Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Nice Pictures of a B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress

For the past 15 years or so my family and /or Vintage Tub and Bath have been active sponsors of The Collings Foundation B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress. These aircraft formed the backbone of the U.S. strategic bombing effort during the Second World War. Over 18,200 B-24s and 12,700 B-17s were built in the 1930’s and 40’s. Today, less than 15 B-17’s and only 1 B-24 are fully restored and in flying condition. The Collings Foundation bombers are arguably the best examples of these aircraft in existence. These aircraft now tour the country as a tribute to the veterans that flew them in combat.

I wanted to share some photos my friend Dave Miller and I took back in October when we flew in these aircraft from Boston, MA to Hazleton, PA. It was a perfect flying day and we got some great shots. Enjoy!

B-24 Liberator as viewed from under the B-17 wing
B-24 Liberator as viewed from under the B-17 wing.



B-17 Flying Fortress taking off
B-17 Flying Fortress taking off.



B17 Flying Fortress in flight over NE Pennsylvania
B17 Flying Fortress in flight over NE Pennsylvania.



B-24 Liberator in flight as seen from the B-17 Flying Fortress
B-24 Liberator in flight as seen from the B-17 Flying Fortress.




B-24 Liberator in flight
B-24 Liberator in flight (as seen from B-17).



In-flight close-up of B-24 Liberator waist gunner position
In-flight close-up of B-24 Liberator waist gunner position.


Monday, December 26, 2005

The Googleshank Redemption: The Aftermath

I hope everyone has had (or is still having) a great holiday season. I had a wonderful Christmas. My 2 year-old nephew was thrilled by the whole Santa thing, my son was in from out of town, my wife was cooking up a culinary storm, and my staff even got me the Rolling Stones Rock n' Roll Circus for Christmas (a great concert if you have never seen it - highly recommended). The Stones rule.

OK, back to the Googleshank Redemption. Let me start off by thanking everyone who took the time to write me personally or post on the blog. I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

In case you were wondering how Google would react to all of this, let me assure you that Vintage Tub and Bath is still listed in the Google index. Whew!

;-)

Seriously, Matt Cutts and I have been corresponding and things are looking much better. Thank you Matt - I sincerely appreciate your help.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Googleshank Redemption

A note to our regular readers – this post does not deal with plumbing or discount offers - it is about online advertising.

One of my favorite movies is the Shawshank Redemption. In this film, a man is falsely convicted of a crime he did not commit and is forced to live in the nightmare of prison until he finally escapes.

The tag line for the film is: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

Until recently, I too was held prisoner - trapped in a pit of search engine marketing despair. My requests for help ignored by the very company I had spent hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars with. I was bewildered as I watched our rankings drop while sites that obviously violated the Google guidelines rose and remained in place. My faith in the algorithm was broken. I was ankle deep in the Google Goo (so to speak).

Despite all of this, I never gave up hope. All I needed was a push in the right direction - an avenue to express my frustration and finally come to terms with it. Blogger was my way out. With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek and with malice towards none, here is the story of the Googleshank Redemption:


Hello. My name is Allan. I’ve been Googleshanked.


Despite my efforts, despite my feeling of being in the right, despite a sense I've been wronged, I'm powerless to correct what troubles me at Google. There is no appeal. My prison term will not end. I am Googleshanked.





The story begins about 18 months ago when I discovered some pages spamming Google to rank well on our corporate name. It appeared to me that these pages (which we have nothing to do with) violated Google's webmaster guidelines.

So, I reported the sites to Google using their spam reporting tool. I thought that the pages would disappear in a month or so. Nope - the pages remained indexed and ranked well.

I then asked my Google AdWords rep to assist me. My rep informed me that it would be impossible for him to violate the “Church and State” separation of the Google natural results from the paid advertising. I told him that I was not asking for special treatment – just asking that these pages be held to Google’s published standards. Besides, isn’t investigating poor search results in the best interest of the natural results regardless if the reporting entity is a corporation? He politely replied he would look into it. The pages remained indexed

I then turned to the generally useless - but somewhat emotionally satisfying - tactic of explaining the situation to the Google AdWords booth staff at Search Engine Strategies shows. In all fairness I believe the AdWords reps felt my pain but they were powerless to assist me. “Church and State” again. Not surprisingly, the pages remained indexed.

