Once in a while our technicians encounter a toilet that was installed prior to 1991, when the national Plumbing Products Efficiency Act required all new toilets to use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). Prior to that the standard was 3.5 gpf, and with today’s water rates in drought-parched California, that sends a lot of money along with precious water down the drain. So even if an old 3.5-gpf toilet is still functioning, it makes economic sense to replace it.
Wasted water aside, there’s something remarkable about encountering those old inefficient toilets. Here it is a quarter-century later and many of those products are still operating as intended. You can also find water heaters still functioning decades after installation, along with faucets, showerheads, pumps and other plumbing devices. Take a moment to appreciate the value you receive considering the initial cost of those products and their accompanying labor compared with their longevity.
People sometimes get sticker shock when they get quoted a price to replace a water heater, toilet or other plumbing product. Sometimes it’s because they dimly remember what they paid the last time they had a similar product installed, which often goes back a decade or more. A job that cost a few hundred dollars back then may have gone up to four figures by now. Most things cost a lot more than years ago.
But instead of thinking about price, think in terms of value. Divide the cost of a plumbing installation by the comfort and convenience it provides, along with the years of service you can expect from that installation. Think of how remarkable it is that many adults return on family visits to childhood homes and bathe in the same tubs they enjoyed as children and wash their hands in the same sinks and lavatories.
Then go shopping for home furnishings. See what it costs to buy carpeting, easy chairs and sofas. Anything worthwhile is likely to cost thousands of dollars. Yet these are uncomplicated products with almost no moving parts. Plus, home furnishings do not entail life-threatening hazards that make professional installation advisable. You can just plop them down in whatever arrangement pleases you. Moreover, they wear out faster than most water heaters and toilets. Furniture does make life more comfortable, but if people were forced to choose, most would sooner make do with box crates than live without indoor toilets and hot water from the tap.
In terms of complexity and the convenience provided, plumbing installations should cost way more than products made merely to sit on or walk all over. Yet in most cases you can get a water heater or toilet replaced for less than it costs to carpet a room or purchase a fancy easy chair.
The perception of value gets skewed because plumbing replacements often occur as an unbudgeted emergency, which stings more than a planned purchase of new carpeting or furniture. It may help to take some of the sting away when you relate the cost of a plumbing installation to the number of years of service it is likely to provide. Also factor in the improved performance of today’s plumbing products compared to what they replace.
The more you think about it, they more you have to conclude that your plumbing delivers more value than just about anything else in your home.