Pros vs. Cons buying plumbing fixtures on-line?

pbx2_gwSeptember 10, 2012

So I've read some past discussions on here @ but I'd like to relight the fire a bit since we are @ this moment in our build phase.

Our local F..son's is providing some discussion points in its argument against buying plumbing parts to our builder.

Our contract with our builder does not prevent us from supplying our own parts as part of the allowance; builder has only stated that he uses F..son for ease of communication should issues arise during construction but that's it.

So F..son's arguments are:

1) Missing parts in delivery

2) Owner fails to order special parts required for installation

3) Plumber needs to make additional trips if parts are incompatible from outset.

4) F..son's has special "wholesale quality trades fit only" parts & fixtures

5) As part of builder's 1 year home warranty, builder will have to chase down missing parts which may not be same# as trades or mass vendors.

In our own situation, we spent a couple of hours w/ the F..son's designer & they essentially showed us around the store & we picked what was shown on the floor - without really sitting down for hours pouring over their different catalogs.

Some picks turned out to be the same as another of our builder's houses in this development. (not very custom if you ask me)

Ultimately, after compiling a workbook & discovering what our style really was, we were able to nail down on our choices on our own & submitted a list to F..son's for a quote.

F..son's ended up costing $1500 more & they have supposedly access to every single one on our list from their inventory.

Now, we'd rather buy local to support our economy here but @ $1500, we could also buy a home warranty to eliminate all the issues that arises out of the list above.

So, we would appreciate any debate points from the community to educate & highlight for us any PRO's & CONS because right now, with the amount of prep hours that we have poured into our research on the fixtures parts & their compatibility & knowing far more now (help from you all here btw!) than going in - I can say with confidence that:

1) There is no magical parts that a good plumber has, that can only fit F..son's bought fixtures.

2) That a good plumber is able to problem solve any component issue esp. if he's not selling the fixtures & is only fitting it to the water line

3) That the good builder/contractor/construction/inspector team we have assemble will resolve any assembly issue of our on-line components without being a $1500 or more additional cost or cause delays due to parts issues.

4) the F..son's is not selling anything of quality difference than what we are able to get from sites or other reputable vendors.

5) There is no guarantee that F..son's can resolve any parts compatibility issue themselves as quickly as a reputable on-line vendor.

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I hear you on this one. In our new project, the contractor is heavily discouraging purchasing anything ourselves. Because they make X% markup on this I am naturally suspicious!

There is definitely some comfort with not having to worry about anything and having a comprehensive warranty.

That said, I am fussy enough about all this stuff that I ended up putting in the legwork myself and researching the exact model #s online. Some of the websites are very good - e.g. - highly recommend this one. They show you if you're buying shower trim X that you need valve Y and make it easy to add to cart too. Note that you still need to be a little technical to do this - sometimes there are options Y1, Y2, Y3, Y4. Which one you pick depends on the material of your supply line (e.g. copper, iron, etc.) and whether you want down-the-road serviceability like shutoff stops etc. I noticed this complexity on e.g. Moen shower valves.

Other benefits of ordering yourself:
- the points go on YOUR credit card
- some of the websites like offer truly awesome service & support. I've worked with one guy there on my last project and he was just amazing. If you look at it this way - they have to work a little harder because they know they're going up against this line of reasoning from the contractors... so they have to make it easy for you!

- warranty coverage, not just for the item but the follow-on effects of a failure like a leak that damages the floor/cabinet etc. (be sure to clarify how this works anyway with your contractor in their warranty, also, review with your attorney)
- you are on the hook for having all the right bits turn up at the right time. Don't discount that the wrong item will be shipped, even with fantastic service. Give yourself a time buffer to return & get the right item shipped. I can't emphasize this enough. If you are not obsessively OCD enough, this is NOT for you! But the dismissive way some contractors treat this option is also wrong. If you are careful, do your homework, give yourself some time/extra $$ to make sure the right stuff turns up, and don't mind assuming some warranty risk, then it could be for you, especially if you are chasing down the last few dollars and cents.

It was recommended to us by a third party adviser that we could also purchase stuff online and then pay the contractor a flat fee to cover warranty/inspections etc. We haven't discussed this with them... at this point I'm leaning towards just letting them buy everything provided their numbers are "close enough" given the benefit of not having to deal with friction when ordering/servicing/warranty coverage.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 12:07PM
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@ caben - thank you for your fantastic feedback!
Hear you loud & clear & understand too! ;)

I think what the locals are counting on is the fear that some how you will screw it up as a homeowners.
That's a bit insulting in this information day & age and a bit short sighted. & yes is an awesome site with the best service reps around. Almost like having our own personal designer!

Like you we have put in a lot of man hours & plan on discussing each component with our builder to lessen any chances of mismatching our supply lines or serviceability issues.

But like you, if we can get the locals to get close enough then we can give them the bid to lessen the friction. Intuitively, I don't see how there could be if we get 99.9% of it prepped & lock & loaded for them!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 12:19PM
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Sophie Wheeler

As a test, see if you can put together a shower system using the correct valve for the plumbing type and types of output needed. 99% can't do it and end up ordering something wrong. Which they don't even know is wrong until the plumber shows up and can't do the install.

You will have to educate yourself extensively to do this job, and if you do it wrong, yes, it will cost you MUCH more than $1500. You've got trip charges from your plumber if he has to go to the local showroom to buy something correct NOW that will work and come back to the site a second time. Not to mention that it's now past the accepted return date for the net products that you bought so you end up selling it on Craigslist for 1/6th of what you bought it for.

