apart) more appropriate: you get more room to maneuver, and there are more styles to choose from.

Centerset fixture

Widespread fixture
Regarding showers, most people want an invigorating strong shower, which is generally at odds with the water conservation ethos of the early 21st century. Most consumer reports rate the Speakman Anystream shower head as a very good overall choice.  Many high end manufacturers make a copy in a number of finishes. If you are looking for a rain head type, some consumer reports rate the Moen Velocity, as the best choice.

Speakman shower head

Moen rainhead

By law, showers have to use an anti-scalding device of which there are two types: thermostatic and pressure balanced. Thermostatic shower valves are ideal to use when you want to open several shower or bath outlets simultaneously or when you want to set the temperature and use the on-off to vary the pressure only. It is the more expensive choice of anti-scalding device to use.  Pressure balanced shower valves are ideal when you use a diverter to change among shower or spout outlets. In one movement they control the on-off and the temperature but the water pressure is always the same, i.e. the water is either on or off.
Pressure balanced valve
Thermostatic valve
After these technical considerations are met the primary concern is aesthetic: will the faucet be pleasing to the eye, and sit comfortably in your hand? Several points can be made regarding aesthetics which go beyond individual preferences. The following 2 pictures will serve to illustrate this:

Luxury basin taps

Modestly priced basin taps
Both fittings are similar in material and style to make a fair comparison. Beyond the obvious differences particularly in the handle height and the stop pull, the fixture on the top is arguably more beautiful than the fixture on the bottom.  Its spout is elegantly proportioned, and so is the stop pull. Also the spout on the top is finished with a let fillet (i.e. a straight edge) whereas the one on the bottom looks as if it was sawn off. The cross handles on the top look more integrated than the ones on the bottom which look as if they are glued to a bulbous middle. The base of the handle stem on the top has an alternate succession of round and fillet type moldings in varying sizes and proportions that are pleasing to the eye. The stem shapes of the fixture on the bottom consist in two successive escutcheons that repeat the same shape and the bead echoes it creating a cacophonous theme that results in an unpleasant series of shapes. The fixture on the top costs three times the one on the bottom. One may balk at that cost and debate whether it is justified or not; I leave that decision to the reader. 



  1. Those are so very cool shower heads. Never seen any like them before. I bet taking a shower with one of those would feel pretty good. I'll have to look into a shower head like those, because my old one is about to kick the bucket. It is all rusty, and probably should be replaced.

  2. Wow this is really a very great post. This article is helps for me lot.
    Plumbing Fittings

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