PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology

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Plumbing: It's Not Just Pipes Anymore

Out of sight, out of mind, right? That's most people's reaction to plumbing, until their pipes spring a leak, or they hear clanging behind a wall, or the water pressure dips and they get scalded in the shower, or...

You get the point. It pays to learn a little about plumbing to ensure you get nothing but the best for your family.

The following products can lower your water heating bills, reduce the chance of mold, expedite remodeling and even ease long-term maintenance:

Home Run Plumbing

Low-Flow Fixtures

Tankless Water Heaters

Air Admittance Valves

Gray Water Reuse Piping

Why read when you can watch?

View a short video on Home Run Plumbing, Tankless Water Heaters, and Low-Flow fixtures - it has great 80's music!

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Home Run Plumbing

Home run plumbing systems, which feed hot and cold water separately into individual fixtures, allow you to shut off water to a single fixture through a central manifold (pictured at left). Now if there's a problem with the clotheswasher or a leaky fixture, you don't have to turn the water off to the whole house to fix it.

[IMAGE: Home run plumbing]The system includes the manifold to deliver hot and cold water, which is often teamed with flexible cross-linked polyethylene plumbing (PEX) supply lines.

Flexible PEX piping is a real plus when installing water lines. The piping rolls off a spool and can be easily threaded around structural members and through walls and crawl spaces. No special elbows to get around corners. That means a lot less cutting and welding or gluing for the plumber.

Since PEX requires few (if any) fittings, you'll have fewer leaks to deal with.

PEX also expands and contracts more than other types of pipe, so it's less likely to burst if the pipes freeze.

Keith Peterson built his own 2,480 square-foot home with assistance from UBuildIt. He selected PEX piping to eliminate the metallic taste copper pipes can leave in the water and end pinhole leaks forever. He also found it easy to install this flexible piping himself.

Go Low-Flow

Save water - and when you save hot water you lower your energy bill, too.

Today's low-flow fixtures suffer from yesterday's image problems. When they were introduced, low-flow toilets generated complaints about trouble clearing the bowl and clogging, and water pressure from low-flow showerheads was unimpressive. But if you've rejected many water-saving fixtures out of hand, it's worth taking a second look. Many low-flow toilets, faucet aerators and showerheads have been developed with advanced designs to improve performance.

One option to consider is laminar flow controls, which make lower water flow feel more vigorous. Manufacturers claim that laminar flow controls can reduce water use by as much as 90 percent compared to conventional fixtures by delivering a precise amount of water to faucets, showerheads, and hoses. Like low-flow fixtures, laminar controls are simply screwed into place in existing fixtutes.

Also check with your local water authority, which may offer rebates for installing low-flow fixtures and other water efficiency measures.

Tankless Water Heaters [IMAGE: Tankless water heater in a closet]

Widely used in Europe and Japan, and increasingly popular in the U.S., tankless water heaters offer an endless supply of hot water while lowering water heating bills. These units are small enough that they can be installed in a closet, under a sink, on a wall or, in some cases, on the exterior of the home.

Manufacturers say tankless water heaters can shave 10 to 20 percent off water heating bills by eliminating standby losses - the energy lost from continually warming water that sits in the hot water tank. For maximum energy efficiency, a tankless water heater can also be used to boost a solar hot water system.

Available in electric, gas and propane, tankless water heaters can meet all of your home's hot water needs. They can also provide instant hot water to specific fixtures if you install point-of-use heaters, which are small and can be located under a sink. This application is gaining popularity in bathrooms with double sinks, providing hot water to both faucets from under the vanity. Point-of-use heaters are great when a fixture is located far away from the main water heater; you won't have to wait so long--and waste so much water--waiting for hot water.

Easy Admittance

[IMAGE: AAV under a sink]Air admittance valves (AAVs) are used in a plumbing system to eliminate the need for conventional pipe venting and roof penetrations. An AAV, like the one that is partially blocked behind the sink in the picture to the left, can be installed in the bathroom under the sink or hidden in the wall, or in the attic.

Using AAVs instead of conventional pipe vents lowers plumbing costs and lowers the chance of roof leaks because they minimize the number of pipes that must go through the roof. They operate automatically as wastewater discharges, allowing air to enter the plumbing for proper drainage. When the drain isn't running, the valve remains closed, preventing sewer gas from getting into your house.

AAVs eliminate the need for most conventional pipe venting, which means fewer unsightly pipes go through your roof. AAVs are long-lasting.

AAVs have been accepted in all major building and plumbing codes for single- or multi-family residential construction, and by the American Society of Sanitary Engineers (ASSE). However, some local authorities--including some large jurisdictions like Chicago, IL--are still unfamiliar with the technology or reluctant to accept it. If that's your situation, you may need to present manufacturer's information to educate your builder or code official.

Putting Gray Water to Work

Get ready for the future. Gray water reuse can significantly lower bills for outdoor water use.

Gray water is wastewater from bathtubs, shower drains, bathroom sinks, washing machines and dishwashers, accounting for 60 percent of outflow from homes. It contains few or no pathogens and 90 percent less nitrogen than toilet water or other "blackwater." Therefore, it does not require the same treatment process. By designing plumbing systems that separate the two, gray water can be recycled for irrigation, toilets and exterior washing.

If the home is under construction, this isn't too difficult. A 2 1/2-bathroom home would require less than half a day of a plumber's time and some drain pipe material. Depending on location, this modification could be in the $350--$500 range.

Code officials in many parts of the country oppose gray water reuse due to concerns about disease-causing microorganisms, as well as oils, detergents, salt, food and other products of household and personal cleaning activities. Other officials consider the risks to be low, particularly if the water is correctly filtered and limited to landscaping. Reflecting this debate, codes vary widely in jurisdictions that do allow gray water reuse. Consult your local building permitting office to determine if gray water reuse is allowed in your area.

But even if it's not currently allowed, you can prepare new homes for the future by separating the gray water from the black water drains.

A New Frontier

Learn more about The Next Generation of Plumbing. A new approach to integrating" plumbing systems can simplify installation, ease maintenance and improve the home's livability, as well as reduce costs. It's one of many ideas from the PATH Concept Home.

View the published version of these resources in " Pipe Dreams: Behind the Scene Upgrades," Professional Builder, April 2006.

Content updated on 9/5/2006

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