We rarely think of plumbing as a science evolving and benefiting from innovations in technology. But times have changed. Technology is not only evolving in our professional lives, but technology is impacting our kitchens and bathrooms and playing an increasingly important role with design trends in plumbing fixtures.
Plumbing fixtures that make the bathroom or kitchen more sanitary, efficient, and environmentally conscious are now becoming more commonplace in the residential industry. Although only representing a small portion of current plumbing sales in today’s market, as the buying population gravitates toward high-tech living spaces, future-forward plumbing options will continue to gain popularity, eventually becoming “must have” options in design.
Other factors such as higher water bills and increasing water supply concerns are also impacting design and fueling the necessity for solutions such as low flow toilets, water efficient showerheads, and water saving bathroom faucets.
Paula Quan, sales representative for Bobier Sales, a leading plumbing Manufacturer Representative Company in the state of Arizona since 1954, recently presented at a National Kitchen & Bath Association seminar at the Monark Scottsdale showroom.
Just as Bobier brings its manufacturers the product knowledge to promote their products, Paula brought to us a few of the latest design trends in plumbing fixtures positioned to meet growing demands.
Technology in the kitchen
Water filtration systems
As concerns mount over the safety of tap water, especially in regards to lead, homeowners are investing in home water filtration systems for drinking water, cooking, and even bathing. Some filtration systems are designed to be plumbed so filtered water is dispensed through a second, smaller faucet rather than the main kitchen faucet, including on demand hot water for tea drinkers or cooking.
Refrigerator manufacturers have stepped up to meet this need with built-in filtration for drinking water and ice. Options include easy-to-install inline filters that connect directly to a refrigerator’s water line or whole-house systems that eliminate the need for a water softener.
High Efficiency Faucets
Plumbing fixture manufacturers have developed faucets to address green needs. Such fixtures can be identified by the WaterSense® label and significantly reduce the amount of water used on a monthly basis by 30%. These high efficiency faucets perform at such a high level you will not notice the reduction in water flow. They are available for the kitchen, bathroom sink, and shower.
Sensor faucets provide the best of both worlds. Imagine a hands-free faucet that only dispenses a set on this web amount of water. These sensor faucets are programmed in advance and adjust for temperature and flow timing according to those settings. This is a great faucet for children or the elderly. If worried about burned hands, preset the temperature to a safe heat.
Pull out/pull down faucets have been around in residential kitchens with several models being developed after the commercial spray down faucet. New secure docking mechanisms with heavy duty magnets are the upgrade. Aligning with a more industrial articulating faucets have hit the shelves. These models are a spin off from the spray down faucets also found in commercial kitchens.
Another handy plumbing fixture has been the pot filler. The need to reach across a stovetop has always posed a safety factor when using this fixture to fill large pots of water. Deck mounted pot fillers are the modified, much safer version of this handy, kitchen essential.
Top down faucet mounting
Top down faucet mounting has been developed for the kitchen and will prove to be a favorite with remodelers. Making installation of faucets behind farm sinks so much easier. Although not developed for bathroom fixtures yet, it’s on the horizon.
Technology in the bath
Touch faucets in the kitchen have been available for several years now and are noted a favorite to combat germs and bacteria as well as general tidiness. Today’s faucets offer improved touch technology and have made their way into the bathroom allowing your elbow, wrist, or other body part to start or stop the flow.
A bit of insight into why infrared sensors in public bathrooms don’t always work. It’s your clothes. Since the sensor uses light, Paula said, if you are wearing black, it won’t “see” you. The next time you encounter a temperamental plumbing fixture, place a light colored object (paper towel) in front of you and see if it makes a difference. I did and it does!
If you’re not interested in faucet tricks, then you may like capacitive technology. Rather than relying on motion-activated, infrared sensors which have a tendency to cut out mid-rinse, capacitator technology uses a 3-inch sensing zone around the spout. When a hand approaches the spout from any direction and gets within 3-inches, the water starts to flow and will continue to flow as long as the hands are within range. Nice feature for parents with small children.
