BY BOB MIODONSKI
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
While high style and flashy designs may dominate this month's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago, exhibitors at the International Builders' Show in January in Orlando, Fla., generally talked a different game. They used words such as functionality, performance and installation to describe new plumbing-and-heating products that ranged from touch-free residential faucets to high-efficiency toilets to multipurpose valves to radiant floors. "We walked the entire floor and saw several plumbing products that we were excited about," says Brad Smith, chief operating officer of Kimbel Plumbing in Springdale, Ark.
He adds that Zurn PEX piping systems are at the top of his list of products that he plans to incorporate into his business. He mentions that products from Jacuzzi and Delta Faucet also caught his eye.
Valves and faucets
Smith participated with other contractors and builders in a panel discussion at Delta's press breakfast that focused on the virtues of its new MultiChoice Universal Valve, which enables contractors to make function and style trim changes without having to change the valve in the wall. The valve offers three options: single-function pressure balance, dual-function pressure balance and a new dual-function thermostatic valve cartridge. The valve is the result of Delta working in the field for five years with plumbers, says Paul Patton, senior product manager for tub/shower systems.
"One valve goes in the wall and that takes out error," he notes. "With it, you can change functionality, not just finish."
Delta Faucet Co. also introduced the Pascal hands-free kitchen faucet from its Brizo brand. Even though the faucet was used in the show's NextGen house, the house's sponsors advised the company not to put in too much technology for the next generation of homeowners, says Charlie McTargett, senior director of research and development. A user can turn the faucet on or off with an electronic sensor, or by tapping on it. Pascal's electronic technology can discriminate between momentary touches and grabs through timing. It has built-in timeouts that automatically turn off water.
"It's very practical with the tap feature," McTargett notes. "You get water savings with hands-free too."
Danze brought its version of a hands-free kitchen faucet to the show with its Parma model. This European-inspired faucet operates with either a conventional single control valve or a hands-free sensor. Owners can select a desired water temperature for hands-free delivery.
"Everything comes in a kit to install it," Marketing Director Ed Detgen says. "We're trying to solve maintenance and installation problems so the product comes with installation tools and fittings. Everything's in the box."
Demonstrating that hands-free doesn't belong in the kitchen exclusively, Kohler unveiled its Tripoint electronic low-profile lavatory faucet. Tripoint's sensors rely on distance as the primary trigger, thus reducing false activation. The technology, which also is available in a goose-neck kitchen model, determines the distance between the sensor and object with a precision similar to an auto-focus camera, says Todd Weber, manager/ kitchen and bath public relations.
Other technology of note includes Moen's new filtration faucet. The Chateau faucet with ChoiceFlo filtration provides both filtered and nonfiltered supply options. During installation, a contractor can mount a separate handle next to the faucet deck plate. When the user wishes to switch from tap to filtered water, he can turn the filtration handle.
A separate water line delivers filtered water through a hidden spout on the faucet neck. The under-the-sink carbon filter is more thorough at eliminating contaminants than filters found in standard filtering pitch-ers, faucet-mounted filters and refrigerators with built-in filtration systems, says Tim McDonough, director of new growth markets.
Moving outside the kitchen and bath, and the house entirely, Moen introduced its first line of outdoor sill faucets. The pull-out, quarter-turn, hot-and-cold water faucet is adapted from Moen's shower valve and is a contractor-inspired concept, says Ginny Long, director of public affairs.
Woodford exhibited its line of out-door faucets at the show too. The new Model 19 features a pressure-reducing valve that automatically reduces the water pressure created when a homeowner unintentionally leaves a garden hose attached during freezing condition before it ruptures the pipe.
Performance was the name of the game among toilet manufacturers at the show. Kohler showed a pressure-assisted model that flushes with just 1.1 gal. of water. "It saves a half-gallon with every flush," Todd Weber says.
That translates to water savings of more than 30% over 1.6 GPF models or 5,000 gal. of water per toilet per year, Weber says. The Highline Pressure Lite qualifies for many water rebate programs and contributes to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design credits, he notes.
