Good Plumbing is Not Just a Pipe Dream
Domestic Home Plumbing System Basics
A house has several plumbing systems. Water supply piping brings water to the house and distributes it to fixtures and appliances, including outdoor sprinklers and irrigation. Drain and waste piping disposes of used water and waste. Vent piping exhausts sewer gasses and provides proper pressure for the drainpipes. Gas piping delivers gas to gas-fired appliances. And some homes even have pipe systems that serve specialty needs: swimming pool plumbing and built-in vacuum piping, for example.
Plumbers install, maintain and repair hot and cold water supplies, plus sanitation and waste disposal systems in domestic, industrial and commercial premises. They also work with oil, gas and solid fuel appliances, and central heating systems.
Completed work must be tested to ensure it complies with relevant Building Regulations. The plumber must be licensed: it is your right to ask to see the plumber’s valid license. Check the date.
As with any contractor, get the proposal for work in writing, including when the work is to be finished. Check references and the Better Business Bureau. If you are new to town or to the need for a plumber, don’t stop at the Yellow Pages for contact information; try professional plumber associations’ websites for referrals to qualified service people in your area. You are responsible for all the workers on your property. Make sure the contractor has insurance.
When moving a plumbing fixture to a new location or installing a new one, you need to get a plumbing permit. Just like electrical, plumbing is a complicated process, requiring proper ventilation and sealed joints. If plumbing is just part of the work being done on your home, make sure your contractor has a proper permit, and sub-contracts a licensed plumber to do the work.
Plumbing is something we use every day and which most of us know little about. As long as everything is running smoothly, we don’t much care about our plumbing or bother to contact a plumber for periodic health checks. But once it acts up we’re very frustrated and usually a bit lost. But with the right plumber and plumbing supplies we can take back control.
Maybe you don’t have any ‘plumbing problems’ but are looking to upgrade the look of your bathroom with new plumbing fixtures. You may want to change that old 1970s style faucet to some bold new plumbing fixtures such as faucets, claw foot bathtubs or sinks that will update your home’s look. Licensed plumbers do both, but some specialize in repairs, others concentrate their business on new installations.
Leaks and Running Water
When you suspect a leaky pipe, have turned off all the water inside and outside your home but still hear the water running, check your water meter. If it is flooding, water is leaking from somewhere.
Call the plumber before you do anything else.
While you’re waiting, look for the leak wherever pipes are accessible to view (i.e. under sinks, toilets etc.). If you can’t see a leak, look at your floors, walls, and ceilings for any water damage. Stains are a sign that water is leaking down between plaster, drywall, or floorboards. Also check out the garage, basement, or crawlspace, because there may be pipes running through them.
If you think a concealed pipe is leaking, turn off the main water supply to the house. Get a professional in as soon as you can to prevent serious problems. Leaks that are hidden in the ceiling, floors, or walls can cause mold and structural damage.
If it is an exposed pipe that’s leaking try to patch it up while waiting for the professionals.
Tip: If you’re working on pipes with hot water, let them cool down first. They can burn you.
If you grew up in an older home you may not realize that plumbing piping can be quite noisy: both drain lines and water supply lines. Plumbing system noise flies so low that it easily sneaks under the radar screen during the planning and design phase of a new home. The first time noise is detected, often immediately after moving in, it is too late to initiate an easy fix. If you want quiet plumbing you need to solve the problem as the pipes are being installed.
One reason why older homes seem to have quieter plumbing is simply the way in which the homes were built. Thick plaster walls are much denser than a one-half inch thick layer of drywall. You don’t have to switch from drywall to plaster to have whisper-quiet water and drain lines. The solution is to look at different material selections.
Builders and plumbers often use common plastic drain lines inside new homes these days. It should only be used for 50 percent of the plumbing drain line system that is exposed above the concrete basement or slab floor.
There are two halves to a residential plumbing drainage system. One half of the drain piping carries water to the sewage system and the other half supplies air from the roof into the actual drain lines. Each time you flush a toilet or run water in a sink, the water that flows down the pipes pushes air in front of it.
This air needs to be replaced or otherwise dangerous vacuums can be created within the piping system. Gurgling water within fixtures is a telltale sign that vacuums are present. These temporary vacuums can suck water from nearby fixture traps as they try to find the needed replacement air. Dry fixture traps allow sewer gas and possibly vermin to enter your home.