During this time, I happened to get introduced to several Google employees that were higher up in the corporate food chain. At last, I could talk to someone who can make things happen. Again, I got the “Church and State” explanation (is this beginning to sound like an introductory civics class?). Multiple promises to look into the matter later, the pages remained (you guessed it) indexed.

I have heard that insanity is defined as repeating an action but expecting a different result. If that is the case, I had gone mad.

Issue 2: Remember when Google launched the Florida update? Our site, like many others, dropped in the natural rakings – replaced (in general) by sites that seemed to violate their guidelines or had little to do with a given search query. I showed a couple of examples of this to a Google engineer (and no, it wasn't the famed Google engineer Matt Cutts) at the Chicago SES conference.

At that moment I thought that there were three possible responses I could get:

1) I would be given a medal (and perhaps a Google Lava Lamp) for showing how the update was actually harming the quality of their search results. 2) I would get a respectful hearing and he would take down our information so they could analyze the problem and make improvements. 3) I would be ignored.

Response #1 did not seem very likely and I wasn’t holding out hope for the lamp. Response #2 was proper but my past experiences did not really inspire confidence. Response #3 is where I put my money.

There was, however, a fourth possibility that I hadn’t even counted upon. I was told, quite sincerely, that the Google algorithm "was well tested and that they had high confidence in it.” I had expected this under the “I would be ignored” option. The twist here is when he added “that Google was properly removing the spammers” from the results. As I began to wonder how a company that sold clawfoot tubs could be a bad result for the term “clawfoot tub” I noticed that he had an unmistakable smirk on his face. It dawned on me that he had just insulted me to my face.

Now I don’t want to discuss the whole White Hat / Black Hat thing. According to Google maybe I was a spammer – maybe I wasn’t. I am leaning towards the latter because our rankings came back a month later without us changing our pages. One might suspect they reworked their algorithm because of the tidal wave of complaints they received. But one can never be sure. What I am sure of is this: it was not very nice to take delight in insulting a customer to his face. In all fairness, the engineer was getting hit from all sides that day. Still, I don't think it was right.

He then looked at me with a blank “matter-of-fact” stare and asked if he could help me any further. To this day, I still wonder how the term “help” applied in this situation.

I just gave up.

Hello. My name is Allan. I’ve been Googleshanked.


So, where is the redemption? Where did hope triumph over fear? My Googleshank Redemption came in the form of a discussion I had with Danny Sullivan last Wednesday evening (over an excellent carnivorian meal at Fogo De Chao, BTW). He assured me that I was not alone and that it wasn’t my fault. He eased my troubled mind by reminding me of the power of blogging. “Perhaps Google will read your blog and remove the pages. If not, no matter. Life will go on. The sun will rise. Children will play. Clawfoot tubs will be sold. Life is good. Have some more prime rib.”

So here we are. The blog post is written. I used to be bothered that Google seems so unconcerned with the advertisers that financially fuel their company. No longer. They can run their company any way they want. They are successful and they have a great search engine. Maybe they just can not focus on customer relations and build the best search engine in the world at the same time. I just don't know.

All I know is that as long as AdWords functions well, I will continue to advertise on Google. I now figure that in order to have made this omelet we call search marketing perhaps a few of our eggs had to be broken along the way. So be it.

I have spoken my mind and will not bother with this anymore. In so doing I have achieved my very own Googleshank Redemption.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The All-In-One SinkToilet - What will they think of next?

OK kids - here is another bathroom oddity for your consideration. I present the combination Sink & Toilet!

One of my staffers sent me this picture from the Searching For Zen blog:





My interest sparked, I went searching for more examples and found more info and discussion on the Beyond Brilliance Site.

There seems to be a difference of opinion on these sites as to the beauty and need for this type of toilet. The Searching for Zen blog did not like the idea; Beyond Brilliance loved it. I will let you, humble reader, form your own opinion on the combination sink and toilet idea. I just report - you decide.

A quick search did not reveal any commercial sources for these toilets. Anyone out there have any ideas where folks could find this toilet?

