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Decatur or Hartselle, AL Plumbing: Basic Plumbing Upgrades in Bathrooms and Kitchens

If your home in the Decatur or Hartselle, AL area isn’t custom built, chances are you settled on builder’s grade plumbing fixtures.

Or, let’s say, you just bought a house in Decatur or Hartselle and the previous owner never got around to upgrading the basic plumbing fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen.

No matter the timing, it’s never a bad idea to upgrade basic plumbing fixtures because:

  • Unless you buy the super high-end designer fixtures, the cost of upgrading fixtures is relatively inexpensive, or moderately expensive if you do everything at once.
  • New fixtures “freshen up” the kitchen and bathrooms, even if you’ve never done a complete update or remodel.
  • New fixtures will never sell your home when that time comes, but it’s one of those things that — taken as a whole — can help because prospective buyers are not seeing old, dingy, gold-plated, water-spotted fixtures that they know they’ll end up replacing anyway.

In this post we look at common upgrades for bathrooms, and while we’re at it, kitchens. These upgrades are readily available at home improvement centers, plumbing supply stores, or home design centers. Most of these you can install yourself or, if preferred, you can have a Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor do the work for you at a reasonable expense.

Freshen Up the Bathrooms With Plumbing Upgrades


The standard bathroom faucet in a mid-level spec home is a single handle lavatory faucet in chrome. Functionality and low cost is paramount, not style, which tends to cost more.

The first thing to consider for an upgrade is finish — polished brass, stainless steel, and brushed nickel are a few of the popular finishes available at Decatur and Hartselle-area home improvement centers and specialty plumbing stores.

A Handy Tip: Before doing any shopping, snap a picture of the existing bathroom fixtures for reference at a home improvement center, especially if you plan on replacing the fixtures with something similar and you’re not completely changing the look of the countertops or showers. Pictures are helpful for not only finish (shiny or matte?) but also for installation — the next point.

An upgrade decision will be whether or not (or if it’s even possible) to install mini-widespread (four inch centers) or a widespread (eight inch centers) faucets. These have separate hot and cold handles and a separate spout, with more finishes and styles to choose from.

Regardless of the upgrade you choose, these faucets should be:

  • made of solid brass
  • have PVD (physical vapor deposition) finishes with a lifetime guarantee
  • and an upgraded cartridge usually made of ceramic.

These faucet upgrades, ranging from $60 to $150 and beyond, are installable by do-it-yourself-minded homeowners or you can call a Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor for assistance.

Consider this when deciding whether or not to call a plumber or plumbing contractor to do the installations: When it comes to faucets, it’s not always easy for homeowners to fit underneath a bathroom sink in a cramped cabinet to install a new faucet.

Also consider: If you run into anything unexpected, do you have the plumbing knowledge to troubleshoot and fix? One mistake could lead to flooding, additional cost, and a lot of swear-word frustration.


The standard toilet offering is round, white, and features 1.6 GPF (gallons per flush). Its design is compact, but anyone more than 185 pounds complain because they have a small toilet seat area.

Also, standard toilets are low to the floor, which the elderly find difficult to use, preferring taller commodes. (See the “comfort bowl” below.)

The first upgrade consideration is an elongated bowl, which gives you a few extra inches in front for additional seating comfort. Beware:

  • some bathrooms or “water closets” are small and may not have the space to accommodate the larger bowl
  • and measure the area around the installed toilet before you go shopping at the home improvement center to make sure the bowl will fit.

Another upgrade is installing a “comfort” bowl, which is essentially an ADA-compliant bowl measuring 17 inches from the floor to the rim. It’s easier on the knees sitting down and standing up, for everybody, not just the elderly. They’re like sitting at the tall patio or kitchen tables — much more comfortable and easier on the knees.

Toilets used to come in a myriad of colors, but most manufacturers have reduced color offerings to the most popular:

  • white
  • bisque/linen
  • bone/almond
  • gray

Another toilet upgrade to consider involves the flushing mechanism. Pressure assisted and HET (high efficiency toilet)/dual flush) are two such upgrades.

These upgrades are readily available at area home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores. Most do-it-yourself-minded homeowners can replace toilets themselves, although it can be tricky and some people may prefer using a Decatur or Hartelle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor to do the work.

Why? Toilets come in two pieces — the bowl and the tank — and these are heavy, slippery, and difficult to handle for some people, especially those with lower back or knee health issues. (We’ll get to installing toilets and other fixtures in a future post.)

Shower Fixtures

The shower or tub/shower in a mid level spec home is commonly a single handle pressure balanced valve with a chrome finish. As with the lavatory faucet, function and value are more important than style.

These usually collect lime deposits or soap scum over time and start to look “nasty” long before the mechanisms inside wear out.

