For domestic serenity, keep water in its place

Posted July 30, 2010, at 10:49 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.

I shop a lot when doing any home improvement project.

Years ago, I would be pleased with myself when I found kitchen and bathroom faucets that cost $10 to $20. This was before everything was being made in China. It seemed amazing that the plumbing industry could produce a fixture that was so cheap and did not even have washers that needed to be replaced.

There is usually a catch, and these faucets were no exception. Although they looked like metal and actually had some metal parts, the plumbing part of the fixture was plastic. That seemed like a great idea and was a great way to cut costs on an important and normally expensive piece of hardware.

I used them in several places and felt like I was on the cutting edge. Cheap, usable home improvements — I like it!

The problem was — and perhaps still is — that these faucets are not very well made and can, at times, crack. When they crack, they leak water. They can leak a lot of water under city water pressure.

If you are not home, this can ruin a house.

Several years ago, a friend told me about how his house got flooded and he had to rebuild everything on the first floor. He had one of these faucets in his upstairs bathroom crack and flood his lower floors.

Although I did not have the experience of a failure, this forced me to think about my relationship with plastic in plumbing systems. It took no great insight to realize that a faucet is not a place to go cheap. You do not have to spend an incredible amount more to get a reliable, durable faucet for a kitchen or bathroom.

Nowadays I always look at what is underneath the shiny chrome or nickel covering as well as what is installed under the sink.

There are a lot of fixtures that use flexible plastic tubing with simple clips to hold them in place and O-rings to keep things tight.

Some of these designs give me reason for concern. Perhaps it is old age setting in, but I want threaded, crimped or soldered connections.

The plumbing world (I humbly include myself here) has been caught by poorly designed plastic plumbing in the past.

I like plastic materials. We work with them every day in our business. I have patents on plastic-based heating components. And I never again want to solely trust what seems great or what a salesman says when he tries to sell me something.

I want to go with what I have seen work — in the long term.

People do keep plumbing fixtures for a while, or at least they try to.

So, what am I looking for when I buy a faucet? First, I open the package, if I can, and look at what the workings of the faucet look like. I want to see copper and brass or stainless steel — stuff that cannot crack easily and will withstand corrosion.

The stubs that connect to the water lines should be copper tubing with threaded ends.

I plumb almost everything with cross-linked polyethylene, or PEX, tubing. This is very rugged material that will allow me to run the piping right to that stub on the faucet. It has the pedigree that I want. Europeans have used it for well over 40 years, and it is projected to last more than 200 years.

I like to run PEX directly to the faucet stub because there is another plumbing item that I do not trust — that shiny, braided flexible tube that is used to connect the piping to faucets and toilets. I like the shiny stainless steel covering, but I have no idea what is underneath it.

They are supposed to have a lifetime warranty, but color me skeptical.

They might be better than the gray polybutylene plastic riser tubes that are still available, but I’m not going to be using them, either.

Well, to be honest, I used one once and feel guilty as hell about it.

Confession is good for the soul.

A final note: If you are going away anytime of year, think about shutting off the water to your house. It is a simple step that I always try to do if I go anywhere overnight in the winter. It seems that a lot about building science is keeping water in its place.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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