Friday, August 19, 2005

Installing a Curved Shower Rod on a Curved Wall

During my latest bathroom “upgrade” my wife and I decided to install one of the curved shower rods we sell here at Vintage Tub & Bath. Installation is usually quite simple – remove old shower rod, if necessary, patch and paint area where the old rod was screwed into wall, and install new curved rod. Simple. However, what do you do if, as in our case, your walls are curved themselves? 

The Set Up

First I had to remove the old shower rod and patch the mounting holes left in the wall. The original rod cut into the bath tile so I had to replace the damaged tile, as well. After I sanded the patch and replaced the tile, I got to work on the curved shower rod.

Curved shower rods generally don’t mount where the old shower rod used to be. Rather, you drill the mounting holes three or so inches back, towards the shower wall, from the original straight rod mounting holes. The change of mounting location keeps the curved shower rod from extending too far into the bathroom, as well as tucking the ends of the shower curtain in, reducing the amount of water spray on your walls and floor.

The Challenge 

Mount the curved rod to my curved wall and ceiling.

The Solution

First, I placed a set of washers behind the mounting bracket to level the unit. Then I secured these washers with the lower mounting bracket screw:

Next, I filled in the unsightly gap created by the washers with spackling paste, and taped off the chrome mounting bracket in preparation for priming and painting:

Next came the priming and painting. 

Not too shabby if I say so myself. Now I shower in style!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Chad Asks: Should I Refinish My Old Clawfoot Tub or Get a New One?

I thought I would share an e-mail I just got from Chad in Oregon. He asks a series of questions that come up quite a bit

"Hi Allan,

I could really use some advice, as all the inquiries I’ve made by telephone to (your online competitors) have been met with folks that apparently don't know the products that they sell very well. I have a couple of basic questions. I've got an original clawfoot tub in my 1911 home that I've been estimated $750 - $950 to restore (i.e. sandblast and re-plate the feet, sand & coat & paint the exterior, and of course new interior) by reputable dealers in my area of Portland, OR. For a few hundred dollars more I could just buy a new tub from you folks or ??? What am I missing here. Other than the fact that I can know my tub is original, wouldn't the benefit of having a baked on porcelain-enamel finish over an acrylic enamel (car paint?) be worth it? Do the new tubs in this price range look cheaper than original? And also, what about other high dollar manufacturers? How are their products superior? When asked this question, most have answered that they are American made, as this tells me something tangible about their quality. Or they say the name costs a lot. In my experience, Brooks Brothers suits are better made than Sears suits, Sony is better than Suny, and Honda is better than Hyundai, and someone can explain to me why. To this point no one can tell me why on cast-iron tubs. If I've got to spend $2,500 to $3,500 on a tub, for superior quality, I'll just have mine refinished. If the cheaper ones are just as "good" I'll buy new. Please help a.s.a.p."



My reply:

Chad,

You bring up a lot of good concerns and questions. Let me try to answer what I think is the main issue: Should you refinish your old tub or buy a new one?

Simple answer: Unless your particular vintage clawfoot tub has some sentimental or historic value or the original porcelain is in excellent condition, I would purchase a new tub without question.

Why? Well to start, the cost difference between a refinished tub and a brand new tub isn't that great anymore. Your estimate of $750-$950 is in the same price range ($995) as one of our new Classic Roll Rim Tubs, and we include delivery.

Randolph Morris Clawfoot Tub
Secondly, durability is an issue. In my experience, there's no refinished surface that is anywhere near as durable as an original porcelain enamel surface. 

Obviously, paint is not as wear-resistant as glass. The commercial reality of this fact can be seen in that refinished surfaces generally don't have a warranty that extends beyond years after the original refinishing date. Our Randolph Morris clawfoot tubs, on the other hand, come with a lifetime limited warranty.

Thirdly, the issue of construction quality. A host of factors come into play when you talk about clawfoot tub quality, including materials, manufacturing processes, acceptable tolerances, etc. 

Furthermore, different manufacturers built millions of clawfoot tubs between roughly 1890 and 1940 and their quality varied quite a bit. I can't talk to the issue of whether an antique tub is built better than a modern tub simply because there are too many variables to make a general statement. Our real expertise is in defining affordable, higher standards for the manufacture of new claw foot tubs. I can, therefore, address your question as to quality of our tubs versus any other modern brand of tubs.

To start, your comments highlight the fact that many consumers believe the more expensive an item is, the better quality it must be. This isn't always the case, especially in the clawfoot tub market. The fact of the matter is, there aren't a lot of clawfoot tub manufacturers. Of those who do make clawfoot tubs, not all of them are as single-mindedly focused on quality like we are. Here are a few examples of how we focus on quality.