7 APRIL 2006 UPDATE: A loyal reader of the Daily Tubber has found a source for the toilet and sink combo. Take a look at Real Goods - they have a conversion kit that fits most existing toilets! Tell 'em Vintage Tub and Bath sent you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Alfred Anderson - Last Survivor Of World War I "Christmas Truce" Passes Away

Alfred Anderson, the last known participant of the famous "Christmas Truce" of the First World War, passed away quietly in his sleep on November 21st, 2005. The unoffical Christmas Truce - which started when British troopers started singing along with caroling German soldiers and ended in a friendly football match between the enemies in no-mans land - has become a symbol of the end of the era when ground combatants met each other with a measure of respect.

I thought it was worth noting this truce because it shows that even in the darkest and bleakest moments, people can still find the strength to find the joy in life.

Alfred Anderson - shown below visiting a recreation of a WW1 trench - was a member of the legendary Black Watch Regement. He was 109 years old.





Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cats in Sinks

We are going to turn up the Cute Button to 11. Cats in Sinks is a site that needs no further explanation. Enjoy.






Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Price is Right, baby!

Wake the kids and call the neighbors - one on our fine Vintage Tub and Bath clawfoot tubs is going to appear on the September 20th broadcast of the Price is Right! I will not spoil the surge of excitement you must certainly be experienceing at the moment by telling you if the contestant won the claw foot bathtub set or not - you will just have to find out on your own.


Price is Right Clawfoot Bathtub Set


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Corner Sinks for Your Small Bathroom

So you have a small bathroom and regular size bathroom sinks just don’t fit. Fear not, humble reader, Vintage Tub and Bath to the rescue with a bevy of great corner sinks that fit almost size bathroom.

The corner sinks we offer come in two basic styles: wall mounted and pedestal versions.

The wall mounted corner sinks range in size from the tiny American Standard Minette Corner Basin Sink (measuring 11” x 11”):


Minette Corner Sink



Our most popular wall-mounted corner sink is the Elizabethan Classics English Corner Turn Sink (it currently is only $115 and that includes shipping in the 48 contiguous United States):


Elizabethan Classics English Corner Turn Sink


Vintage Tub and Bath also offers three corner pedestal sinks:

The Cheviot Petite Model 944 (The smallest corner pedestal sink measuring 15 ¾” per side):


Cheviot Petite Corner Pedestal Sink


The St. Thomas Creations Barrymore Corner Pedestal Lavatory Sink (Model number st5074-080-01) measuring about 17 1/2” per side:


St. Thomas Creations Barrymore Corner Pedestal Lavatory


and the Cheviot model 930 (measuring 18 ¼” per side):


Cheviot Model 930 Corner Pedestal Sink


If you know of a corner sink that we do not carry, feel free to drop us a line so we can add it to our selection. Just an FYI: the correct spelling of pedestal is “pedestal”, not “pedistal”. If you use an online search for a pedistal corner sink, you unnecessarily limit the amount of bathroom sinks you will find.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Painting the Exterior of an Old Claw Foot Tub

Preparation is the key to a good-looking claw foot tub exterior finish. There are four ways to prepare the exterior surface for refinishing and painting:

1. Wire Brush
2. Sandpaper
3. Chemical Paint Removers
4. Sandblasting

Using a wire brush to remove the paint will usually only wear your arm out and provide you a mediocre surface for your primer coat. Obviously, we don’t recommend using a wire brush.

An electric sander is a decent option depending on how many layers of paint you are dealing with. Remember, you will be creating a lot of dust when sanding so you will want to be in a well ventilated area and you SHOULD HAVE A GOOD DUST MASK AND SAFETY GLASSES ON. You really should think safety - the paint you are taking off will likely contain lead (most old paints had lead in them). Start with a coarse to medium grade of paper and work your way down to a fine grit when you get to the cast iron layer.

Chemical paint removers are another option (if standard paint removers don’t work well, you can go to an auto parts store and ask for a stronger “Aircraft Stripper”). Chemical strippers are convenient but you need to exercise care when using them – they usually have a very strong chemical odors and harmful fumes. If you use chemicals, make certain to follow the safety precautions. I can tell you from personal experience – I got a glob of aircraft stripper on my arm and it hurt like hell. Needless to say, I am a lot more careful with chemical paint removers now.

Finally, you can sandblast the exterior. Sandblasting is the most thorough way of removing paint. If you decide to have your tub sandblasted, make certain to tape off the edges of the roll rim, drain hole(s) and any faucet holes with a strong duct tape. This will help prevent damage to the porcelain during the sandblasting process. Again, you really need to think safety here if you decide to do the sandblasting on your own. Remember, you will be blasting chips of paint from the surface of the tub with a sand frit (thus, the term sandblasting – clever, eh?) and you don’t want to get that stuff in your eyes.

