Things to Consider in New Construction Plumbing
So it's finally time! You've decided to build, you're both on the same page, and you couldn’t be more excited. You can picture it now. The carpets, the tile, the paint colors, and the plumbing.
What? You haven’t considered the plumbing?
Well, like you, few people give plumbing the time it really needs. Many people think plumbing is just toilets, sinks, faucets, and garbage disposals, but it’s really so much more
So, let’s talk about some new plumbing construction points.
Residential Plumbing Plan
The plumbing in a house needs proper planning.
The same type of planning that goes into your vacation time or the care of an elderly parent. You want this to reflect how important the project and the people involved are to you.
So let's get to the details, because details matter.
How many bathrooms?
Do I want just one Jack and Jill bathroom or none at all?
Do I want the laundry upstairs or down?
Do I want two vanities in the master bath or just one?
Tub, shower, or both?
Disposal or not?
Dishwasher or grumpy teenager doing dishes? (My wife and I opted for the grumpy teenager when we were younger.)
Do I want oil rubbed bronze finishes or brushed nickel (keep in mind some manufacturers have two types of brushed nickel)?
As you can see, these are all vital parts of the plumbing system of a house.
The primary answer to the planning point is that it's YOUR house.
It’s up you how flow (how the home is laid out) will work or not work for that matter. When plumbing a home, you want it how you want it.
So, before you decide what fixtures you want, decide where they will be and how the plumbing in a house will lay out.
Do keep this in mind as a side note—if you want specialty faucets or anything odd, you will need to include those items in your planning phase because they will affect the overall rough-in as they attach differently.
The planning step is the step before you talk with your architect or contractor.
New Home Construction Plumbing Plans
This is post-architect or post-contractor
This stage is paramount to the success of your project. Don’t let your architect or contractor push you into something you don’t want.
Look over the plans carefully. Is everything where it should be? Do you see any potential problems with layout now that it's right in front of you?
Try Very Hard Not to Overbuild
Overbuilding is when we dive out of the simple and into the complex. It's when we turn a simple run of pipe into more runs than it needs to be, in essence creating more opportunities for leaks.
This is just an example. Overbuilding can happen at every level of the build, and we just want to make sure we make it ours and simple.
It's your house. Take ownership, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Sometimes the most difficult contractor to talk to can be ourselves.
Sure, you could plumb a sink in the middle of a yard, but is it advisable?
Most of all, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Install plumbing on a house is no small feat.
Foundation Plumbing System
This is where the digging starts, and septic or city sewer and water or well connections are made.
Don’t forget the permits must be pulled and the proper inspections made.
You don’t want a drain field to fail (for example) because you didn’t get the right inspections that could have pointed out a potential problem
Installation of plumbing, no matter what the stage, is a health and safety issue for those living in the home. Make sure it's right and get it on paper.
Installation of Plumbing
This is the stage when actual pipe goes in the walls and makes its way to its final destination, whether that be a sink, a toilet, a laundry box, or just out the roof.
There are many rules to this game called plumbing, but that doesn’t mean the game is complicated.
Is the laundry box p-trap too close to the plate?
Is the pitch on the drain for the bathroom lavatory (sink) right?
Is the toilet flange the correct distance from the wall taking into account sheetrock or tile?
Is a wall-mounted faucet a better plan than a surface mount faucet?
Do we want an undermount or drop-in sink?
Maybe these questions scare you.
At this point, if you are unaware of the terms I have used, don’t sweat it. It’s a learning process, right? So don’t be afraid to learn.
Installing plumbing is a technique, but it's not rocket science. Much of it is just common sense.
For example, a flat pipe won't drain, and too much pitch will cause things to get stuck. That’s why the rule is ¼ inch per foot slant on the pipe. That is optimum for flow and self-cleaning of the pipe.
Every phase has its inspections, and this phase is no different. Make sure they get done and passed, or you may find yourself ripping out sheetrock because you got a little ahead of yourself.
This is also a great phase for you to decide if things on the original plan are really going to work.
If you want to move a sink or bump a toilet over, completely rework a bathroom, add a bar sink, or even add a hot and cold hose bib to wash the dogs, your kids, or grandkids, the rough-in phase is the time to do it.
Final Plumbing of a House
Everything is set, and you can see the light at the end.
You run through the mental punch list of things that you set yourself and mentally check the boxes on items.
Did I caulk the toilets?
