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Architect Within Reach

Plumbing Project Part 2:

Researching Equipment and Discussing Options with Professionals

In my previous post, I evaluated the current state of my plumbing system and discussed the necessity of strategic upgrades. Now, it's time to dive deeper into the specifics of researching plumbing equipment and effectively communicating with professionals to ensure the project runs smoothly.


Step 1: Evaluating Current Plumbing Equipment

Before upgrading, it's crucial to thoroughly evaluate the existing plumbing system. Here’s a quick recap of what I found in my home:


Outdated Pipes: The use of Quest pipes, a material now considered outdated and problematic, necessitated a switch to PEX pipes, the current industry standard.


Quest Pipes and Risk Management

When I had my house inspected before purchasing, I was informed that it had Quest pipes, which were the subject of a class-action lawsuit years ago. Unfortunately, it is now impossible to collect any compensation from that lawsuit. Given my intention to update the entire house and redesign the layout, this issue became less significant. However, there is still a risk of leaks, mold, and other plumbing issues that must be addressed. Managing these risks is an essential part of the overall project.


As part of my risk management plan, I intend to demolish two of the upstairs bathrooms since they will be relocated in the new layout. Additionally, I plan to update the plumbing in the kitchen sink area, which will eventually become the location of the master bathroom. The objective is to avoid redundant work, which helps keep costs down. This leaves me with one functional bathroom on the ground floor, adjacent to the utility room where the plumbing equipment and pipes are being updated.


Currently, I am not using the two bathrooms on the top floor, which helps manage potential future issues. As part of the renovation, the ceiling on the ground floor needs to be removed for several reasons, providing the added benefit of allowing me to thoroughly inspect the pipe flow. Additionally, the kitchen experienced a major leak before purchase, originating from the refrigerator. Although the original wood floors were replaced with vinyl, the subfloor was not updated and remains soft and bouncy, necessitating an update regardless.


End-of-Life Components: Many components of the plumbing system had surpassed their optimal usage period and required replacement.


Step 2: Researching New Equipment

It's important to understand the equipment I currently have, determine what I require to meet my household's needs, and decide whether I want to incorporate technological upgrades.


Equipment Replacement and Upgrades

Living on a multi-acre site without access to public water and sewer adds complexity to my plumbing system. I am responsible for providing potable water to my residence. I have a well that operates on a motor, along with a pressurized well tank, a hot water heater, and a water filtration system inside my house. These components require careful planning and coordination to ensure everything functions seamlessly.


Well Motors

Well motors typically range from 1/2 to 3/4 horsepower. The reason for having a well tank, and ideally a larger one, is to prevent the well motor from burning out. Ideally, the motor should turn on, run to fill the tank, and then shut off. Without a tank, the well motor would need to activate every time water is used in the house, significantly reducing its lifespan. Additionally, a T-package will have to be added to the pressure tank. The T-package should match the requirements of the pressurized well tank. After speaking to many plumbers and those in the plumbing supply industry, Amtrol is always referenced as the standard to beat.


Well Tanks

When it comes to well tanks, someone suggested using three smaller tanks instead of one larger one. While this might be practical in limited spaces, I have ample space for a large tank, and in this case, bigger is better. The plumber who recommended smaller tanks argued that if one fails, the others will still function. However, as an architect with two decades of experience, I believe this approach introduces more components and potential points of failure. Technical support from several plumbing supply warehouses also did not understand this suggestion if space is not a constraint.


It's important to listen to what professionals have to say and get multiple opinions, just as I would obtain multiple bids. At the end of the day, it is my house, and I have to live with the consequences of my decisions.


Electric Water Heater vs. Heat Pump Water Heater

Additionally, as a homeowner, I have to decide between a traditional water heater and a heat pump water heater. Although a heat pump water heater is more expensive, it comes with the added benefit of federal rebates through the Inflation Reduction Act. Heat pump water heaters are considerably more energy-efficient but have more requirements regarding clearance, footprint, and air intake. Depending on where I live, they might not be an ideal solution. It's important to consider all these factors when deciding if this is the right option. Depending on my location and energy provider, I might qualify for additional rebates, discounts, or incentives. To research potential savings, I can visit the EPA website, the IRS website, and my energy provider's website.


I have friends who are also architects living in Southern California, where their heat pump water heaters are located in their garages. In that environment, it's an ideal location, especially considering the year-round warmth. I am in Virginia, so my water heater is located in my ground floor utility area, where the HVAC air handling unit (AHU) is also situated. In the future, I plan to zone my HVAC and have two AHUs. It's important to know if the heat pump water heater will draw too much heat from the air in the winter, potentially increasing my heating costs.


Heat pump water heaters require a minimum space of a 10-foot by 10-foot by 7-foot room. For me, my additional plumbing, utilities, and other building systems will be housed in this area, as well as using it for additional storage. If such a large footprint is not available in your house, it might not be a viable option. Heat pump water heaters have hybrid and all-electric modes. However, if I use those modes frequently, is the additional cost justified? All my friends' residential clients in California love their heat pump water heaters, and the plumbers I've spoken to in Virginia report no complaints from their customers. However, in much colder regions like the Northeast or Canada, a heat pump water heater might not be a viable option.


These are just some factors to consider when weighing the pros and cons, taking into account both cost and potential secondary impacts.


Water Test

Filtering your water is critical, and having a whole-house water filtration system is an even better strategy. This ensures that the water flowing through my pipes, fixtures, and equipment is of the highest quality. It helps maintain and extend the life of everything from my pipes to my washing machine. Additionally, the quality of my drinking water won't require further filtration, and my showers will also have higher quality water that won't irritate my skin and hair.


Before I can choose a filtration strategy or provider, I need to know what kind of water I'm dealing with. The first step is to have my water tested. There are multiple ways to approach this. Many cities and counties provide free or discounted water testing, which is worth exploring. There are also paid services available. I decided to go with a service called SimpleLab, which provides a clear breakdown of the results, so I didn't need a specialist to interpret them. I wanted to understand my current water issues independently, ensuring I could ask educated questions and conduct my own research on any recommendations.


Water Filtration System

I have forwarded my water test results to several companies and have received bids for equipment systems for my home. I am currently evaluating the systems based on initial cost, lifecycle cost, and installation cost. Lifecycle cost is critical; it's important to know how much I will be spending annually on the maintenance of this system and how it compares to other systems as well as the baseline cost of bottled water consumption per year. Bottled water can cost several hundred dollars annually and does not provide any benefit to my overall plumbing system or equipment. Additionally, there is the inconvenience and environmental impact of bottled water to consider. Therefore, I will be taking all these factors into consideration when evaluating my options.


In this post, we delved into the specifics of researching plumbing equipment and effectively communicating with professionals to ensure a smooth project.


By meticulously researching and planning, I aim to make informed decisions that will enhance the efficiency and longevity of my plumbing system. This comprehensive approach ensures that every aspect of the project is considered, ultimately leading to a successful and sustainable home improvement.


In Part 3 I will discuss putting together a schedule, equipment list, interviewing and coordinating multiple contractors.

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Architect Within Reach

Plumbing Project – Part 1 This blog post is designed to serve as your first step into the realm of construction project management, demystifying the process and equipping you with the knowledge needed


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