Once you clean the surface, you need to get a primer coat down as soon as possible. This is particularly true with a sandblasted tub. Exposed cast iron can begin to show signs of surface rust within hours of exposure.

When choosing paints, find a primer that adheres well to metal and a top coat that stands up well to moisture. When it doubt, look up the paint manufacturer online or ask the staff at the paint desk at your local hardware store.





One last thing: I would always recommend having the claw foot tub feet sandblasted. They have so much detail that is so difficult to clean out and the results are almost always worth the extra effort to find a sandblaster. Again, make certain to get a primer coat on them as soon as possible to prevent rust from starting.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Bathroom Diaries

What can I say - when you gotta go, you gotta go. But that does not mean you have to accept just any bathroom. No indeed - especially when you have "The Bathroom Diaries" to help guide you to just the place (their motto: "Toilets . . . Bathrooms . . . Dignity").

Aside from offering "user reviews" of thousands of restrooms worldwide, they also offer a gallery of the best bathrooms on earth. Their absolute best is the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre in Branson, Missouri which features this bathroom Valhalla:





According to The Bathroom Diaries: "The women’s room has a fountain, wainscoting, stained glass appointments and an Empire tin ceiling. Live orchids lay nestled at every granite and onyx pedestal sink. The fixtures are carved from black Italian marble and gold. Voluminous chandeliers soar overhead. The air is fragrant with 80,000 fresh violets (used per month). But in this glut of material luxury, simple needs are remembered--a rocking chair is placed at the changing nook. The gents facility is equally gorgeous yet manly with black lion head sinks, black leather chairs and a marble fireplace. The burled walnut mirror was built in 1868. Men can bond over the hand-carved mahogany billiard table."

Now that's a bathroom!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Discount and Wholesale Clawfoot Tubs

One question we get asked is: “do we discount or wholesale our clawfoot tubs?” The answer is “sort of”. Let’s start by explaining the difference between a retail, discount and wholesale clawfoot tub. A “retail clawfoot tub” is a tub selling at our normal selling price. Remember that our “normal” price is usually the best on the web (we have a solid Best Price Guarantee) and is a lot more tub for a lot less money than was available just five years ago.

A “discounted clawfoot tub”, in our world, is a standard tub with one of the following conditions:

1) We are overstocked in a specific model. We will discount that claw foot tub when we want to reduce our standing inventory.
2) We have a “display” or “floor” model. Every now and then we sell off our display and photography models to change out our showroom.
3) Tubs with VERY minor blemishes (also known as a “near perfect” clawfoot tubs - see image below). These tubs have very minor blemishes and we discount the tub price accordingly. Just to be clear: we scrap any clawfoot tubs we receive that have more than a slight blemish or are not sanitary (the porcelain does not fully cover all of the cast iron in the bathing area). We would rather trash a questionable tub than have it fail on you years from now.


Discount Clawfoot Tub

Browse our current stock of items on special.


Wholesale clawfoot tubs” is really a misnomer. It is more appropriate to say we are able to offer larger discounts to huge purchasers (single or multiple shipping containers at a time). A large hotel or B&B chain would be an example of a “wholesale clawfoot tub purchaser.” I mention “wholesale” only because “wholesale” is often incorrectly interchanged with “discount”. See, all clear now.

Monday, August 29, 2005

When a Day is not a Day

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “day” as: 1. The period of light between dawn and nightfall; the interval from sunrise to sunset. 2a. The 24-hour period during which the earth completes one rotation on its axis.

It further defines “pass” as: “A permit, ticket, or authorization to come and go at will.”

Thus, one could logically surmise that a “day pass” for a given service would, in fact, be a pass good for:

1) a 24-hour period.
2) the time period from the moment you purchased it until midnight.
3) the time period from the moment you purchased it until the service you purchased it for closes at the end of the service day.
4) Service between dawn and nightfall.

