Most of us would never think when a plumber comes into a home that the plumber does not make mistakes. Well, you would be wrong. Here is some beneficial information for better control and the need to be cautious of certain issues.

Before the plumbers come in, you should discuss all the plumbing issues related to the blueprints with the contractor. Remember, you do have choices. You discuss the color of your toilets. You may want your spouse join in on this conversation. When choosing your toilets, get those that flush correctly. Read my article entitled, Why Won't My Toilet Flush. Be cautious of flushing problems and cheap toilets. Make sure your bathrooms are the correct size. Our master bathroom design showed a shower and no bathtub. I redesigned the blueprints to increase the size and accommodate the average five (5) foot bathtub and shower. The blueprints showed two (2) full baths and two (2) half (1/2) baths. I redesigned one (1) of the lower half (1/2) baths that was situated in the mudroom across from the washer and dryer. I created a pantry that provided spacing for shelving and a chest freezer.

Here is the neat thing I did. I told my contractor to hang pocket doors instead of regular doors for the pantry and the bathrooms. My reasoning was twofold. Swinging doors into the room can be damaging to walls. If the door swings out, it could block or smack someone in the hallway when someone walks by. Pocket doors slide into the wall. It is functionally logical because all you need is privacy. I do not recommend the cheap vinyl folding doors, but do get the nice one-piece wooden ones. It might even prevent your kids from locking you out…just kidding. Besides, I believe they are a might cheaper in cost.

Gate Valve

Photo 1 - Gate Valve

Here is an idea most folks do not think about and that is using more shutoff valves. Many of you are very familiar with what plumbers call a gate valve (See Photo 1). If you ever lived in an old house from the early twentieth century, you should not be surprised at how many rust over time. Getting them to close when a water disaster happens is not an easy task. I resolved that problem. I had the plumbers put ball valves in lieu of gate valves wherever possible (See Photo 2). The contractor could not find a huge ball valve for the main shutoff, but I had him get the plumbers to put the ball valves in strategic places for each line (hot and cold) going to the following:

    1. Bathroom toilets
    2. Bathroom sinks
    3. Kitchen sink
    4. Dishwasher
    5. Washing machine
    6. Outside water spigots
    7. Hot water heater, before it and after it
    8. Bathtub and shower
    9. Stand alone shower

Using ball valves in place of gate valves will help you in two (2) ways. The first being there is a reduction to literally no leakage and better rust prevention. I am sure there are manufacturers who are convinced that their gate valves are superior, but I would rather just close a ball valve perpendicular to the water line in one (1) swift flick of the wrist, than to keep turning a gate valve until tightly shut. You should never leave a gate valve open all the way to the very end. It just might seize up in that state.

Ball Valve

Photo 2 - Ball Valve

Your ball valves will be somewhere in the basement if you have one. Those with no basement you will have to devise a location for discrete access. Below all sinks and toilets, there are plastic hoses or metal reinforced hoses with small oval gate valves. To connect those lines, the use of pressure fittings is the norm. That means no sweating or soldering them to the copper lines. One advantage when using a ball valve is that you can shut off just one (1) small section of the house without worrying about shutting off the main valve to the entire house.

On the outside of your home, you may want spigots for whatever purpose you choose. You should have one in front, one in back, and perhaps one on the side of the house. They are a convenience when working outdoors. Be aware of plumbers accidentally switching hot and cold water lines. I have seen it happen.

Let us discuss the mistakes and errors I caught and how you should deal with it. Check the main valve where the water comes into the home. I did not notice it, but when the water inspector arrived, he could not understand why the outside water meter had not moved. When he finally came knocking on the door, we both went downstairs and saw that the plumber had installed the water meter backwards so no water was registering outside. It had to be changed. I was lucky and not charged for the error.