I know money doesn't grow on trees. But unless you are EXTREMELY detail oriented here, as well as are arranging delivery weeks in advance, then checking everything off, you have a good chance of mistakes taking you over that $1500 "savings". On the other hand, if you've got the time to educate yourself enough, then you could end up saving that $1500. But don't forget, that time is money, and if you could be using 100+ hours to make money, then you aren't saving a dime.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 4:08PM
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My concern is that plumbing fixtures sold on the internet (and often in big box stores) are not the same fixtures sold by the major manufacturers although they may have similar or the same model names. You're buying "a pig in a poke". If you will not be disappointed to find that your faucets are not really nickel plating on brass or the knob won't turn the water off completely and the fixture must be replaced, then you will be OK.

In my opinion the best bargains are the most expensive fixtures if you choose them well but I don't expect anyone to believe that if they haven't been doing this as long as I have.

I paid $300 for a pair of shoes one time and they lasted 25 years so they were the cheapest shoes I ever owned. Unfortunately, people rarely own houses as long as shoes.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 4:39PM
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hollysprings - have you seen the sites?
Even you (& us 99%) can put together a 'complex' plumbing job with that site.

& they have a generous return policy too.

But then building a house is not for the faint of heart nor the lack of time. It's another full-time job.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 6:31PM
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It depends on the complexity of the thing you're assembling.

I did spec a pretty elaborate shower... and does not sell a single package that replicates it so I had to find all the bits. This did take some time and cross-referencing with etc.

There are undoubtedly shady sites. But nothing I've ever received from FD has been anything other than what it claimed to be - right down to model #s matching that on the mfr website with no different suffixes or other games. But then again, FD is not the cheapest e-tailer.

As for whether or not this is worth my time... especially when we may end up just letting the contractor buy everything anyway - well, part of this for me is knowing I turned over every stone, that I got the best product for me. I won't have any regrets about what someone else picked out for me. And part of me enjoys the process.

Is this for everyone? Definitely not. But most people don't build custom homes either.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 8:02PM
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We're just finishing our house (yes, in 5.5 months. They build 'em quick here in Illinois ;)

Here's how we did it: I went to the plumbing supply house, got the tour, and took the catalogs home and poured over them. Then I looked up the model numbers online, mostly on I then sent my contractor the links to what I had picked out, which of course included the prices.

He then went to the plumbing supply house directly (bypassing the plumber) and asked about matching the online price. Sometimes they did it, sometimes they didn't, but faucetdirect does a great job with service and does accept returns so we used them a TON. It was more a concern about time issues - if something wasn't right you'd have to wait to get parts shipped, etc.

We got some sinks from and one came in broken, which they took back for return and quickly shipped another. Another good online experience.

Actually our local electrician BEAT the online prices by quite a bit! So whenever we could, we bought light fixtures from them.

The point is ... if you buy from reputable online sites you'll be fine. We had zero missing part on ANYTHING. But if your local guy wants to meet the price, that's probably preferable (buying local, problems can be solved faster).

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 9:46PM
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Sophie Wheeler

OK, as I mentioned, do a test run. :)

Pick out the right components to put in a large master shower. You want a regular shower head, 4 body sprays (with them being controlled 2 and 2) two hand held units (one next to the regular shower head, another in the bench area) and a rain head. All of this should match and be able to be controlled independently or simultaneously with the proper anti scald protection.

Hint: this is a trick question as it supposes that you actually have enough water pressure and supplied hot water to deal with all of that. Most homes won't, and a lot of DIYers don't find that information out first and then end up with a lot of unusable product because they put the cart before the horse. In real life, you WILL have to solve the supply problem yourself first before you can even consider the delivery problem. And the elimination problem that all of that water will cause, so you have to understand drains also (and pick out one that will match).

I'm sure with enough research you can do this. And research can even be fun! Unless you are have a time sensitive decision now that has to be made. Such as, "We're ahead of schedule, we need all the plumbing stuff next week, not in three weeks, so you have to order it TODAY so it will be here." (LOL! As if ahead of schedule is ever in the vocabulary of any builder!)

You're on the stopwatch. Go! :)

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 8:11AM
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My contract allows me to provide the fixtures. When I submitted the model numbers to the builder, he sent it to plumbing sub for prices.

He (the builder) sent me an itemized list (from the plumbing sub) that had prices and I can't beat them on any of the websites except for Ebay. Can't talk myself into that!

I don't know if that is usual, but we shopped F-son to find what we liked and used their prices to guide in the ball park. I then priced all at and the sub has it beat on every item except a couple of valves.

Curious to see if we have the same luck on lighting!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 8:13AM
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I have friends that worked for American Standard and I can assure you that if the model number is the same, the fixture is the same. The SKU might change vendor to vendor, but not the fixture.

We bought all of ours online. Our only issue was that our plumber claimed we didn't get the valves for the master shower... but my wife and I opened and inspected every box and they were there. We gave him the fixtures to install the pipe stubouts on the valves off site. He lost them... or sold them. But we went to F...son and paid the retail price there and moved on... with a new plumber.

As long as a licensed plumber installs, the manufacturer warranty is good on all your products. The builder warranty is only as good as the builder and his subs... and most are worthless once you've taken possession. If a plumbing fixture has an issue, you'll be going through your homeowner's insurance anyway, not your builder.

PS We did have a fixture fail. Our vanity/sink/faucet combo bought online had a handle pop off and flood part of our main floor and basement... Beware buying a combo that includes the faucet. We now have a kohler faucet there.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 9:56AM
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You better never need warranty service.

The plumber is not going to provide it.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:20AM
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Brian - it appears from your experience & that of others that there is no magical parts differences between what the locals yocals offer vs. what a reputable on-line vendor offers.

You've raised great points about who takes care of what in case of malfunction & as has been mentioned: preparation, communication, and proper professional installation are what is important.
Where one buys the parts plays little to no part in the success or failure of said parts.

Thank you for the examples.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 1:07PM
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