Not so for the Washington D.C. Metro service. A day pass for them starts at 9:30 am (presumably to discourage riders during peak times). I am fine with that but I would have liked to know that before I purchased my “day pass” at 8:45am. No notice about hours appeared at the automated kiosk where I purchased the ticket. Of course, when I went to use it moments later, the turnstile would not let me through. When I went to the station agent to ask why the pass did not work, he merely smiled and pointed to a small notice posted right below his speaker:

“Day Passes valid after 9:30 am”

OK – I can live with that. How about a refund so I can purchase the correct ticket? No deal. How about an exchange? Nope. The agent (still smiling) informs me that day passes are the only tickets where you can not get a refund or exchange. I find out today that this contradicts their website which states: “Passes may be exchanged only before the pass period begins”. Of course, I was not on the D.C. Metro website when I was speaking to the station agent. When I pressed my case, the agent continued to smile and shrugged.

Good Times.

Knowing that I have just wasted $7 and that it will take more than $7 worth of effort to get my money back, I go back to the kiosk and try to determine how much fare I need to get from one station to the next (D.C. charges based on a zone / rate system – not a single fare like most other subway systems use). The result: my two brief subway rides for the day cost me a total of about $9.

What gets me is that the D.C. Metro has enough people complaining about a service that they take the time to make a sign explaining the problem. Of course, the sign is posted so you see it after you purchase the ticket - not before. Here’s a brainwave – why not post the sign at the location where you purchase the ticket (as opposed to 50 feet away)? That might avoid some trouble. Or how about fixing the problem by offering refunds or allowing riders to use the ticket at all times. Arghhhhh. Rant over.

More Clawfoot Tub Art

It seems like the clawfoot tub never ceases to inspire the artistic mind. Another example - sent to me by Frank B. from Courtney's Candles and Creations - is this ceramic of a clawfoot tub with flowers:






Monday, August 22, 2005

Art for Art's Sake

After finishing our bathroom renovation, Deb and I were looking for artwork to hang on the newly painted walls. This got me thinking that I really do have some really neat original art in my house. My wife, a lettering artist and artist-in-residence in our local school district, knows a whole bunch of talented artisits and we have accumulated their work over the years. So, this post is all about art for art's sake – no bathrooms, clawfoot tubs, or plumbing at all.

We begin with Deb - after all it is her house as well! She has done a bunch of commission work, but her best work is when she works just for the fun of it. The picture of this piece:





does it no justice. The hand-done lettering and tree were cut out and placed over her hand-made paste-paper. The end result is just a brilliant explosion of color.

This picture of a bird was taken by our friend George Boudman:





George gave up a job at a book press to become an art teacher. This picture was taken with a digital camera but, much more interestingly, was printed with a Giclee printer on canvas. The hat trick was that the printing process added the appearance of brush strokes giving the finished work a hand-painted look. Cool!

Tim Weaver is a professional artist and has been doing great water colors for darn near ever. I always love how his paintings capture light. Last year, he kindly gave us this painting of an Italian villa we once stayed at:





(Please forgive the weird angles of these images – I had to take them just above or below eye-level so the camera flash would not blur the photos.)

Speaking of professional artists, Pamela Gladding (a commercial artist with a major company) gave us a pair of hat boxes which now adorn two of our bookcases:





Unfortunately, they are no longer commercially available. We also have a host of plates, napkins, and even a rug that has her artwork printed on it.

Finally, we end with a large canvas given to us as an anniversary gift by our friend Catherine Hodgkiss. We met Catherine in a youth hostel in Italy about six years ago and quickly became friends. This was one of her first large canvases – it is a Tuscan landscape painted with an experimental “water-drip” technique.





This piece is huge (4' to a side) and, again, this picture of her work does not show off her subtle use of color.

So there you have it - a little art for art's sake. Hope you enjoyed it!

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. Installation is usually quite simple – remove old shower rod, patch and paint area where old rod was screwed into wall (if necessary) and install new curved rod. Simple. However, what do you do if - as in our case – your walls are curved themselves? Yul Brynner, as the King of Siam in "The King and I," put it best: "Tis a puzzlement!"

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.

Now, 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 dashed lines in the image below show where a straight rod would be relative to a curved rod. This 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 now was to mount the curved rod to my curved wall / ceiling (shown finished below):





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 (two coats) and painting (two coats). The finished result (taa-da!):





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

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Eagles Mere Gallery of Art / Worlds End State Park

In the spirit of sharing that which I find interesting, I thought I would turn my readers on to a little road trip Deb and I took a few weeks ago to Eagles Mere, PA – a tiny little resort town in north-east PA littered with fantastic old Victorian homes, little shops, and great outdoor activities.