Did I caulk the tub spouts?
Did I look under all the sinks for leaks again?
Have I tested all the toilets for leaks at the tank and the floor?
Did I check the showers and tubs for proper draining?
Have I put water down any floor drains, so I don’t get sewer smell back in those rooms?
And, of course, did I schedule the inspection?
A Word about Inspectors
Have no fear about inspectors. They're people just like you and me.
They have kids’ games to get to and friends' barbecues to hang out at.
They meet their spouses for dinner, and they fish on the weekends.
My point is, they have lives.
It is not their sole purpose in life to fail your inspection, nor do they go home and tell their spouse what a crappy plumber you are.
It is, however, their goal to make sure you are compliant with rules, regulations, and codes that dictate safety and health in your home and others' homes.
Some will always be more zealous than others hitting you up on every little thing, and yet some will be entirely more laid back when they shouldn’t be allowing things to pass that never should.
They are there to check code and only code.
Inspections are simply to keep people honest and help everybody work toward a consistent set of rules that apply to everybody.
Inspections are also usually quick and painless, and many inspectors will have your result online within the hour.
A Note on Not Being Cheap
This probably should have been point number one, but in truth, you may not have read it. Now that we are at the end, you may be more open to the idea.
Look, I used to work on multi-million dollar homes for years, and it always surprised me what people would spend their money on.
Believe it or not, the problem goes both ways.
Story time—quite a few years ago, I was doing a plumbing installation in a house in a resort community. A small three bed two bath home.
Here was the problem. The owner had it in his head that he needed these special German toilets and faucets. I was an apprentice at the time, but I was at the point in my apprenticeship where I could run jobs myself under the supervision of a licensed journeyman plumber.
I spoke with the owner, trying to convince him, based on my experience with these fixtures, that it was a bad plan.
At the time, it was hard to get parts for a lot of German engineered faucets and valves if they broke. This would also cause an issue in the future when he wanted to sell the house (which most in that area of the country did within two years), and people would have to either get special toilets or pay to tear the bathrooms apart again to set up for a normal bathroom layout with normal bath fixtures.
I went on to another plumbing shop before I finished the job for that owner.
One year later, I received a phone call from my old dispatcher. She was asking about a job that a customer said their shop had messed up, and he wanted the plumbing shop to fix it for free.
After discussing it with her on the phone, it turned out to be the very job I had advised against special fixtures. It had been a year, so I needed some more details before it hit me which job she was talking about.
When I talked to my old dispatcher further, she stated that the owner claimed I had placed the toilets incorrectly and the sinks were plumbed wrong.
What really happened?
It was 2008, and he had run out of funding and was lying to get himself out of trouble. The house was still in just the rough-in stage—a year later, and it wasn’t even done.
Needless to say, the plumbing shop I used to work for did not make a free fix.
What does this have to do with being cheap?
Let me be clear. I am not calling anyone a liar (except the old owner in the story). I am simply saying that quality and functionality matter.
Don’t you deserve something built well?
Cheap faucets and cheap shower valves are exactly that, cheap faucets and shower valves.
It has been my experience that they have more plastic parts that are less durable than their slightly more expensive counterparts and will be the first to get changed in the first two years of living in the house.
Buy quality fixtures and materials so the house holds up to you and to whoever comes after you.
The $20 you saved won’t fix the shower when your teenage football player son breaks the shower valve handle off. Nor will it cover a plumber coming over to retighten the faucet to the sink because the off and on of the handle continues to loosen the mounting in your daughter’s bathroom.
It’s just not worth the headache further down the line, because your time has no price.
The plumbing of a house is just another system among many designed to support your comfort, health, and safety.
It carries the nasty things we don’t like to talk about away.
And it brings clean, hot, and cold water inside.
Imagine what the outhouse must have been like back in the day, in the winter.
Just you and a cold, heartless hole with a not-so-nice backdraft in the right weather.
The smell, the heat, the cold, the stagnate air. Not to mention moving it every so often.
I bet men spent a lot less time in the bathroom then.
Don’t let plumbing scare you, but also don’t let a YouTube video you just watched turn you into plumbing superman either.
Lastly, remember, if you’re tackling this project yourself, there's no harm in asking a professional for a consult.
Consults can be cheap or even free. Many times, when you call a plumbing shop, they are very happy to answer your questions right there on the phone. I have often told my customers this very thing.
It’s just pipe.