Bathroom Remodeling

part of materialism by Philip Greenspun

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Fans and Shower Heads

Dan the contractor finally made it over to my house. I flipped on the bathroom light and the Broan fan started up. At first it sounded like an F14 taking off but then the sound deepened so that it was like standing next to an idling General Electric 25-ton 7000 KW locomotive. I shouted over the rumbling, "IS THIS NORMAL?" I repeated my question a few times until Dan could hear me. "YOU'VE GOT YOURSELF A LOUD ONE THERE." "THE PREVIOUS OWNER SAID IT SOUNDED LIKE THIS WHEN HE BOUGHT IT. I WANT YOU TO FIND ME A REALLY EXPENSIVE SWISS BATHROOM FAN WITH SEALED BEARINGS."

I turned on the water in the bathtub. A satisfying flood of water emerged from the spout. We diverted it to the showerhead and a meagre trickle struggled past the pins. "Is this one of those water-saving showerheads?" I asked Dan. "No, probably it is just clogged. Mineral deposits accumulate after awhile, especially in a cheap head like this. You can't take it apart to clean. You just have to get a new one."

So I stopped into a fancy looking bathroom showroom. "You've got to have a Hansgrohe. That's the best showerhead we sell. Their massage heads have pins inside that clean out the mineral deposits every time you turn the ring." I dared to ask the price. "Oh, the standard Clubmaster head is only about $100. We sell a lot of those. If you want a real shower, though, you can spend $500 on an Aktiva." She turned a knob and about 80 fat streams of water emerged from a showerhead the size of a small pizza. "Maybe 8 gallons a minute. It comes with a special arm to hold it to the wall." I pointed to the dog. "I've got to wash him also. Do you have something like a Shower Massage with a hose?" Yes, Hansgrohe made the world's best handshowers as well. And, best of all, one could get super long hoses, up to 80 inches!

I ordered up a big pile of Hansgrohe stuff and let Greg Walsh, (617) 923-8932, a plumber whom my hardcore friend Richard says "could have gone to MIT", install them. The stuff looks and feels great. I have no hesitation saying that it is the best 2.5 GPM shower that I've ever had. And I love the massage setting, which I'd never used on any other shower head.

Practical Tips: After a painful search, I concluded that the quietest fan on the market is the Broan Solitaire Ultra Silent. The motor has all kinds of rubber seals to make it inherently quiet, plus the whole affair is wrapped in insulation. You can get them as a fan/light combo. If you want to leave them on all the time to vent your house, there is a super energy efficient model that consumes about one third the power. It would seem that, left to their own devices, contractors would rather spend $10 on a fan than $100. Thus, the Ultra Silent models can be tough to find. But they are worth it. I cannot tell when the 50 CFM fan is on. The 130 CFM model (in my larger bathroom) makes a smooth rushing noise but it is not objectionable. Bobby Donlon (one of the best electricians in Boston; (617) 964-3531) did a beautiful job installing them for $50 each (one hole needed to be widened; the other needed to be completely relocated). It is apparently a good idea to pull the cover off a bathroom fan every few months and vacuum out the dust.

Text and pictures copyright 1996 Philip Greenspun

Reader's Comments

What's the average cost of an additional bathroom in a house? I leave in the DC-MD-VA area if regions are a factor.

-- Tamika Terrell Smith, January 22, 1999
Whewhooo! What's with the hot naked babe in the shower? I do not think that I am going to be able to visit this site at my office anymore!

-- chris harvan, April 21, 1999
Being almost the first page I pulled up after logging in, I can tell you I was also quite surprised at the pictures on the page. Although I don't mind, and I should have expected them, knowing you're a photographer, I was surprised. Very informative though about bathrooms. I've always wondered why the fans in bathrooms are so loud though and find it interesting that you can actually find a fan that is quiet.

