Re-engineering success is measured by shower power

SATURDAY'S HERO

November 05, 1994|By ROB KASPER

These days everybody and his brother is "re-engineering" something, so I tried to "re-engineer" an old bathtub. While there are many slippery definitions of re-engineering, to me it means "change it or lose it."

I wanted to change an old claw-foot bathtub into a shower. The goal of the project was to make us a two-shower household.

The underlying purpose was to kick the kids out of the shower that my wife and I use and to reposition them and their soggy towels in the upstairs bathtub with its recently added shower.

nTC The project has been a semi-success. There are now two showers in our house. But one of the kids has refused to relocate. The re-engineered shower, he says, is wimpy. The stream of water that runs from its shower head is not as powerful as the one that flows from the old shower. He is right.

Going into the project, I knew that the way to equalize the water pressure in all bathrooms would be to re-engineer the water pipes in our old, four-story rowhouse. In old houses, the higher the floor, the lower the water pressure. Over the years, water pipes, like the arteries of junk-food eaters, get clogged. Replacing the water pipes would mean knocking major holes in our house and in our bank account. The scope of that plumbing project scared me, so instead I settled for re-engineering the hot- and cold-water faucets in the old tub.

I went to a plumbing supply store and checked out the converter kit, an apparatus that replaces the tub's old taps with new taps, and includes a pipe connecting the taps to a shower head, and a metal frame for the curtain that rings the tub. Basically, there seem to be two types of shower-converter kits. One style is what the Queen of England would use to re-engineer the royal tub. The fixtures are stunningly beautiful, historically tasteful and royally expensive.

The other style of converter kit has fixtures that look like something you would see in a bathhouse at a public park. They are functional, tacky looking and cheap, or at least cheaper than Her Majesty's line. While the queen's style of plumbing appealed to my aesthetic sense, the price tag of the bathhouse stuff appealed to my common sense. This was, after all, a shower for two boys, 13 and 9 years old. Taste didn't matter.

Coleman, the plumber I got to install the kit, was not impressed with the quality of the fixtures. He told me that a few years ago when re-engineering old tubs was not as popular as it is now, these same low-quality kits were selling for about half the $150 I paid for mine.

Coleman did the job quickly. That happens when you know what you are doing. To make sure the shower-curtain rack was securely anchored, he and his helper attached it to a piece of lumber, which he had drilled into the plaster bathroom wall. Shower curtains in kids' bathrooms, he explained, are not gently pushed aside, they are yanked.

I was so anxious to get the kids out of my bathroom and into their re-engineered one that I went shopping. I drove to a department store, found the shower-curtain department, and bought two curtains. They had black and white stripes, kind of like a prisoner's uniform. Very masculine, I thought. I knew you needed two curtains and two liners, one for each side of the tub. So I bought the massive curtains and a bathmat, and even two sets of shower curtain rings that were also in prison black.

I got all this home, and eventually got it all put together. Then I announced that the new shower was open for business. The 9-year-old loved it. He immediately began claiming certain days as the days he, not his big brother, got first crack at the shower.

The 13-year old, however, was not impressed. He took one shower in the new setup and told his little brother that he could have it. The pressure was puny, the stream of water was too narrow.

I would like to argue with the kid, but I couldn't. I, too, am a fan of the powerful shower. I want my shower to feel like a blast from a fire hose, not a gentle rain.

So lately I have been fooling with a new shower head I bought, one that claims it can increase the shower power by shooting water through a series of metal diaphragms in the shower head. If the power isn't up to your standards, you remove the smallest diaphragm and try again. So far I have pulled out two diaphragms and am thinking about yanking a third.

So while I re-engineer the shower head, the kid who inherited my fire-hose gene is sharing my shower.

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