While there I saw this classic car parked outside of an attractive garage:



Anyway, the purpose of this trip was two fold: to visit a friend who opened an art gallery and do some hiking at World’s End State Park. The friend, Rich Mills, has a reputation for crafting excellent wooden picture frames:



I am not quite certain what spark ultimately caused the flame (although I suspect it was his girlfriend Crystal), but Rich exploded in a frenzy of activity last year and opened his own art gallery:



What a job he and Crystal did. The Eagles Mere Gallery of Art has been a hit and Rich is already planning to expand the business. Now, I am not the biggest art gallery fan in the world. I either like a work of art or, more often than not, don’t. In this case, I really liked it. Rich and Crystal have a good eye when it comes to what artists they will put into their gallery and keep the crap to a minimum. So if you need a pottery / painting / sculpture fix, contact Rich at the Gallery (570.458.6756). He is very friendly and knowledgeable about what Eagles Mere has to offer.

After Eagles Mere, Deb and I headed out to Worlds End State Park for some hiking.



Although technically not actually at the end of the world (or if it was we missed it), Worlds End State Park is nestled in the canyon created by the Loyalsock Creek. After an hour of moderate hiking through some nice forested trails,




we got to the Canyon Vista and were rewarded with this stunning view:



Hawks were flying in the distance and you could spot fishermen in the creek below. Although Worlds End is a small park – it only has about 20 miles of trails - it is actually surrounded on three sides by the Wyoming State Forest which makes it seem a lot bigger.

All in all, Eagles Mere and Worlds End were well worth the trip. Allan and Deb give it “Two Thumbs Up”!

Tomorrow: Installing a curved shower rod in a curved bathroom.

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 here:

"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 is just not that great anymore. Your estimate of $750-$950 is in the same price range ($995) as one of our new 5' classic roll rim tubs (and we include delivery):





Secondly, durability is an issue. In my experience there is 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 5 years after the original refinishing date. New Vintage Tub and Bath brand clawfoot tubs, on the other hand, come with a lifetime limited warranty.

Thirdly, the issue of construction quality comes into play. A host of factors come into play when you talk about clawfoot tub quality (materials, manufacturing processes, acceptable tolerances, etc.). Furthermore, many different manufacturers built millions of clawfoot tubs between roughly 1890 and 1940 and their quality varied quite a bit. I just can not 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 that the more expensive an item is, the better quality it must be. This is just not always so, especially in the clawfoot tub market. The fact of the matter is that there are not a lot of clawfoot tub manufacturers. Of those that do make clawfoot tubs, not all of them are as single-mindedly focused on quality like we are. Examples:

-Vintage Tub brand tub feet are made from brass because, when properly prepared, brass holds a plated finish much better than the cheaper cast iron feet.
-Regardless of materials, our clawfoot tub feet are installed and checked for fit and finish at the factory. We do not send a set of feet to you in a separate box and hope that they fit well.
-Because we install the feet at the factory, we can check the tub and make certain it is level as well. This eliminates the "wobble" issue so 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 is 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 and Bath is the only retailer we know of that manufactures as well as retails clawfoot tubs directly to the public. This is a huge advantage in that we eliminate the "middlemen" and all the 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 and Bath brand 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 did not completely believe in our products, we would not put our name on them and offer a lifetime limited warranty. ‘nuff said.

Take a look at our clawfoot tubs and if you have any questions, give our customer service department a call (toll free: 877.868.1369 or 570.450.7925). They are very knowledgeable and are happy to talk to you.

I hope I answered your questions,

Allan



Bathroom Renovation: One of the Joys of Summer!

Alternate title: Our Little Journey Through Dante’s 3rd Circle of Hell.

I am like the child who repeatedly burns his hand on a hot stove: I know it will hurt, yet I do it any way. Every time I finish a home renovation project I swear that I will NEVER do it again. Fast forward one year and you will find me with hammer / paint brush / drill in hand working on yet another project (check out the hap-hap-happy look on my face):





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

This summers month-long “it-will-only-take-a-week” project was redoing our tiny bathroom. We needed to get rid of the old pseudo-country look (shown below just after we started demolition, er, excuse me, renovation):





Note that the old ugly floor has been replaced (sorry you missed that) and that the medicine cabinet doors are removed. Check out that shiny blue trim as well.