  • Vintage Tub & Bath clawfoot brand tub feet are made from brass because, when properly prepared, brass holds a plated finish much better than the cheaper cast iron feet.
  • Our clawfoot tub feet are installed and checked for fit and finish at the factory. We don't send a set of feet to you in a separate box and hope they fit well.
  • Because we install the feet at the factory, we can check the tub and make certain it's level, as well. This eliminates the wobble issue, which is common in other clawfoot tubs.
  • The extremely high-quality porcelain we use has excellent acid/alkali resistance, which creates an outstanding finish and brilliant color quality.

Why do we do it? Because we think it's better to build the tub right the first time than to have to deal with the problems that poor-quality workmanship creates later on.

So how do we keep the price so low? Simple. Vintage Tub & Bath is the only retailer we know of who manufactures, as well as retails clawfoot tubs directly to the public. This is a huge advantage in that we eliminate the middleman and all costs they add to the final price of a tub. Furthermore, we can spread the fixed costs of running a business over the large quantity of tubs we sell - again reducing the price per tub. This is how we build a high-quality clawfoot tub and cost-efficiently deliver it to you.

I can say with great confidence that Vintage Tub & Bath clawfoot tubs are built to some of the highest standards in the industry, and are still available to the public at a very reasonable price. The superiority of our manufacturing processes, the expensive, high-quality materials used, and our meticulous quality-assurance procedures combine to give our customers the best tub prices and product currently available. If we didn't completely believe in our products, we wouldn't put our name on them and offer a lifetime limited warranty.

Take a look at our clawfoot tubs and if you have any questions, give our customer service department a call toll-free at 844-502-0885 ext.1 or email us at supply@vintagetub.com. They're very knowledgeable and would be happy to talk to you.

I hope I answered your questions,
Allan

Bathroom Renovation: One of the Joys of Summer!

I'm like the child who repeatedly burns his hand on a hot stove. I know it will hurt, yet I do it anyway. Every time I finish a home renovation project I swear I'll never do it again. Fast forward one year and you'll find me with a hammer, paint brush, or drill in hand working on yet another project. 

I have no one to blame but myself for my masochistic behavior.

This summers month-long project was redoing our tiny bathroom. We needed to get rid of the old pseudo-country look.

We repainted the room with different colors to make it look brighter and bigger. We replaced horrible peg racks with real towel rods and robe hooks. I, befitting my role as General Manager at an internet plumbing store, replaced the 25 year-old sink faucet all by myself! Actually, it was pretty simple with the right tools and only took about 30 minutes. I also installed a new curved shower rod and, as I will detail in my next post, I absolutely love it! Deb, my wife, did a great job with the painting, as well as about 300 other details that needed to be taken care of.

One item of note was refinishing the medicine cabinet doors. We had planned on repainting them but once I sanded the doors down, the wood looked good enough to stain. We stained and varnished them to a dark brown finish. We think those doors offer a nice contrasting color. 

We need to either paint or cover the cast iron radiator. There are also a few bits of touch-up painting that need to be done. Overall, however, I believe we're pretty much finished with this project. How it took four weeks I will never know. I do know that I will never, ever get involved with another renovation project as long as I live...or until we need to paint the bedroom in the fall.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Plumbing Codes: Will My Clawfoot Tub Pass Inspection?

One of the more interesting questions we're asked is “After I install one of your clawfoot tubs and faucet sets, will my bathroom pass a plumbing code inspection?” The simple, yet unfortunate answer is: definitely maybe. Let me explain what I mean by starting with a little plumbing code history and theory.

As you may have guessed, building and plumbing codes exist to provide minimum standards of health and safety for the public. The problem is there isn't a uniform plumbing code for the US. Every state, county, city, and town has the right to define and enforce their plumbing codes as they see fit. Needless to say, this lack of a uniform plumbing code causes a great deal of confusion and frustration.

In 1994, several major model code organizations joined together to form the International Code Council (ICC). The goal of the ICC was to draft a set of universal building and plumbing codes. After years of research and discussion, the ICC published the first full edition of the I-Codes in 2000. The ICC’s efforts were, in large part, successful and have been adopted in 48 US states as well as the District of Columbia. Pennsylvania, for example, adopted the ICC’s I-Code as the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code in July of 2004.

That does not mean, however, that the US has a strictly enforced, uniform plumbing code. Remember, individual states and other political units (towns, counties, etc.) can modify the I-Codes before making those standards and practices law.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the concepts behind the codes. When it comes to bathtubs, the ICC concerns itself with proper tub and fixture installation, as well as minimizing the risk of backflow. Backflow, or more accurately as backsiphonage, is created by a difference in water pressures which causes water to flow back into the distribution pipes of a potable water supply. To prevent the potable water supply system from being contaminated, the supply lines or fittings are required to be installed in a manner that will prevent backflow. 

How can backflow actually occur? Imagine you were bathing with the spout of your faucet under the flood level or rim of the tub and there was a break in the water main or some other circumstance that caused your water pressure to drop quickly. It's possible the suction caused by this loss of pressure could draw your bathwater back into the faucet, through your supply lines and into the public water supply. 

