Add convenience, function, efficiency, and value to your home with just a couple of very simple plumbing upgrades.
Realtors say that any home update or upgrade will bring approximately five-to-one return on your investment when you go to sell your home—more if you show both good fashion sense and fine craftsmanship. Not surprisingly, hardwood floors and granite countertops bring the biggest returns, but they also cost the most money and demand the most expertise. Not the epitome of frugal. Realtors also stress, however, a few simple, strategic, inexpensive touches can change the look and feel of the two rooms buyers care about most—the kitchen and the bathroom. Even if you plan to stay in your house until your kindergartner leaves for graduate school, these little improvements add function and value for your own everyday use.
Keep the emphasis on functional and frugal.
You should cultivate a healthy respect for everything that can go wrong in even the simplest plumbing project, but most people make plumbing repairs much more difficult than they have to be. Common sense and fractions prevail, and a handful of the proper tools make all the difference. Please observe three cautions in order to complete your upgrades with proper emphasis on simple and frugal:
Do NOT buy plumbing supplies from Ikea! We generally love Ikea, but their plumbing supplies are neither functional nor frugal. Although they are breathtakingly, heartbreakingly beautiful, Ikea plumbing products are threaded according to the European metric system, and not even a Rube Goldberg collection of adapters will make them compatible with American plumbing components.
- Read the directions and study the diagrams before you start wrenching and at every step of your process. Yes, your intuition about the project probably is correct, but read the directions and study the pictures to confirm your gut feelings and make sure about your specifications. Although kitchen and bathroom components look almost identical, the pipes are different diameters and the links have different thread-counts.
- Do NOT over-tighten your plumbing connections. This one step in plumbing installation is decidedly counter-intuitive. You think, in order to keep your connections from leaking, you should crank them as tight as your mighty-macho muscles can turn them. Instead, you will discover that over-tightening the pieces, first, strips them, and then breaks them. The rule is “finger tight plus one-quarter turn.” In the footnotes, you will see that liberal application of Teflon tape can seal most junctions and make tightening much easier.
One kitchen upgrade changes the whole look.
Look at your kitchen through a prospective buyer’s eyes: the kitchen faucet is always the center of attention. Some interior designers can explain the aesthetics behind this phenomenon, but you just need to take “faucet first” as a given. Most people take their kitchen faucets for granted, using and abusing them until they pump their last little squirts or explode like Yellowstone geysers. As he built your house, your contractor installed the least expensive faucet he could find; if the old piece lasted even a year, you got your money’s worth. You can do much better without spending a lot more money and time. High-end kitchen faucets with touch-sensitive features or detachable hoses still ring-up for under $100, and they are guaranteed for life. Especially look for high-tech faucets with ceramic disks instead of old-fashioned valves, because the ceramic disks open and close easily, and they are indestructible.
Follow a couple of pre-shopping cautions: Remove your existing faucet before you shop, and take it with you to the store. Your new faucet must match the old one’s single-handle, double-handle, or spread-handle configuration, and you should double check the size of the water supply connection.
Low-cost comfort and convenience in the shower.
Three words: “handheld shower massage.” This little luxury costs between $20 and $50, but it feels priceless. And it comes in really handy for muddy kids and dogs. Best of all, new handheld shower massagers max-out your water pressure while they conserve water; they work at least as well as funky little flow-restrictors, and they comply with most cities’ conservation standards.
If you are a total plumbing newbie, this is the ideal starter project, a great confidence builder. You need only a crescent wrench and a roll of Teflon tape. Remember righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, and put a rag between your new shower massage and the place where your wrench grabs, so that you do not scratch the high-gloss finish on the new piece.