Brand Preferences of Plumbers vs. Clients

ineffablespaceFebruary 3, 2014

Over the past 20 years, in 2 1/4 renovations I worked with one plumbing firm and because of some repeated mess ups in this latest round, I am working with a new plumber.(Thus the "1/4" renovation)

Briefly I am paid up on the former plumber to the extent of the work done, and the new plumber is replacing 90% of the work done by the former plumber. It passed inspection (which is rather cursory here) and I think it's best to let it go, cut my losses and start almost from scratch.

Anyway, my old plumber was one of those people who although a decent, reputable plumber (in the past?) was one of those guys who would say "Oh I can get you a dishwasher for about $200, disposal for $50, toilet for $75" sorts of guys. I assume this is exactly what a lot of people wanted, so I assumed he had brand preference based upon "cheap". But he would put in whatever you handed him.

The new plumber, who is pretty intellectual for a plumber, has a bachelor's degree, loves his job, and is familiar with lots of brands and has done some pretty high end stuff (but who is actually a bit cheaper than the first guy), is a big proponent of certain parts by Gerber, toilets by Mansfield, and loves Delta and Moen.

Intensely dislikes Kohler, dislikes American Standard, thinks Toto is an overrated waste of money and thinks the same of various other brands that consumers seem to like.

I have lived in some cheaply done apartments and houses and Gerber, Mansfield, Delta and Moen figured pretty prominently and it was all falling apart. (and a lot of it is not very attractive stuff either)

But this opinion seems to be shared by plumbers on other online discussions and with contractors I've spoken to. They swear they get more callbacks with Kohler, Toto etc. and much less with these really basic brands. This has never been my experience.

Any theories on this discrepancy?

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My plumber, who is an intelligent guy that I trust, said the same thing. He told me he spends more time fixing faucets like Hansgroeh than he does installing them. His preference was Moen. He explained that most lines have both high and low end products. Some faucets, etc. are mostly plastic and others are brass. Some are imported and others are made domestically - all within the same company. He felt a high end Moen was better in the long run.

I am currently replacing 25 year old, chrome plated solid brass Moens that still look brand new. The only reason we are changing them is because the style is dated. I wish I had the confidence that they are still made as well as they used to be.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 9:14AM
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I try to check out Internet forums where pros hang out for whatever I'm researching, and see how that compares to what stores are telling me.

For Kohler toilets, most people I ran into were love or hate. Mostly hate. The most concise reason I found for that is they frequently change part numbers and toilet interiors, so finding parts was tough because a supply house had to stock a -lot- of different parts if it wanted to try to always have any needed part on hand. Plus they discontinued parts and renumbered them often enough to make determining what you needed, and if it was still made, difficult. They seemed to be described as working ok relative to other brands, but repairs were a PIA.

Toto was the opposite, mostly love. They are described as very reliable, and they use only a few different inside parts, so they are easier to find replacement parts.

There seem to be specific models in each line that are exceptionally reliable and well loved. This seemed to be more of an issue with brands that are more budget oriented, but true across all brands I read about (just a matter of if the other models were actually bad, or just not the stand out magic combination of price, style, and reliability). On occasion, I'd run into threads where certain brands had quality control issues with glazing, flat bottoms, seams, etc for certain models that were noted by several people.

In the end, I think you just have to read up on what you want in terms of features and who offers them, then check the specific models.

Same with faucets, though in general if you can find one that is all or mostly metal inside it is probably ok. The less expensive faucets sell well because of the price point, but likely contribute to all those call backs. In my half bath that we just finished, I ended up with a Grohe Arden centerset faucet. Heavy as heck because it is all brass, and my GC was impressed with the quality. The handles are smooth as silk when moving, to the point where I resent the full bath faucet because it isn't the same, though perfectly fine. Price:$120. If you know what to look for, you can often find great deals with an open mind.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 12:04PM
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I haven't decided upon my replacement faucets yet, I was only quoting my plumber and I may well go with something like you did.

I have replaced two toilets with Toto and my plumber loves those. They are made right in Georgia and ultra high quality IMO.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 12:22PM
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I loved the Toto toilet in my last bathroom remodel. Because of various factors in this house I am going to end up with one American Standard, one Toto and one Kohler, or maybe two Totos

My favorite faucet is a Kohler commercial faucet. Maybe I haven't had any problems because it's commercial.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 1:01PM
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I actually think this is a very good question! I started dealing with two different plumbing supply places to do our latest bath reno, and interestingly they each have different opinions as to which brand/line is better.