Meanwhile, Kohler's Sterling brand extended its line of dual-flushing toilets with the introduction of its two-piece Karsten models. Available in either elongated or round-bowl configuration, the gravity-fed toilets can save a family of four up to 6,000 gal. of water a year over low-flow, 1.6-GPF models, Weber says. The toilets give the user the choice of flushing 1.6 GPF or 0.8 GPF. Gerber introduced four new toilets at the show, including the Viper and the Avalanche. Both models can accommodate diverse remodeling or new construction applications and can be installed in 10-, 12- and 14-in. rough-in configurations.
The Viper's HP2 flushing platform can clear more than 600 grams of bulk waste, according to tests cited by the company. The toilet's large tank-to-bowl opening allows the flush to start and work more quickly; its dual-fed jet is larger than a traditional jet opening, which encourages efficient siphoning and bowl-clearing action; and the fully glazed 2-in. trapway completes the evacuation process, Marketing Director Kevin McJoynt says.
The Avalanche's XP3 flushing platform consistently clears more than 1,000 grams of bulk waste, he notes. It features a 3-in. flush valve that starts the flushing process to clear the bowl more effectively than a traditional valve; a dual-fed jet that is larger than traditional models for more efficient bowl evacuation; strategically placed rim holes that rinse the bowl while assisting in evacuating the waste; a glazed 2-in. trapway to remove waste; and a large water surface area that reduces staining, McJoynt says.
Turkish manufacturer VitrA unveiled its V 3 Technology in its Corina, Mona, Serenada and Riva toilets. The three V's stand for vortex, velocity and vacuum that produce a flush that is comparable with the performance of pressure-assist systems and is quiet, says Product Manager Tipi Ergun.
The V 3 's 3-in. flush valve increases the vortex of the flush and maximizes the flow rate of water, she says. The larger flush valve allows water to enter the bowl's 2 1 /8-in. trap way more quickly and increases the peak dis-charge flow rate. The Corina toilet performs solid discharge in a maximum of three seconds, she says. The toilet's vacuum created by the siphon jet action produces an efficient flush performance.
Bathroom as spa
Saying that it wanted to bring its heritage of the luxurious Turkish bath to contemporary U.S. residential bathrooms, VitrA exhibited both traditional and contemporary suites. These include plumbing products, furniture and tile.
Other manufacturers that echo the theme of the bathroom as spa include Mr. Steam, which is a new name for products that had been marketed under the Sussman Lifestyle brand. The company introduced a number of new products at the show, including steam baths, saunas, robe warmers, and towel warmers, both electric and hydronic.
"We want to get people to think not just about a traditional shower but of a spa experience with a steam bath and sauna," Vice President Martha Orellana says.
Jacuzzi had a similar object in mind when it displayed a number of products, which included new salon bathtubs, a whirlpool bath with a TV, its own electric radiant floor heating system and a hydronic floor-heating system that features PEX tubing from sister company Zurn.
"We want to make the master suite luxurious, like a spa experience," says Marketing Director Melissa Gosling. "We're creating pleasure in the bathroom."
To make service easier for contractors, Jacuzzi has four models of air-bath products with front access panels with clips on the bottom and Velcro on the top.
Other manufacturers exhibited floor-heating and tubing products that could help to turn a contractor's customer's bathroom into a spa-like experience — or could be used in other parts of the house as well. Danfoss, for example, introduced a thermostatically controlled LX electric radiant floor system that carries a 10-year warranty.
Viega displayed a number of different products, which included the Snap Panel system for installing tubing for hydronic radiant floors. The 3-ft.by-5-ft. grid panel sections are light-weight, cost effective and save on labor, says Jack Eisenhut, Southeast regional manager.
Viega introduced new sizes of its PureFlow plumbing line. Contractors now can make solderless connections for 1 1 /4 and 1 1 /2 PEX pipe.
"With PureFlow and ProPress for PEX and copper, we can remove solder from the home," Eisenhut says. "There's no need to bring flame into the home."
Zurn unveiled its new QickClamp tool that can be used for different sizes of fittings.
"It can be used for hot and cold water tubing as well as radiant," says Patrick Sauer, vice president/sales and marketing for PEX plumbing and radiant heating systems.
REHAU displayed its radiant floor systems, PEX plumbing products and residential fire-protection systems.
"More fire-protection jurisdictions are enacting laws that make residential fire sprinklers mandatory," says Bill Johansen, business unit manager/plumbing and heating. "We offer cost-effective solutions with plumbing and fire protection together."