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Bathroom Plumbing Fixtures

This section will mostly address bathroom plumbing fixtures. Materials that bath plumbing fixtures are made of are both old and new. They include the following:


Vitreous china – The typical material for toilets and urinals, it is also popular for lavs and bidets. It is best for toilets and urinals because moisture absorption is almost nonexistent – less than one percent.

Porcelainized cast iron – This is good for lavs and tubs. Because of its weight, tub sizes are limited to 72”x42” (183x107cm), and tubs are very difficult to maneuver up to and into an upstairs bathroom.

Enameled steel or porcelain-on-steel – Steel is formed cold, enameled, and then fired in an oven. Enameled steel tubs are more subject to chipping and denting, and hot water cools faster in a steel tub. But they are less expensive and comparatively light in weight.

Cultured marble, cultured onyx – This is very popular for lavs and counters, usually with the lav an integral part of the counter. These are somewhat less durable because of their gelcoat surface, but usually last for many years. Tubs would be special order. Some look like granite, some like marble, and some are in solid colors, so you might prefer to call them “cast polymers.” Cultured marble is opaque. Cultured onyx is translucent with richer, deeper coloring, and is more expensive.

Polyester and/or acrylic solids – These are generally called “solid surfaces.” They include Avonite, Corian, Fountainhead, Gibraltar, Surell, Swanstone, and similar materials from regional fabricators or foreign sources. Some have integral lavs, and all come in a wide range of colors and patterns in 1⁄2” and 3⁄4” thickness. Thinner panels are available for wall coverings. Tubs of these solids would have to be fabricated on-site.

Ceramic tile – This is sometimes used for lavs and tubs, but it is customized and done on site, so it is labor-intensive.

Wood – Beautiful exotic woods are used by some manufacturers for tubs, lavs, toilet seats, and water closets (but not the toilet itself). Environmental concerns limit the species available.

Stainless Steel – This is sometimes used for lavs. Best is 18-gauge, which is thicker than 20-gauge. If you see a rating such as “18 and 8” it refers to 18% chrome content (for lasting finish) and 8% nickel content (to withstand corrosion). A brushed finish is easier for the homeowner to care for.

Acrylic/Fiberglass – These are confusing terms for tubs and shower stalls because they are used loosely. Fiberglass usually refers to a backing and acrylic to a surface. But sometimes a fixture is molded fiberglass and surfaced with a gelcoat that was sprayed first into the mold. Some are molded of acrylic or ABS (Acrilonitrile butadiene styrene), and then sprayed with fiberglass for added support. Acrylic and ABS surfaces are more durable than gelcoat and have deeper color. These are used for big-jetted tubs and are relatively light in weight. A sound-deadening undercoat is desirable, and any model selected should be checked for a sound bottom with bracing that rests on the floor.

New combinations by one manufacturer include an injection-molded process bonding a structural composite of sand, gravel and polymer on an acrylic shell for tubs, sinks, and shower bases, and new tubs with structural foam on a lightweight alloy with porcelain finish.

Lavatories (lavs)

There are five kinds of lavs, categorized according to the way they are installed:

  1. Integral
  2. Drop-in or countertop
  3. Wall-hung
  4. Pedestal
  5. Console

Integral lavs are one piece with the counter in which they are molded. They are stock items but can be ordered customized. The cast polymers can be ordered with extended tops to reach one or two sidewalls, but they must be ordered to fit because they are very difficult to cut in the field.

Some of the solid surfaces can be ordered with extended counters that can be cut on-site to fit wall-to-wall, with a variety of choices for placement of one or more lavs.

Drop-in lavs must be fitted into a countertop cutout either dropped in from above or under-mounted from below. Some newer models mount entirely above the countertop.

Wall-hung lavs are fastened to the wall with a metal bracket and the fixture is cantilevered from the wall. This always requires the addition of 2x4 or 2x6 bracing between the studs in the wall to support the weight.

When replacing a wall-hung lav, the dimensions of the existing fixture must be compared with those of the new. Often the wall behind the old is unfinished, and if the new one is smaller it might necessitate refinishing the entire wall. No patch job will be good enough in an expertly remodeled bathroom.

Pedestal lavs generally are identified with “period” design because the style dates back to the birth of the modern bathroom. There are many models, both simple and very ornate, that fit in well with Early American, Provincial or Traditional styling. But there are also many modern versions with sleek, contemporary, even futuristic lines.

Pedestal lavs can present some installation difficulties not encountered with other lavs. Pedestal lavs come in two pieces, the bowl and the pedestal. Some come with brackets for connecting the bowl to the pedestal, but others do not. When they don’t, the lav must be bolted to the wall. In addition, the rough-ins for the drain and water supply must be set closer so they can be hidden behind the pedestal.

Console lavs usually consist of a counter with an integral bowl, supported by two to four decorative legs. This creates the sense of space provided by a pedestal lav, but with space for toiletries. Cabinet storage must be designed elsewhere in the room.

Courtesy of NARI CKBR education program

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