After the interior framing and the roof were completed for
our healthy house, the second phase of rough-in plumbing was done.
This consisted of installing vertical pipes in the walls for the
sink and laundry drains, as well as all of the water supply lines.
The drain pipes are made of a hard black PVC plastic. Cast iron
would have been a more inert choice, but it was more expensive.
So to reduce cost we chose the PVC. It has only a very slight
odor, and since there was not a large quantity of the pipe, and
since it was going to be located behind plaster and foil-backed
lath, that was a reasonable trade off for us. The vertical pipes
connect to the horizontal runs under the foundation that carry
waste water to the sewer. All of the drain piping was also connected
to drain vents. These are pipes that run above the roof line and
end there, open to the outside. This is standard building practice
that helps ensure that large volumes of water can flow down drains
without being impeded by back pressure.
The supply piping brings water into the house from the city
supply. In our neighborhood the city water is distributed in asbestos
piping. The water mostly comes from local wells, and the piping
in our area is relatively low pressure (about 45 pounds per square
inch). Asbestos is supposedly only hazardous when the small particles
are inhaled. However, the water doesn't taste very good, is chlorinated,
and has numerous other pollutants in it (in quantities small enough
to be considered "safe" by the city water department).
It runs from the street through about 75 feet of PVC pipe to a
utility shed that is completely separate from the house. The shed
is about four feet wide by 12 feet long and six feet high, and
it sits to the south of the house in an area about 10 feet wide
that separates the house from the fence at the property line.
The shed also has a concrete foundation, and it was built in the
same style and with the same materials (framing, siding, roofing)
as the main building. The shed is shown in the photo below.
The PVC pipe terminates at the shed, where the water is piped
into a whole-house water filtration system. The first part of
that system removes fine particles from the water. The second
stage removes the chlorine and other pollutant chemicals using
activated carbon filters contained in a stainless steel housing.
From that point on, the water is piped through copper pipes. The
copper was soldered together using a lead-free solder. PVC was
acceptable for the run from the street because it was relatively
short, it was probably used in the city water distribution system
at some point, and the water was filtered afterwards. It was important
to filter the water before it is heated, since carbon filters
don't work very well with hot (above 110°F) water.
The water heater is also located in the shed. It is a gas-fired
heater. We chose gas because it is so much less expensive to operate
than electric heaters. Gas also has the advantage that many BTUs
can be delivered quickly. We put this to work for us by installing
an instantaneous type tankless water heater. This means that the
water is heated as it passes through the heater. There is no holding
tank. This type of heater is more energy efficient, and it also
has the feature that the burner is only operating when hot water
is being used. By locating the heater in the shed, all combustion
gases are kept outside, and the natural gas piping, which is prone
to leaking, never has to enter the living area.
From the shed, the water is piped through an insulated raceway
into the house. All of the supply piping was run through the attic
space rather than in the foundation, so that if it were ever to
develop a leak, it could be easily reached for repair. We did
not install a water line to the refrigerator for ice cubes, since
we knew that we would not be drinking the city water, even though
it would be filtered (we try to only drink glass bottled spring
Much later on, during the finishing phase of the construction,
the sinks, shower, bath tub, toilets and cabinets were installed.
We chose porcelain pedestal type sinks for the bathrooms because
they don't have a storage area underneath them. Storage areas
under sinks tend to be dark, damp and warm -- perfect conditions
to encourage mold growth. The pedestals can also be installed
slightly away from the wall, so that there isn't a seam or joint
where water can linger and foster mold growth. The photo below
shows the guest bathroom -- which is also fully handicap accessible.
In the kitchen and mud room we also wanted sinks and a work space that would
be easy to clean and that did not have joints or seams. We decided to use a
material called Corian. It is a solid material,
not a veneer, and it can be molded and shaped in seemingly limitless ways. The
end result has no seams around the sink (the sink itself is also made of Corian),
a full-height coved splash, and an attractive 1 1/2" full-round bullnose
edge. We also used Corian for the counter on the kitchen island. It is very
easy to clean. The coved corners and invisible seams mean that there is no place
for water to linger, which discourages mold growth. An alternative material
is granite. Large slabs of granite make attractive counters. However, it is
not possible to have an invisible seam at the sink. And although outside coving
is possible for a bullnose type edge treatment, inside coving is not possible
-- and it is the inside coving that helps eliminate lingering damp areas. Granite
is also much harder to repair in case of damage. The only problem with Corian
is that the installation process requires the use of some fairly toxic solvents.
Fortunately, when dry there is absolutely no residual odor. The Corian dust
that is generated by sanding and polishing the material is also a problem. However,
we were able to clean it up fairly easily using a good vacuum cleaner and damp
In addition to using Corian for the kitchen sink and counter,
we also decided to use it in the master bathroom and in the kids'
bath, for similar reasons. We had the shower surround custom made
so that it was nearly completely seamless. One seam was required
around the base where the walls join the custom-molded shower
pan. Inside coved corners make the areas very easy to clean (I
had tile showers for many years. It is really a joy to have a
shower that is so much easier to clean.).
To help alleviate the dark damp storage area problem in the
kitchen, we had the cabinet manufacturer put ventilation slots
into the doors under the sink. This helps provide a little air
flow, which reduces moisture. We also had them put in a stainless
steel base under the sink, so that any accidental water leaks
would be easier to clean, and so there would be no chance of rusting.
A second water filter is located under the kitchen sink. This
is also a carbon-type filter like the second stage unit in the
shed, except much smaller. The design is also different. It uses
a carbon matrix cartridge that removes particles as well as any
residual chemicals. The manufacturer actually certifies this particular
unit (the "Seagull V") to produce sterile, injectable
quality water. This final point-of-use filter removes not only
any chemicals that the whole house system might not have caught,
but it also catches chemicals that our local copper piping may
For the other plumbing fixtures, we made our choices mostly
based on aesthetics. We did try to pick things that had little
or no plastic in them. The bath tub, for example, is a porcelain-on-steel
type. The door for the kids' bath is a glass and metal "frameless"
type, that does not allow water to collect at the bottom edge
of the sliding glass doors.
The shower door in the master bath is a seven feet high by
three feet wide piece of glass, hung on four hinges. We made the
base of the shower be at the same height as the bathroom floor.
Combined with the nice wide door, it makes the shower fully handicap
accessible. We also selected pressure-sensing valves for the showers.
These valves adjust the amount of hot and cold water that they
deliver, based on the current water pressure. This prevents scalding
in the event one person flushes a toilet while another is taking
a shower, for example. The photo below shows the door on the master
bathroom shower, along with one of the two sinks. The two square
openings on the upper left are designed to let water vapor escape
quickly from the shower (through the air vent, which is also shown).
This helps the shower dry quickly, which reduces mold growth.