Pro Tool Reviews was introduced to a rather large and complex residential construction project that was just down the road from us. As the supervisor took me around the job site, I was given a tour of this project. The client, who spends half the year in Italy, was restoring this Spanish-style home in Central Florida. They wanted to preserve as much of the history and original building materials as possible. That, combined with lots of international travel, eventually resulted in using Italian plumbing fixtures with USA pipes. To do this successfully, you need to watch out for more than a few potential snags!
How Often Do You Find Yourself Using Italian Plumbing Fixtures?
As with many jobsite stories, this one got interesting, so we interviewed Rob Ripley, a local plumber working for Verplanck Plumbing. He told us about some of the challenges he encountered while working on this home. For starters, what happens when a client wants to use Italian plumbing fixtures that don’t match up with pipes and plumbing connections in the USA?
You improvise, adapt, and overcome.
Pro and Project Background
Rob Ripley started in plumbing 20 years ago as an apprentice for Mr. Verplanck. He’s been with the same company ever since. There was a period of time when, for medical reasons, he had to step up and take the reigns of the company right smack in the middle of the housing boom of 2005-2006.
The company was extremely busy, but Rob was able to jump in and learn to manage all of the stack outs and trim outs they were doing at the time. As the economy dropped off around 2008, remodel and service work became more significant and prominent in the company’s day-to-day operations.
The Italian Job(site)
When this project started, this early 1920’s home had a giant hole on the property. Eventually, an addition the client would locate an addition there. At first, that only required some basic plumbing work. Later, however, the client added a basement bathroom that was below grade. That meant a grinder tank needed to be added to the job.
This house was really old, so Verplanck Plumbing knew they really needed to replace the old galvanized & copper supply lines along with the cast iron waste piping. More bathroom remodels followed and then a kitchen remodel. The project basically grew and grew as it went on, and the client had additional ideas about what he wanted.
How You Can Get Into Trouble Using Italian Plumbing Fixtures
Rob and Verplank were originally brought in to look at the restoration project to move a sewer line. Then they got to see the blueprints that were drawn up. As the plan expanded, so did Rob’s role. The client hadn’t yet selected or specified fixtures. As it turns out, the client was living in Italy at the time. He had already had the idea to use European Kohler toilets and bidets.
While that sounds simple on the surface, it opened up lots of challenges.
Toilets typically have a 10-inch, 12-inch or 14-inch rough-in. Bidets, however, rough-in differently because they use exposed plumbing. Rob roughed-in to the median which would work with Kohler products.
All of this was done at the client’s request in order to keep the job moving forward on schedule, but they could never seem to nail down the specifics of the fixtures.
Here Come the Italian Toilets and Sinks!
Of course, when the Italian plumbing fixtures came rolling in, they were…well, from Italy. They were also completely different! There went all those rough-in standards! At this point, the installers had already laid tile and wood on the floor. All of the sheet rock had also been installed.
The project was full steam ahead.
The only practical alternative included going with American Kohler products. To give an example of why this was necessary, one of his Italian toilets actually required the tank to be installed in the wall cavity. That’s a “slightly” different rough-in!
Of course, much of this took place on the second floor. You can start to understand that compromise was on the menu! They did end up working everything out by going with the client’s fixtures for the most part. They dropped in American Kohler toilets, however, to save on the major issues. In the end, the client was satisfied.
Additional Potential Issues with Matching Italian to USA Fixtures
In addition to the bidets, the faucets also came from Italy. They used attached braided hoses which looked like standard 3/8-inch. After purchasing the shut-off valves, however, they quickly realized the threads didn’t quite match up.
Three days of research later led to a U.S. company in California that manufactures these faucets in the United States. They require an adapter that goes from American Standard threads to metric. With that first hurdle overcome, Verplank realized they also needed a 1-1/4 in. flange tail piece for the drain.
Rob managed to find one in stock from a local company but needed 8 total. Of course, the one he found was surplus overstock, and the store had no idea where it came from or how to get more. Salesmen who’d been selling plumbing fixtures for decades said they didn’t think they made those adapters—even though Rob actually had one!
You can only bill so much time as research, so Verplank ended up going with a PVC female adapter for those. Since they were going to a cabinet-located PVC drain, that wasn’t a huge deal. In the end, it ended up looking pretty good.
Learning for Next Time
This job really validated the importance of knowing the fixtures you want to install prior to the rough-in stage. In this case, Verplank Plumbing followed the client’s lead, but it ended up costing them (the client) a lot of money.
Having a client with a tendency to change things at a moment’s notice definitely helps you learn to work in a way that’s accommodating.
When working on a large plumbing project that might shift focus, ask yourself questions like: “What if the client wants a water softener?” or “What if they swap out the fixture here?” That can help you to do things in a way that gives you space to go back and change things if and when it’s needed.