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 ABSOLUTLY LOVE IT! Deb, my wife, did a great job with the painting (a task I loathe) 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. The (almost) finished result:







Yes, 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 are 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, August 11, 2005

Stunning Tile Work

Dear faithful readers, sorry for not posting for so long - been up to my eyeballs in work.

Today I want to show you some pictures of a recently discovered architectural treasure located right here in somewhat-sunny Hazleton, PA. Several years ago, a local landmark restaurant - "Ernie's Steakhouse" - went out of business. The building sat abandoned and untouched until a few weeks ago when construction teams started working on the building for a new owner. When they ripped off Ernie’s amazingly ugly faux-western fa├žade, they revealed the stunning original structure you see below:











Apparently the building was built by a local tile works and they decorated their entrance with pink flamingos and two horses leaning against a sphere. The tile is really neat to see in person. Unfortunately, one of the workers I spoke with told me that the new owners were going to turn the building into a nightclub and were planning to cover this tile with a modern look. Hazleton just loves to wipe out any trace of the classic buildings we once had. We just don’t get it. What a shame.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Peace, Love and Chocolate

I had a couple of possible topics for today's post, but a phrase I just saw caught my eye. "Peace, Love and Chocolate" appears at the bottom of an e-mail order confirmation I received from John D. at Vosges Haut Chocolates. I have been meaning to spread the word about these guys and so I shall in my own little way.


I discovered Vosges while walking through a shopping mall in Chicago. I was looking for Christmas gifts for Wifey and noticed a good "shopping omen" - a long line of women crowded around a tiny store. As I got closer, my confidence grew - it was a chocolate store. After I fought my way inside, I knew I had a winner. The chocolates were stunning and unusually good. The flavor combinations are not super-sweet like most American chocolates - rather the culinary alchemists at Vosges blend exotic ingredients from all over the world (wasabi, ancho chili powder, Indian curry, etc.) to get their unbelievable flavors. These are chocolates to be savored, not inhaled.

There is lot of expensive chocolates out there but few really are worth it. Vosges is very definitely, without question, worth the cost. Vintage Tub and I both use Vosges as a "gift of choice" when making an impression matters. The big bonus is that their customer service staff is top-flight. I have ordered about 6 times and I have always been treated with professionalism and courtesy. John D., if I recall correctly, had no problem sending chocolates all over the place when I ordered last week and then changing the address on one of the orders this morning. When it comes to chocolate, these guys rule.

“Peace, Love and Chocolate” – we could all use a lot more of all three.


Friday, July 29, 2005

Legos + Clawfoot Tub + Skill = Art.

I love Legos. They are, without a doubt, one of the greatest toys ever designed. When I was a kid, the only toy I wanted to play with were Legos. Now, as an adult, I have to leave my childhood toys behind (in a 50 gallon drum in my basement - yes, I have a lot of Legos). This is not the case for Jonathan Eric Hunter. Mr. Hunter is an official Lego Master Model Builder (my secret dream job) who built this clawfoot tub:






What I love is that he got the details down extremely well. The faucet, feet and drain are all very well done. His other models are even more interesting (the mountain top castle is particularly nice).

So, if you now find yourself in need of a Lego fix, I suggest you click on over to the Official Lego Store and get to work. Go on - "personal life coaches" and pop-psychologists are always telling everyone to "tap into your inner child." I agree. Take the $100 professional fee you would have wasted on an hour with a coach and buy the Lego Enzo Ferarri racer. Think of it as a little "retail therapy" for guys. Sweeeeeeeet.





Thursday, July 28, 2005

House Made! Another All-Killer, No-Filler Blog

I have been on a bender for the past few days attempting to find really interesting home-improvement blogs. I am trying to make the authors of these blogs an offer they can't refuse: I will swap them free stuff in exchange for their honest comments on our products and service. I figure I might as well ask those that are good at expressing themselves to talk about our stuff.

I am also in the middle of renovating my bathroom and my misery needs company.

