Monday, January 6, 2014

Shopping for fixtures

Having scheduled a visit to Keller, we went for our appointment. I don't know about other bathroom shops, but the way this one works is that you schedule an appointment with someone who spends some time with you to pick out fixtures for the bathroom. They're open during normal business hours but if you don't have an appointment I don't know how much help you'll get. Another time, we went on a Saturday (when they don't do appointments) and happened to find someone to help us, but it may have been just by chance.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I was hoping that they'd help with some of the fundamentals or layout and so on, but it was much more focussed on the fixtures themselves. That in itself turned out to be a fairly deep task as well. We covered different types of fixtures as well as different brands and costs. Based on our three visits to Keller over the planning phase, here are some considerations for different kinds of fixtures:
  • Tub
    • Types include free-standing (stands completely on its own); drop in (the lip of the tub is over the edge of the tub deck surface); undermount (the top of the tub is underneath the tub deck surface); alcove (fits in an existing nook)
      Here's a page that shows all the examples: http://www.us.kohler.com/us/Baths/content/CNT2400361.htm
    • Feature-wise, there are a variety of things you can add beyond the basic container of water: whirlpool (jets of water), bubble (jets of air), heated water (the water stays warm while taking a bath), heated surface (so you don't have to heat the tub back with your own back), music and lights. We were really focussed on a fairly simple tub with an option of a whirlpool. Ultimately we decided against a whirlpool because it was more than 2x the cost of a normal tub and because it requires more cleaning. It was also questionable how often we'd really end up using it.
    • You can get normal size tubs and long ones. This was really something attractive because I've always had to bend my knees to fit into a tub if I'm sitting in it. You can also get taller and shorter sides.
  • Shower system
    • This can get quite complex depending on how many places water can come out from. For the tub itself, there is a tub filler spout. Then there is the shower itself. This can be a fixed showerhead or a handheld one, or both. Then, you can add even more outputs like water coming out of the wall on the side, etc. The shower heads themselves also come in a variety of designs with massage jets and all that. In the shower, you also need to decide whether you want to control the temperature independently of the volume (like on a sink; this is a T/P valve) or whether a fixed volume is fine (this is a P valve). Then there is the issues of sending water around to the various outputs - this is accomplished by diverters or transfers.
      Much more on this here: http://www.us.kohler.com/us/How-to-Shop-for-Shower-Valves-and-Controls/content/CNT800387.htm
  • Sink
    • Again, drop-in and undermount and also those that sit like a bowl on a vanity.
    • Other than that, it's design choices on shape and size/depth.
  • Sink faucet
    • All of these control volume of water and temperature but can come as a single unit including the faucet and temperature and volume, or separate controls for these. Having everything in one was definitely nice because it takes up less space on the counter and requires fewer holes made in the countertop.
  • Toilet
    • We started by limiting ourselves to a wall mounted toilet. This allows for the tank to be in the dead space behind the wall that is to be created and also to facilitate cleaning by not having it be on the floor and by not having any nooks and crannies in the toilet itself.
  • Vanity
    • We looked at these at Keller as well but ultimately decided to build it out of Ikea kitchen cabinets. More on this later.
Another general consideration is the finish of the metallic parts. Chrome tends to be the cheapest, followed by brushed chrome or nickel. The advantage of the brushed materials is that they don't show water stains. However, in my opinion I prefer the shininess of chrome and the brushed materials look weathered to me, perhaps because I am accustomed to chrome.

Costs of all these are driven by features (anything beyond the basics adds up quickly), the finish (chrome/nickel), how much material there is (for tubs, freestanding ones are expensive because they have four sides, those with an apron are somewhat more expensive), and design/brand (a ceiling mounted tub filler is easily twice a regular one and an egg-shaped tub is probably more than a simple rectangle). Another thing to consider is that trim made of plastic is cheaper than metal trim. It's easy to have chrome coloured plastic so that is a good place to save.

Once I received a quote from Keller for the fixtures, I compared every single item to what you could buy online, like Home Depot, etc. Surprisingly, you can even buy bathtubs on Amazon though it won't be a 2-day delivery :)
Although I was getting a discount by going through the plumber for purchasing the pieces, I was a bit suspicious that they would be able to have better pricing than a low-cost online operation. As it turned out, every item is cheaper bought through Keller than elsewhere. Things that were not cheaper were those that are easy to find anywhere and don't have great variation in quality. These are mostly trim pieces and non-plumbing items, like towel hooks, mirrors, toilet paper holders, etc. You can find these at a quarter of the price at Ikea for example, or Lowe's, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc.

Ultimately we decided on the following and ordered it with a deposit of half the cost:
Note that some of these items may not be in stock, so make sure to order them in good time as there can be a lead time of several weeks (the longest for me is 4 weeks, but depending on where it is coming from it could be longer).