There was a time when the only thought most people gave to faucets was when they dripped or failed to gush forth with careless abandon.
Today, water conservation, safety concerns and designer awareness have reshaped the faucet in homes throughout North County.
The industry has literally flooded the residential market with myriad innovations and designs. The Kohler company, for example, now sells 200 faucet products--almost three times what it sold just over a decade ago.
And, with the recent introduction of electronic wizardry into the field, the flow of new variations will probably continue.
Some modern faucets copy antique plumbing fixtures, while others look ultramodern or are designed in playful animal motifs. You can even custom design your own faucets. Some manufacturers have a service that allows homeowners to mix and match by choosing different handles and rings in various finishes from an in-store catalogue. The faucets are then assembled at the factory, according to Guy Brinson, manager of Indiana Plumbing Supply, a wholesale distributor of plumbing goods in Carlsbad.
Besides gold, silver and polished brass, you can buy faucets in red, almond, bone, wild rose, black and white. These colors also come in a new "powder coating," a finish that retards water-spotting and holds up well against the corrosive water found in North County.
However, even though faucets and other fixtures come in dramatic colors, Curt Shafer, owner of the Faucet Factory in Encinitas, a store specializing in decorative faucets and plumbing fixtures, said the public's buying trend seems to be back to white.
The drought in California and other states has prompted manufacturers to develop water-smart fixtures.
Items such as spring-loaded faucets (the kind that shut off by themselves) are now available to homeowners by special order from many retail outlets. "Customers use them in our restrooms then ask about ordering them," said Ken Van Duser, plumbing department manager at Dixieline Lumber in Solana Beach.
Other water-saving devices allow a homeowner to preset the maximum flow from faucets and shower heads.
Water Facets of Costa Mesa manufactures "Contempra Automatic Faucets," a line of electronic water-saving taps in decorator styles and colors for the residential market. These high-tech spigots have an infrared sensing device that detects any object placed in its path. This initiates the flow of water, while removing the object stops the water. Pressing a switch located at the tip of the faucet provides a continuous water flow, and rotating a control knob adjusts the water temperature. The length of the infrared beam can be adjusted to accommodate the depth of the sink or to keep the faucet from flowing when something is under it, such as a colander draining vegetables or fruit. For more information, contact Water Facets at 800--243-4420.
Public safety has also influenced the plumbing industry.
Each year thousands of people--especially children, the elderly and the disabled--are scalded by hot tap water. Faucets and shower heads are now being developed for the home with scald-guard devices that allow the temperature to be preset.
A pressure-balance valve, used extensively in hospitals and hotels and now available for the home, keeps the water temperature of a shower or bathtub faucet constant (within 2 degrees) when, for example, a toilet is flushed in an adjoining bathroom. American Standard has introduced a scald-guard shower assembly called "Ceramix Electronix" with a built-in solar-powered digital temperature readout.
Another new development, the quarter-turn ceramic washerless faucet, is a boon to people with arthritis.
The products described here can be purchased by plumbers or do-it-yourselfers at many North County stores specializing in decorative faucets and plumbing fixtures. Large retail outlets, such as Builder's Emporium, Dixieline Lumber, Home Depot and Home Club, vary in the types of items they carry, so it's advised you call ahead to determine availability of a particular item.
Prices for decorative faucets range from $100 to $200 for modestly priced items all the way up to $1000 for the high-end market. But some prices are coming down. "Polished brass faucets with decorative handles cost $200 to $300 a few years ago. Now some local retailers are selling them for around $89," Brinson said.
According to Shafer, depending on the finish, homeowners can buy high-quality faucets for around $150. If they're willing to pay $260, they can get just about anything on the market.
Remodeling contractors and home builders often specify "economy line" plumbing fixtures. Shafer advises the person who is having a home built or having a kitchen or bathroom remodeled to keep that in mind. "Before going to a bank or builder or negotiating a contract, homeowners should shop the market to find what they like to ensure that a sufficient dollar amount be allocated to the plumbing fixtures."