Anyway, in my searching I found House Made and just stopped cold. Merideth and Beth are renovating their 1922 Spanish bungalow in Oakland, CA and they are sharing their adventures with the world. The site looks great and the writing is top-rate (the ode to their new gate is indicative of their tongue-in-cheek style). I also love their clever use of Flickr (a program that lets you highlight and add notes to images). Their latest post shows why folks with no taste should be prohibited from changing the exteriors of their homes. Vinyl siding on a stucco bungalow is an architectural crime of the first-order. Oh, my eyes!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Home Improvement Warriors!

There are lots – repeat, lots – of home improvement sites and blogs on the web. Most are pretty bland. There are, however, a few sites that stand above the rest. These blogs offer real insight and solid advice. Best of all, the posts are well written (usually with a heavy dose of wit). Three blogs I recently found that I like are (in no particular order):

1) House In Progress

Tag Line: “We call it home IMPROVEMENT because it can’t get any worse.”

Notes: 1,300 people a day check out the latest progress on Aaron and Jeannie’s 1914 Chicago Bungalow. I really like the attention to detail in their posts. For example, their January 2004 post about pressure balance systems does a nice job of clearly explaining how these systems work and what they did to overcome an actual installation problem. They are almost finished with their master bathroom and I am hoping they post the finished images soon (gotta check out their clawfoot tub!).

2) Our Fixer-Upper

Tag Line: “Because we asked for it.”

Notes: Teague and Mindy are renovating their New York 1890’s Italianate home. Teague is an interior designer (nice to have around if you’re redesigning your home) and Mindy is a web designer (nice to have around if you’re blogging about redesigning your home). Like most good blogs, the posts are informative and interesting. The thing that got me was the photo gallery showing different neat buildings of their town. It is obvious that they really love their home. It seems like, to them, this isn’t a task that has to get done (although I am fairly certain it must feel like that on certain days). Rather, it must be a labor of love that they are willing to share with everyone.

3) That Old House

Tag Line: “Sure, the kitchen is small, and the floors are kind of slanted, but that can be fixed, right? Right?”

Notes: Nola, a freelance writer and editor, is just starting the restoration of her New Orleans home (demolition pictures are always great to see – nothing like a dust mask and crowbar to let off some stress). Having discovered that “actually doing construction projects on Saturday morning was a whole lot harder than watching them on TV”, Nola hung up her tool belt and has taken on the role of General Contractor. Her blog, therefore, focuses on both the actual construction as well as managing contractors.

I will end this post with a John F. Kennedy quote that Nola used in her very first post. This says it all for me:

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days.
Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, not in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.


- JFK, Inaugural Address, 1960

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Plumbing Codes: Will My Clawfoot Tub Pass Inspection?

Alternate Title: "Plumbing Codes: The Reason Why I am Not Drinking My Neighbor's Bathwater."

One of the more interesting questions we get asked is “After I install one of your clawfoot tubs and faucet sets, will my bathroom pass a plumbing code inspection?” The simple, but unsatisfactory, 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 that there is no single uniform plumbing code for the United States. Every state, county, city and town has the right to define and enforce their 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 U.S. states and 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 United States 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 “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 could this backflow (backsiphonage) actually occur? Imagine you were bathing with the spout of your faucet under the flood level (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 is possible that 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. The folks who wrote the plumbing codes did not think you wanted to drink your neighbor’s bathwater. Smart, indeed.

So, how does all this apply to installing your clawfoot tub and faucets? As a GENERAL RULE, you will almost always pass an inspection if either the spout of your faucet is above the roll rim of the clawfoot tub OR you have 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 will almost certainly NOT pass an inspection if your spout is below the flood level rim of the tub. The grey area occurs when you have a spout below the flood level rim but above the overflow AND you DO NOT 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.



If you add a handshower to the Gooseneck faucet (below), however, you need to make certain that the handshower unit has a vacuum breaker (because the handshower could get into the bathwater). The faucet shown below comes standard with the required backflow prevention device.



An example of a “grey area” would be the installation of an English Telephone Faucet (below). 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, would not insist on backflow prevention devices in your supply lines. Instead, they might only require that you add a vacuum breaker to the handshower because the faucet spout is above the overflow.



With that said, our advice is to always install backflow prevention devices when the spout is located below the flood level (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 do not 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 and/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 (Hazleton Plumbing and Heating Co.) and the Hazleton Code Enforcement Office for their comments on the Pennsylvania plumbing codes and regulations.