The finish is the first upgrade, including polished brass, stainless steel, and brushed nickel. In most installations, the shower faucet finishes matches the lavatory in style and finish. In fact, when shopping you’ll notice manufacturers have many “lines” or “signature designs” of faucets and fixtures with the same design cues — color, finish, materials, lines, rounded edges, and so on.

Another common upgrade is adding a handheld shower handle that attaches to a wall-mounted holder or on a slide bar. The valve could be changed to a thermostatic mixing valve, which protects the user from scalding by sensing the water temperature. If the water gets too hot the valve stem slams shut.

A pressure balance valve, installed in most showers, protects the user by cutting off water depending on pressure.

Other stylish upgrades include body sprays, diverters, and rain dome shower heads, which are typically more expensive but look great and are fun to use. Steam generating units can also be installed to a walk-in shower to enhance the shower experience.

One leading company, Kohler, manufacturers a product called the DVT. It’s one of the most advanced shower systems available as it combines steam, water, sound, light and even the Web in a wall-mounted control unit that operates with a digitally controlled set of valves.

These upgrades are readily available at area improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores. Most do-it-yourself-minded homeowners can replace shower fixtures themselves, although some may prefer using a Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor for installation.

Why? Removing old shower heads and faucets are easy enough, but sometimes that shower head is “frozen” tight to the supply pipe and you don’t want to damage the pipe by forcing the shower head off. Patience is recommended, or calling a plumber if you run into any unexpected issues.


Most entry-level homes sport a standard 5- or 6-foot bathtub that can be a drop-in or fit-in to a tub space with a front apron. They are made in enameled steel, which are lighter and thinner than cast iron options. Enameled steel, very popular in apartment buildings, do not have the same heat retention properties as cast iron.

Tub upgrades include depth, a drop-in soaker tub, or a soaker tub with whirlpool jets.

Tub construction and material are where the real upgrades begin. Steel is by far the cheapest and least durable. Gel coat fiberglass can be made cheaply and in any color but scratches easily, especially with extended use, and shows the undercoat.

Acrylic is a popular option when choosing a fiberglass-backed tub. If budgets are less important, Kohler makes several cast iron models with therapeutic jets, bubble massage jets, and jets that fill the water with bubbles for aesthetics. These tubs even feature LED lighting and remote controls for added pleasure and convenience.

These upgrades are available at area home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores, although in some cases the product may need to be special ordered. Replacing tubs should be done by only the most experienced and confident do-it-yourselfers or left to professional Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumbers, plumbing contractors or general contractors.


Kitchen Sink

Drop-in 20- or 22-gauge stainless steel sinks are building standard. They are naturally stain and corrosion resistant but are thin walled and the finishes are poor.

In a mid-level home or condo, drop-in cast iron sinks are available that have great heat retention properties and deaden sounds naturally. These come in a variety of shapes and colors.

Laminate countertops use drop-in sinks. When homeowners upgrade countertops to granite or a synthetic aggregate, most choose to buy under-mount sinks.

When installing Corian or another acrylic-based solid surface countertop, the sink can be integral, meaning it is fused to the countertop. The sink can be the same color as the counter or contrasting.

Several manufacturers also have begun marketing quartz-based drop-in and under-mount sinks, although they are limited in colors. They are extremely durable and sound deadening. Some builders say quartz drop-ins are an upgrade to cast iron, but they are similar in price and in some cases less money.

Sink upgrades are readily available at area home improvement centers or specialty stores. Because sinks are attached to faucets and countertops, many do-it-yourselfers prefer using Decatur or Harselle, AL plumbers, plumbing contractors, or even experienced handymen for installation.

Kitchen Faucets

The entry level kitchen faucet is a chrome single handle faucet without a side spray, although adding side spray is not an expensive upgrade. Similar to bathroom faucets, kitchen faucets can be upgraded to different finishes.

The first major upgrade is a pull-out spout. Other upgrades include better grade materials and spigot and water handle design, which can get very expensive depending on the style chosen.

Kitchen faucet upgrades are readily available at area home improvement centers or specialty plumbing stores. Most do-it-yourself-minded homeowners can replace the faucets themselves, although working in the tight, confined spaces underneath sinks is not easy and some may prefer using a Decatur or Harselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor for the installation.

Other Upgrades

  • Hot water dispensers. These area great for cooking and hot chocolate in the winter.
  • Larger garbage disposals. These are great for Foodies who love to cook.
  • Whole-house water filter. This is great for the health-conscious who drink a lot of water and wash a bunch of clothes.
  • Water softener. More on these in future posts.
  • Larger traditional water heaters, tankless water heaters
  • Hot water recirculation pump, decreasing the wait time for hot water to reach the furthest points in the home
  • Pressure booster pump
  • Underground sprinkler system
  • Battery backup sump pump for homes with basements
  • Fire protection system, which are actually becoming standard installations required by some states.