So, how does all this apply to installing your clawfoot tub and faucets? As a general rule, you'll almost always pass an inspection if either the spout of your faucet is above the roll rim of the clawfoot tub or you've installed a backflow prevention device in accordance with the manufacturers’ installation instructions. Installing these devices is a fairly easy and inexpensive task if you do it during the initial bathtub installation. On the other hand, you'll almost certainly not pass an inspection if your spout is below the flood level rim of the tub. The gray area occurs when you have a spout below the flood level rim, but above the overflow and you don't have any backflow prevention device. The International Plumbing Code would prohibit that application. Many inspectors and enforcement agencies, however, would pass that faucet and tub combination based on the fact the spout is above the overflow hole.

Examples:

The Strom Plumbing Gooseneck Faucet shown below is an example of a faucet that would not require a backflow prevention device. The spout is above the flood level rim of the tub.
Gooseneck Faucet
Strom Plumbing Gooseneck Faucet

However, if you add a handshower to the Gooseneck faucet you need to make certain the handshower unit has a vacuum breaker because the handshower could get into the bathwater.

An example of a gray area would be the installation of an English Telephone Faucet. According to the ICC, you only need to install backflow prevention devices to the hot and cold supply lines; the handshower would not need a separate backflow prevention device. Some enforcement agencies, on the other hand, wouldn't insist on backflow prevention devices in your supply lines. Instead, they might only require you add a vacuum breaker to the handshower because the faucet spout is above the overflow.

Our advice is to always install backflow prevention devices when the spout is located below the rim of the tub. Some devices are small and decorative so they can be installed right at the faucet. Others are designed for installation directly on your supply lines. Remember - although backflow prevention devices don't necessarily need to be exposed, they must be accessible so they can be maintained and inspected.

If you have a specific question about your installation, consult with a qualified plumber or call your local code enforcement office for guidance.

I would like to thank Lynne Simnick, Senior Technical Staff, ICC for taking the time to explain the ICC codes, as well as proofreading this post for technical accuracy. I also want to thank Master Plumber George Yenchko of Hazleton Plumbing and Heating Co. and the Hazleton Code Enforcement Office for their comments on the Pennsylvania plumbing codes and regulations.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Fireclay, Vitreous, and Porcelain China Defined

We often get the question: What is the difference between fireclay, vitreous, and porcelain china? After all, we offer fireclay kitchen sinks, vitreous china pedestal sinks, and porcelain-over-cast-iron clawfoot tubs. The answer, as far as the surface glaze, there's not much of a difference at all. All of these materials are substances formed by firing clay and other minerals at high temperature. 
Vitreous China Pedestal Sink

The best technical definitions I can find are:
  • Fireclay China: Mixture of clay and minerals, similar to vitreous china, which is molded, glazed and fired at intense temperatures.
  • Vitreous China: Mixture of clay, feldspar, and quartz which is molded, glazed and "baked" at extremely high temperatures, resulting in a material which is strong, nonporous and impervious to absorption. The term refers to both the basic fixture material and the surface glaze used in the manufacture of such plumbing fixtures as lavatories, toilets, and bidets.
  • Porcelain: A special type of clay either white or gray, to which kaolin (a white firing stiff clay) and white China stone (finely decayed granite, washed and prepared as small white blocks) is added. When fired at temperatures of 1,280 Celcius and over, the body vitrifies, i.e. it becomes completely impermeable.
Fireclay Farmhouse Sink
Of course, there are some critical differences in construction techniques. Claw foot tubs, for instance, are built by coating an iron casting with porcelain frit and firing it at a high enough temperature to fuse the frit to the iron. Pure fireclay and vitreous china construction are not used here because claw foot tubs built with these materials could not withstand the weight and stresses of normal use. Conversely, kitchen sinks and pedestal bathroom sinks are generally no longer made with porcelain over cast iron. The strength and quality of modern ceramic production eliminates the need to reinforce these items with cast iron thus making them lighter and easier to manufacture.

A technical issue that clawfoot tub purchasers should be aware of is outgassing. Defined as the "venting of volatile gases from the heated interior of solid body sinks", outgassing occurs when the cast iron hull of a claw foot tub is placed into a kiln to fuse the porcelain frit to the tub. The increase in temperature causes gases to form. If the tub is not made very carefully, these gases will leave fine pinholes in the finished surface. These holes are not only unsightly but can also expose the cast iron base to water and air which will, over time, cause the claw foot tub interior to rust.

All clawfoot tubs that have the Vintage Tub and Bath name on them use the highest quality sanitary frits commercially available and are meticulously inspected by hand for defects to ensure that your tub is the finest possible quality.

Sources:
Kohler
National Gallery of Australia
Physics.gmu.edu