You have most likely seen the infrared sensor with color changes that track temperature. Such recent plumbing fixture developments are now found in other fixtures as well. Users can now find the commode in the dark with LED technology and displays moving to toilet bowls as well as visual indicators of water temperature in showers and faucets.
Technology in Showers
Revamped designs have brought us shower heads that dispense larger water droplets to compensate for the required decreased flow. Larger droplets of water give the feeling of more water with less pressure. Something sure to please you or your clients.
Handheld showers have stepped up with multi-function and pause features. Anyone who has bathed a child or family pet with the handheld shower understands this much needed fix.
A big trend in master baths is to rival the master bedroom in both size as well as high tech devices. A shower is no longer simply a shower. Technology is being applied to this bathing space with new water saving “smart” fixtures, Bluetooth enabled and connected to the internet. There are showerheads that play music, custom showers with body sprays, handheld showers, multiple shower heads, steam showers, and digital controls.
Pay special consideration to the location of body spray jets and use a little group think on installation. Paula’s words of wisdom — it is a must to have the homeowners stand in the shower and mark at what height they want the jets. The shower heads do pivot, but in only a 20-inch radius, which may not be adequate if there is a large height differential between bathers. The designing for the sexes tip: put two jets at one height for the man and then the other two at a height for the woman. Put each set on different controls to allow for spray options.
If the thought of jets protruding from gorgeous large format sleek tiles make your clients squirm, suggest the new pop outs that can be pushed back in when not in use keeping a nice aesthetic on streamlined surfaces. Pop out models also allow for a larger 50-inch radius on the spray.
As trends come and go so has the desire for oversized-Jacuzzi tub. Much smaller freestanding tubs and tub fillers are now the rage. A trend more affordable on space to accommodate the ever growing financial and space requirements of the McShower. Eliminating the large, tiled frame required for massive Jacuzzi tub saves a ton on tile work as well as freeing up much required wattage for the shower toys in a remodel. A little preplanning is required for the drain and water supply line placement before the concrete is poured. Any wall mounted faucet can be used on a free standing tub and a valve and hand spray is recommended so the water can drip into the tub.
So what do you get when you put a group of kitchen and bath designers in one room? A lively discussion on the pros and cons of rain showers and shower rooms without doors. Consensus: rain showers should only be used in designated spa showers with a sauna. They are far from ideal as the primary showerhead since the bather is totally submerged in the waterfall or totally not, making it difficult to comfortably perform many showering tasks. As well, doorless showers photograph wonderfully, but standing wet and naked in a cold room isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Also not wanting to be left out in the cold, the lowly water closet has some notable new features competing for the bathroom budget. Enter toilet smart technology. Not only delivering a powerful flush with less water, but these tidy-mighties are designed to scour and clean the bowl in the process!
And here is a feature many are sure to enjoy, a touchless toilet. The user waves their hand above the toilet to flush it. And once finished, the toilet lid automatically closes without slamming. I can see pint-sized potty-training magicians having a blast with this feature.
There’s more to plumbing fixtures than fun, sexy designs and sleek metal surfaces. Ceramic valves have been the mechanism of choice to regulate the release of water but they haven’t always proved reliable. Over time these valves lose their grease layer through hardening and the ceramic surface gets scratched, resulting in that annoying dripping and ultimately freezing up entirely. These new ceramic valves are a girl’s best friend with diamonds molecularly bonded onto the surface in lieu of the ineffective grease layer. The diamonds polish the surface at each use, keeping it smooth and operating at peak efficiency. Although I don’t think this is what Biancѐ meant when she said to put a ring on it.
Another game changer is that valves are beginning to utilize a universal roughed in mechanism. Changing out fixtures will no longer require extensive plumbing work with this one-sized fits all upgrade. Opening up a whole new world of design possibility for your next remodel.