One, where we bought our Toto toilet and will be ordering our Bain Ultra tub carries more lines and seems to cater more to the walk-in customer (though they do also have their separate but connected trade side right next door). The other seems more geared to the trades though they have no problem selling to me and I assume the general public, they don't carry Toto or Bain, and talked me out of Moen fixtures I had gotten a quote for from place #1 (though I have all Moen accessories, towel racks..etc.), as they said they didn't like the quality, they convinced me to go with Riobel which they said is much better quality and interestingly was less expensive than the Moen I had been looking at.

Their take was that sometimes plumbers prefer/recommend a certain brand because it is easier to install, and/or they are familiar with it. I wonder would a plumber working on a job necessarily know if 2-3 or 5+ years down the road that fixture needed repair/replacing? Perhaps lots of home owners either deal with the company directly (as I did with my Blanco faucet), or fix it on their own...

So far, am loving my Toto toilet... LOL

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 1:31PM
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@ineffablespace: "Briefly I am paid up on the former plumber to the extent of the work done, and the new plumber is replacing 90% of the work done by the former plumber. It passed inspection (which is rather cursory here) and I think it's best to let it go, cut my losses and start almost from scratch. "

So you went along with the reccomendations of a firm for 20 years, and they turned out to be incompentent.

Now you are asking the 'new' plumber to give you advice, but questioning it.

Personally, I wouldn't rely on a tradesperson to reccomend any products. They are just installers, and want to do what's easiest for them. Some of them get 'kick backs' from the suppliers they do business with.

Many internal faucet parts (like cartridges) are made by a handful of companies. I'd say faucets are competively priced, you are going to get what you pay for.

Keep your receipts, model #'s and installation instructions - many manufactuers warranty their products (parts) to the original owner.

Naturally, if you want to buy a $1,500 faucet imported from Italy - then you're on your own :)

I've had good luck with Grohe and Toto, FWIW.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 4:00PM
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Actually the first plumbing firm, was more than adequate, before. This last time though, the guy they sent really didn't seem to know what he was doing, including roughing things in in the wrong spot and having to redo it. The owner used to be more hands on, maybe he is getting ready to retire. By complete coincidence another contractor damaged the bathtub and paid for a replacement. He said it was good that they did anyway, the plumbing underneath the tub leaked at the solder joints.

This sort of thing never happened before, but I have found out that several people have had problems with them recently, after using them for years. So incompetent may be bit harsh. Losing it, maybe.

I really haven't asked his advice about any brands, he has just volunteered these opinions, because he likes to talk about plumbing--I am not really questioning anything except the tendency of plumbers over the years to like products that have very little public presence.

I pick what I like based upon previous experience, overall reputation, and in no small part appearance. It's just in this case that, since this is a project in mid stream, I have Kohler Faucets for both tub/shower and sink, and I have a sink and toilet spec'd (not Kohler in this case) and with the faucets, the sink I spec'd and the toilet, he was like "Since you Have it already I will install it but I don't like Kohler, I don't like ___ I don't like___ ---and then names stuff I am barely acquainted with that he Does like. The previous plumber did this to some extent but I think it was because a lot of his clients just wanted the cheapest thing possible.

I tend not to rely on the opinion of contractors in general, except when it is a matter of technical expertise. I've worked with some very good ones, both on my own projects and those of other people, and while I felt they executed my plans pretty well, when I saw things they designed themselves or did For themselves, I was usually pretty underwhelmed by their esthetic sensibilities.

But plumbing fixtures kind of fall into a "technical" realm, so I at least want to investigate these brands. But, if these brands are so great how come the general population is not exposed to them? No advertising, horrible websites, limited options, etc.

This post was edited by ineffablespace on Mon, Feb 3, 14 at 17:23

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 5:11PM
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My brother-in-law is a master plumber in business for over 40 years. They always buy the best of everything for their home. He uses Grohe and Moen and hates Kohler.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 12:02PM
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I bought two Toto one-piece toilets when I bought my house 2-1/2 years ago. I love the one-piece toilets for ease of cleaning, plus the look. I am very happy with the Totos, and when my plumber came to install them for me, he told me I had made an "excellent" choice.

I think Totos have kind of a "yuppie" reputation, like snobs go for Toto, and sometimes that can cause people to poo-poo things like that.

My only complaint is that I have had to take the seat off a couple of times to tighten it, but that is because the "bolts" are plastic. I keep meaning to change them for stainless steel. I don't like the plastic seats, which they all have now. Eventually I'm going to replace them with high-end glazed wood seats.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 9:34PM
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