-- Eric Davis, May 15, 1999
OH MY GOODNESS!! As I was researching on wealth....I thought I would look really intelligent looking under Bill Gates III, getting curious of the many wonders that Gates might possess I began to look under "bathroom" expecting it to contain similar qualities as "bedroom"...being a 19 year-old, female, student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I was in the lab, just as I began to scroll through the "bathroom" walks an older, female, lab assistant not to mention onlooking viewers in the background. I don't believe I've ever been so humiliated!!! So now instead of looking intelligent I ended up looking like a "lesbian pervert." My conclusion, "Well at least I now know what Gates possess in his bathrooms." --Claudia Salinas, June 27,1999

-- Claudia Salinas, June 27, 1999
A couple of years later and it happened to me. This is not cool in my Finnish workplace. Could you make these shots "peek-a-boo" or position them so we can read without viewing? I'd like to have read on, but can't as it is...

-- Kim Vogel, August 15, 2001
Part of the job of a bathroom fan is to generate noise to mask the other noises generated inside a bathroom. A moderately noisy fan gives the person in the bathroom some privacy and gives others in the vicinity a less objectionable soundtrack. Obviously the ideal fan is quieter than an F14 taking off but that doesn't mean the quietest fan on the market is the best fan (unless your house is already well-soundproofed or you like to listen to your guests pee or something).

When I added a bathroom in my old house a few years ago I couldn't understand why there were so many high-priced fans marketed for how quiet they were. I thought, "sure, a few customers who never thought it all through may want a silent fan, but shouldn't the people who make and sell bathroom fans for a living have figured it out by now?"

Now I see: A perfectly good bathroom fan goes for $25, but there are rich people who'd pay 10 times as much for a "top of the line" fan. The top of the line fan doesn't have to actually *be* better, it just has to *seem* better, hopefully in a way that denotes style and/or quality. There aren't too many ways to jazz up a bathroom fan so they had to seize on quietness -- it's stylish, indicates quality construction, and it's plausible! (Moderately quiet is better than loud, so super-quiet must be best of all, right? Right.) "Enjoy your purchase! By the way, if you ever decide you want some masking noise we'll sell you a white noise generator for $400 that comes on when you turn on the light..." (no, I haven't actually seen such a thing yet).

-- Bill Hees, January 17, 2003

Look at the pics its Phil showering haha. Fooling around with you Phil.

-- Paul Batalla, January 9, 2004
Panasonic makes the best and quietest bathroom fans. They're overbuilt and designed to handle bathroom moisture without rusting or corroding. They are engineered for 100,000 hours of continuous use, are EnergyStar rated, and have a defect rate of less than 0.0006%! I recently purchased and installed one for each of our four bathrooms (90 - 140 CFM's). Home Depot's NuTone fans are miserable by comparison. The Panasonics only cost a few buck more and are well worth it. Oh, and by the way, the noise a fan makes only masks sounds for the person inside the bathroom. People outside will still hear your "personal" noises. If you want others to not hear your bathroom business, turn up the home stereo outside the bathroom.

I agree with your Hansgrohe assessment. I also remodeled a walk-in shower with an elaborate Hansgrohe setup. The best of the best!

-- B Santa, June 11, 2004

I bought a Hansgroh yuppie shower fixture with hand-held showerhead when I built a new bathroom eight years ago, and I thought it was pretty good. Then, a few months ago, I picked up a $3 solid brass mini showerhead at Home Depot as an emergency replacement for my girlfriend's house. I liked it so much, I added a two-way valve and one of these $3 heads to my shower.

-- Michael Edelman, May 2, 2007
I don't know if there's any relationship between Grohe and Hansgrohe, but I got a Hansgrohe shower head a year or too back and it's a joy... massage settings... the whole kaboodle.

I also share the general surprise at the pics that cropped up, but I wholeheartedly approve!

-- Jon McAllister, July 9, 2009

From my personal experience I can also recommend Hansgrohe as the one of the best companies for buying shower fixtures for quick and efficient remodeling

-- Plumbing Directory, September 16, 2009
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