This next problem really sent me through the roof. I came in to see how the plumbing progress was doing when I saw a plumber finish sweating copper pipes for the utility sink in the mudroom (See Photo 3). I stopped this younger fellow and expressed my disappointment, and not too kindly, I might add. I told him he made a terrible mistake. When he torched the copper pipe, he inadvertently scorched the PVC drainpipe for the sink. Most would not know what the consequences are if it goes uncorrected. PVC, like all plastics and rubber products, has a certain pliability called, Plasticizer. Plasticizers are softeners, extenders, and lubricants. Plasticizers actually place themselves between chains of polymers so that it spaces the polymers causing the product to be flexible. The more plasticizer, the lower the flexing temperature will be, however, the plastic strength and hardness decrease. Eventually over time, the plasticizer out-gases, or evaporates, depending on conditions. The new car smell is the plasticizer out-gassing from all the vinyl, plastic, and rubber inside the vehicle. A good example is a tire on your car. The exposition to climate changes over seasonal times, or even from road heat and cooling, you may begin to notice your tires starting to crack. One way to prevent cracking is to put the hydrocarbon (lubricant) back into the tire. You have seen how auto stores sell those cans of spray to make your tire look glossy. It is not just for looks. It actually rejuvenates the plasticizer and extends the life of the tire (do not forget to do both sides of the tire). Now that you have the explanation, I will explain the plumbing problem. The torched area caused out-gassing of the PVC drain to its extreme. The drain had a spot that no longer flexed with the different water temperatures as the rest of the PVC pipe. Over time, that hardened portion will crack because of the stress of no flexibility and I will have water leaking through my drywall every time I use the sink. All the plumber had to do was to put a shield behind the copper pipe (as required) and all would have been okay. I explained it to the plumber and made him replace the PVC drainpipe. He was not too happy. His hurriedness and lack of understanding was contributing to the cause and effect.

Sweating Pipe

Photo 3 - Sweating Copper Pipe

The last mistake was not the plumbers fault but the landscaper's laziness. When my home was almost complete, the landscapers arrived. They graded and seeded the ground, etc. My hose and reel was sitting outside at the rear spigot unconnected. When the landscaper was done, he used my hose to water down the grass seed after covering it with straw. I did not know that he used the hose as both of us were at work. He left the hose connected to the spigot. That night, since it was nearing the end of November, the water in the spigot pipe froze and burst. It soaked through the drywall of my little office room and continued draining into my basement. I was furious when I discovered where the problem started. I had to call my contractor since he guaranteed the work. The landscaper was his hired subcontractor. It was then that I made him fix the drywall and have a plumber come back to install ball valves in the basement for all the outside spigots. Now I could cut off the water supply and open the spigots during the winter. You prevented future pipes from bursting. Now you have the knowledge to prevent the same issue.

I have two (2) other suggestions for your home. You may want to invest in a Reverse Osmosis system, by placing a small unit under the sink. The advantage is you are getting distilled water through the process. If you ask why bother, you might want to know that using water from the reverse osmosis system is beneficial. You can use the water in your coffee maker for example. The water has no chemicals to clog your coffee maker and you will not have to keep cleaning the unit out. It even makes your coffee taste better, including boiling the food you cook. There are also whole house units if you so choose.

There is a major energy saving device that will save you water usage and electric usage. It is a whole house tankless instant hot water unit. This unit replaces your hot water heater. It only works when you turn on any hot water faucet. The nice thing is when all your hot water areas are in use all at the same time the unit can handle all of it. You will never be out of hot water. There are many manufacturers and one of them is Rinnai ®. You can read all about the units on the internet and decide what size will suit your needs. You will have no more electrical elements to replace or having to buy a new water heater, when built up sediment eventually shortens its life. The savings on electric or gas (if you have a gas water heater) is outstanding.

Learn as you go, and you will become more efficient in your abilities. Experience is so rewarding. The next series will be heating and cooling. So keep reading and keep scrutinizing your blueprints. Try to stay one-step ahead of disaster.