A Series of Tubes

This week marks a major milestone in the construction of 1120: Plumbing and HVAC. We’re very excited to have begun this portion of our build. Several of our favorite customizations came in the plumbing design and features.

The Upgrades

Rough-in pipes and testing gear
Rough-in pipes and testing gear

Hot Water Recirculator

A recirc provides instant hot water at the most distant fixtures. The system uses a return pipe from the most distant point(s) in the house and a pump to recirculate the water that has cooled in the pipes back into the water heater.

Not running the sinks and showers until the water gets hot will save hundreds of gallons each year, but a poorly tuned system will consume excess energy if it keeps the water in the pipes warm at all hours. That’s why most recirculation systems run on a timer only pre-heating the pipes during anticipated demand periods.

At first, our recirc system will only run during morning shower times. As our home automation system comes together, it will become even more efficient. I’ll be adding an intelligent sensors that will monitor presence and endpoint temperature to ensure that water is only recirculated during the times where it is most likely to be needed and only for the minimal amount of time required.

Temporary water main hookup
Temporary water main hookup

Laundry Room Floor Drain

Our washer and dryer will be on the upper floor near the bedrooms. This is a huge convenience, but it also poses a significant problem in the event of a water leak. Murphy is installing a floor drain to ensure that any leakage from the washing machine, utility sink, or steam-enabled dryer will be handled gracefully. I’ll be installing water leak sensors and electronic shut-off valves later on.

Thermostatic Shower Valves and Master Shower

As previously mentioned, I have gone out of my way to ensure the house has thermostatic shower controls. The master shower will actually have his and hers opposing shower controls and heads. Being able to pre-set and forget the shower temperature is not only a nice convenience feature, but a big safety bonus for a house with little children.

Extra Utility Sink

We are having plumbing installed for an extra utility sink in the garage. Having a garage sink is not only useful for cleaning up after a hard day working under the hood of a Prius, but I also intend to use it when I resume home-brewing in the spring.

The Road Not Taken

There were several features we decided to skip. Most of them are fine upgrades, but they didn’t make the cut for budgetary or practical reasons.

Hundreds of feet of pex
Hundreds of feet of pex

Instant Heat or Hybrid Water Heater

An on-demand or “instant” water heater is an attractive feature that is gaining in popularity. We opted not to install one because they are a very poor choice to combine with a recirculation system. The energy penalty of pumping lukewarm water into a highly insulated modern tank heater are much lower than cranking up a 200,000 BTU heater for long periods on the off chance you might use it. Even combined with home automation as mentioned above, the non-reservoir heater flipping off and on is a big waste of energy.

A hybrid heat-pump electric water heater is an attractive option that we didn’t pursue because natural gas is already available and inexpensive to use.  The upgrade cost of the high-end water heater is significant enough to make it unattractive for now.

Pot filler

Having a long-arm faucet above your stove is all the rage right now. When I first saw them, I thought it was a really nice convenience feature. However, my wife doesn’t do any major cooking and I am just not all that scared by the thought of carrying a pot of water four feet from the sink to the oven. No use in paying for a feature we won’t appreciate.

Metal ductwork
Good old-fashioned metal ductwork

Jetted tub

I really thought I was going to have to bite the bullet on this one. My wife uses hot tubs and Jacuzzis whenever she can. Fortunately for our budget, she wasn’t interested in upgrading our master bath soaking tub to a power model. The upgrade isn’t too difficult to pull off down the road, so I’m happy to kick that can down the road.

Heated floors

I’m a huge fan of heated floors. For me, they provide a lot of value and convenience. However, they can be very expensive up-front and different systems can vary widely in efficiency and reliability. The upstairs would have cost several thousand just to install the master bath, so we decided to pass for now.

When A Pro Does Your Plumbing

The plumbers on 1120 are using Uponor (formerly known as Wirsbo) connected to soldered copper endpoints. This approach provides a much nicer experience at the endpoints than using plastic pex piping all the way to your shutoff valve. The valves are sturdy coming out of the wall and don’t have any curvature to them as they might if the plastic tubing was from a roll.

I was warned that the plumbers and HVAC guys would be knocking studs out of walls and undoing a fair amount of the fine work the framers did. The plumbers did not disappoint. In order to make room for pipes, ducts, and surrounds, several studs were cut loose at the bottom or removed entirely. The framers will be called back in a few days in order to repair and replace anything required to make a structurally sound home.

The next new contractor to show up will be the electrician. This is one I’ll be taking a day off of work just to spend some time with.

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