If your plumber uses new easy-to-work-with cast iron piping for the one-half of the system that only carries water, you will rarely hear any water flowing across ceilings or cascading down walls. Cast iron piping is denser than plastic and the water that crashes and tumbles down the piping on its way to the sewer has a tough time vibrating dense cast iron. Keep in mind that sound or noise is produced when something vibrates.
Water supply piping can also be very noisy. High localized water pressures combined with thin and undersized piping materials are often the cause of whistling and rushing water as faucets and fixtures are used. Faucets themselves can be noisy and they are much harder, if not impossible, to fix. But the water supply piping in your new home is an element that your plumber and builder can control.
Many typical residential homes use copper water supply lines. Upgrade the size of both diameter and thickness to insure that you or someone else can continue to sleep while others in the house get up and get ready for the day ahead.
Each faucet or valve in your home has a given flow rate when it is fully open. Large diameter pipes can deliver the necessary water to satisfy the flow rate but they do so with lower velocity. Slower moving water within water lines means less turbulence. The turbulence of the water as it rushes through a pipe is what causes the vibrations that lead to sound and noise.
Manifold Plumbing System with PEX Piping:
An Alternative to Copper or Common Plastic Pipes for Water Supply Lines.
Copper pipe has to be run around obstacles, so more connections and intersections are required. With copper, sweating and connecting the joints takes time. After construction, the pipe connections are inaccessible within the walls. Since many of the joints are hidden behind finished walls, if there’s a leak, the homeowner may not realize it until substantial damage has been done to the home. Repairs from such a leak can be costly and difficult. As explained elsewhere in this paper, common plastic pipes can be noisy.
A new method for water distribution in residential homes is gaining popularity among homebuilders. A manifold plumbing system is a control center that feeds flexible hot and cold water supply lines to individual fixtures. Flexible polyethylene piping is used because it’s resistant to extreme temperatures and is therefore suitable for hot water use. This piping is also resistant to chemicals that can corrode copper pipes and will also retain its shape and strength over time.
A good alternative to traditional copper pipe the manifold plumbing system uses PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) piping. Manifold plumbing systems are similar in concept to a home’s electrical circuit breaker system. Separate manifolds serve hot and cold water lines. The cold water manifold is fed from the main water supply line, and the hot water manifold is fed from the hot water heater.
Water pressure in the manifolds is maintained by the incoming service line, and a dedicated water supply line feeds each fixture from a port in the manifold. Because each fixture has its own supply line, the size of the PEX pipe can be adjusted for a fixture’s specific use.
Flexible PEX piping is quieter than other types of piping. It expands and contracts less and is less likely to cause a tapping sound in the water pipes.
Some Choices and Terms for Plumbing Fixtures
- A lavatory sink is a bathroom sink that sits within a cabinet fixture.
- A pedestal sink is a freestanding sink without a cabinet base.
- A utility sink is a large, deep sink typically found in laundry or utility rooms.
- A shower/bath is a tub or small enclosure used for bathing. It can either be freestanding or built-in.
- A whirlpool is a popular option for tubs. Built-in jets force water around tub. Great for relaxing.
- A steam shower is a nice luxury feature similar to a shower, except jets emit steam instead of water.
- Bidets are becoming more common in North America. They are used for cleaning your body’s private areas between baths.
Here are some choices to think about:
- Freeze protection is a mechanical feature on exterior garden faucets. Instead of the shut-off valve being on the outside of the house, it’s set several inches inside the house. This protects the pipes from freezing. You can also add Styrofoam faucet covers, which will cut the wind and insulate the faucet from cold air.
- Insulating pipes is a nice option for colder climates because ice can cause pipes to burst. Often it can be a simple do-it-yourself job. Look for thermal foam pipe protectors at your local hardware store. Simply cut to size and fit around the pipes.
- Another option is an insulating water heater, which looks like a jacket for your hot water heater and keeps heat loss to a minimum.
- A circulating hot water pump is a nice option for larger homes where faucets are a long distance from the heater. It gives a boost to the hot water flow, allowing hot water to arrive at the tap faster.
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