Unless you built a custom home, where you got to pick all the plumbing and money was of no concern, chances are your house is filled with builder’s-grade fixtures. At some point those fixtures will start to fail and need to be replaced, or you get tired of cheaper fixtures and want to upgrade.
In this post we look at popular plumbing upgrades for homeowners available at local home improvement centers, plumbing supply stores, or directly from your plumber.
Plumbing Upgrades: Bathrooms
The standard bathroom faucet in a mid-level spec home is a single handle lavatory faucet in chrome. Functionality and low cost is paramount, not style, which tends to cost more.
The first thing to consider for an upgrade is finish — polished brass, stainless steel, and brushed nickel are a few of the popular finishes available at Columbus and Auburn area home improvement centers and specialty plumbing stores.
The next upgrade will be to install mini-widespread (four inch centers) or a widespread (eight inch centers) faucets. These have separate hot and cold handles and a separate spout, with more finishes and styles to choose from.
Regardless of the upgrade you choose, these faucets should be solid brass, have PVD (physical vapor deposition) finishes with a lifetime guarantee, and an upgraded cartridge usually made of ceramic.
These faucet upgrades are installable by do-it-yourself-minded homeowners or you can call your plumber for assistance. It’s not always easy to fit underneath a bathroom sink in a cramped cabinet to install a new faucet.
The standard toilet offering is round, white, and features 1.6 GPF (gallons per flush). Its design is compact, but anyone more than 185 pounds complain because they have a small toilet seat area.
Also, standard toilets are low to the ground, which the elderly find difficult to use, preferring taller commodes.
The first upgrade consideration is an elongated bowl, which gives you a few extra inches in front for additional comfort. Beware, however, that some bathrooms or “water closets” are small and may not have the space to accommodate the larger bowl.
As noted, another upgrade is installing a “comfort” bowl, which is essentially an ADA-compliant bowl measuring 17 inches from the floor to the rim. It’s easier on the knees sitting down and standing up.
Toilets used to come in a myriad of colors, but most manufacturers have reduced color offerings to the most popular: white, bisque/linen, bone/almond, gray, and black.
Another toilet upgrade to consider involves the flushing mechanism. Pressure assisted and HET (high efficiency toilet)/dual flush are two such upgrades.
These upgrades are readily available at local home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores. Most do-it-yourself-minded homeowners can replace toilets themselves, although it’s a little trickier than installing faucets and some may prefer using a plumber for installation. While the toilets come in two pieces — the bowl and the tank — these are heavy, slippery and can be difficult to handle for some people.
The shower or tub/shower in a mid level spec home is commonly a single handle pressure balanced valve with a chrome finish. As with the lavatory faucet, function and value are more important than style.
The finish is the first upgrade, including polished brass, stainless steel, and brushed nickel. In most installations, the shower faucet finishes matches the lavatory in style and finish.
Another common upgrade is adding a handheld shower handle that attaches to a wall-mounted holder or on a slide bar. The valve could be changed to a thermostatic mixing valve, which protects the user from scalding by sensing the water temperature. If the water gets too hot the valve stem slams shut.
A pressure balance valve, installed in most showers, protects the user by cutting off water depending on pressure.
Other stylish upgrades include body sprays, diverters, and rain dome shower heads, which are typically more expensive. Steam generating units can also be installed to a walk-in shower to enhance the shower experience.
One leading company, Kohler, manufacturers a product called the DVT. It’s one of the most advanced shower systems available as it combines steam, water, sound, light and even the Web in a wall-mounted control unit that operates with a digitally controlled set of valves.
These upgrades are readily available at local home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores. Most do-it-yourself-minded homeowners can replace shower fixtures themselves, although some may prefer using a plumber for installation.
Most entry-level homes sport a standard 5- or 6-foot bathtub that can be a drop-in or fit-in to a tub space with a front apron. They are made in enameled steel, which are lighter and thinner than cast iron options. Enameled steel, very popular in apartment buildings, do not have the same heat retention properties as cast iron.
Tub construction and material are where the real upgrades begin. Steel is by far the cheapest and least durable. Gel coat fiberglass can be made cheaply and in any color but scratches easily and shows the undercoat.
Acrylic is a popular option when choosing a fiberglass-backed tub. If budgets are less important, Kohler makes several cast iron models with therapeutic jets, bubble massage jets, and jets that fill the water with bubbles for aesthetics. These tubs even feature LED lighting and remote controls for added pleasure and convenience.
These upgrades are available at local home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores, although in some cases the product may need to be special ordered. Replacing tubs should be done by only the most experienced and confident do-it-yourselfers or left to professional plumbers.
Drop-in 20- or 22-gauge stainless steel sinks are building standard. They are naturally stain and corrosion resistant but are thin walled and the finishes are poor.
In a mid-level home or condo, drop-in cast iron sinks are available that have great heat retention properties and deaden sounds naturally. These come in a variety of shapes and colors.
Laminate counter-tops use drop-in sinks. When homeowners upgrade counter-tops to granite or a synthetic aggregate, most choose to buy under-mount sinks.
When installing Corian or another acrylic-based solid surface counter-top, the sink can be integral, meaning it is fused to the counter-top. The sink can be the same color as the counter or contrasting.
Several manufacturers also have begun marketing quartz-based drop-in and under-mount sinks, although they are limited in colors. They are extremely durable and sound deadening. Some builders say quartz drop-ins are an upgrade to cast iron, but they are similar in price and in some cases less money.
Sink upgrades are readily available at local home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores. Because sinks are attached to faucets and counter-tops, many do-it-yourselfers prefer using plumbers or even experienced handymen for installation.
The entry level kitchen faucet is a chrome single handle faucet without a side spray, although adding side spray is not an expensive upgrade. Similar to bathroom faucets, kitchen faucets can be upgraded to different finishes.
The first major upgrade is a pull-out spout. Other upgrades include better grade materials and spigot and water handle design, which can get very expensive depending on the style chosen.
Kitchen faucet upgrades are readily available at local home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores. Most do-it-yourself-minded homeowners can replace the faucets themselves, although working in the tight, confined spaces underneath sinks is not easy and many may prefer using a plumber for the installation.
- Hot water dispensers
- Larger garbage disposals
- Whole-house water filter
- Water softener
- Larger traditional water heaters, tankless water heaters
- Hot water re-circulation pump, decreasing the wait time for hot water to reach the furthest points in the home
- Pressure booster pump
- Underground sprinkler system
- Battery backup sump pump for homes with basements
- Fire protection system, which are actually becoming standard installations required by some states.