SmartHome 101 – Plumbing
Simon’s tips and tricks when you’re creating a smart home with a pencil, or hammer. Taking a moment to think about how your plumbing is going to be laid out, considering future upgrades and accessibility for repair and replacement will make things much easier for you.
For Electrical tips, see Smarthome 102
1. Don’t put a shower head or controls on an outside wall.
This one should be obvious – if you install your shower controls on an outside wall, there’s no way to EVER get behind them. This may not be something you’re worried about now, but what about in a few years when you want to replace the diverter valve with the newest technology?
If possible make sure that there’s an interior wall behind your shower controls, and best, a closet – because you can easily cut a hole in the closet drywall to get to the valve, and that won’t mean having to re-tile your shower.
2. PEX Rules, but pay your installer a little extra to route it nicely.
Gone are the days of sweated joints – today’s flexible PEX plumbing has less connectors, less leaks, and is quicker to install.
But that ease of installation doesn’t mean it should be routed haphazardly through your floors and attic – take some time with your plumber to work things out so you’re not tripping over and drilling into it – Make sure to separate cold and hot lines so there’s no condensation, and ensure any pipes in unheated spaces (an unsealed attic for example) are insulated – both hot and cold. Ensure that all faucet lines go straight up (or down) so you can be sure when hanging a picture where they are.
If you have a two story house, I’d vote for having all the joins in the attic rather than between floors – just to make things easier if there’s a leak in the future. Sure. it will add some pipe, but at least you’ll be able to see every T-piece.
As much as you might think you’re not going to spend any time in the attic, chances are you’re going to run some new wiring sooner or later, so organized plumbing lines which still leave room to move around are something well worth talking to your installer about.
Ensure that all lines which come out of the drywall are securely anchored with stubouts – no just poking the pex out of the wall – preferably ensure there’s ample stud to mount to so you don’t have any vibration.
3. Home Run Plumbing
Where each faucet in your home has its own plumbing line back to a central manifold. This works well for smaller homes and is nice in that a separate valve in the manifold controls each faucet – leaking toilet? Just turn that line off at the manifold.
It’s efficient because all the runs to the faucets can be small diameter – so hot water arrives quicker than having to pull through a larger capacity feed pipe – This mode uses a lot more pipe though, and though works with recirculating hot water, isn’t as optimal as a loop system. For bigger homes, you can have more than one manifold, and you might have more than one hot water supply.
3. Recirculating Hot Water
Talking of RHW, once you have this you’ll never go back to traditional plumbing – a pipe system where all the hot plumbing is connected in a loop and small pump means there’s hot water always at the tap. No waiting. Couple this with an Instant Water Heater and endless, immediate hot water becomes a reality.
4. Tankless Water Heater
Available in gas and now electric – tankless water heaters are generally more efficient than the big water tank heaters, because they heat the water as you need it – and endlessly as well – you can keep the tap on for an hour and the water will still be piping hot. Electric units may need an upgraded service – they take a LOT of power (some 200A or more), and if you’re also wanting recirculating hot water, you might want to think about adding a small old-fashioned tank as well.
The combination of a small electric tank heater, and a gas instant with recirculating system gives the best of all worlds – unlimited hot water, instant hot water, and the small electric tank heater ensures the gas instant heater is not continuously cycling on and off.
An alternate to a whole-home recirculating system if you have a sprawling house, is just to put smaller tankless units in the places you need them – Since the new electric units don’t need a flue, they can effectively be installed anywhere.
5. Do you really want a bidet? Install a washlet instead.
Most guys wouldn’t know what to do with a bidet other than wash their feet, and they are not as hygienic as you might like to believe. Take a leaf from the Japanese and install a washlet (I recommend Toto) – this is after all a smart home and a toilet which closes the (heated) lid, plays music, makes a waterfall sound and washes your behind – well that’s smart.
Dropping the Bidet will save you space, and you’ll get a much better experience – don’t forget that Washlets require power though, so ensure your electrician installs an appropriate GFI protected outlet behind the toilet.
6. Want to wash the car with cold, or hot water? Install outside hot water.
Yes, obvious when you think about it – but putting a mixer valve in the garage near the door (or on the outside of the house) so you can attach a hose for hot water makes washing, well anything nicer. You won’t be traipsing through the house to the kitchen to fill up your bucket, and you’d be surprised how much faster a pressure washer works with warm water going through it.
7. Having a water feature or pool? Install a drain and water supply nearby.
If you’re going to to have a pond, pool or water feature, the last thing you want to be doing is dragging a hose over to it or trying to do a water change with a pump. Put a drain and a efficient (ie 1″) water supply nearby so you can fill your fountain or pool quickly and without stress.
Most pools have auto-fill features now, why not ponds and fountains? At least make sure there’s water and drainage in the location.
8. Are you going to install a water softener?
Having softened water stops your shower getting dirty, it’s better for your skin and makes washing clothes easier – but you don’t really want to drink it – so if you’re going to install a softener you need to make sure you separate out drinking and water from “washing water” and plumb accordingly.
Even if you’re not going to install a softener immediately, it’s worth considering it at build time so you have the right water “circuits” in place.
And don’t forget to plumb softened water to wherever you’re going to plug your hose in to wash your car – softened water = no water spots.
9. Consider an Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit for drinking water
Many people install RO units and a separate tap for their drinking water – they are not expensive to buy or run, and with careful plumbing, you can also supply the fridge with RO water so you get “tasty ice”. RO units create waste water, so you need to consider where you install it (in a dead corner in your kitchen, or under the sink, but make sure you can supply RO water where you cook, where Icemakers will be, and where you get drinking water.
If you have a pot-filler above your stove, that probably should be supplied from the RO as well, and if you plan to have a fish tank anywhere, of course having RO water available there is a boon as well.
10. Don’t forget numerous outside spigots
Finally, don’t forget to put spigots around the outside of your house so you don’t have to drag 200ft of hose around. Ideally you want to reach every part of your yard with a 50ft hose (or less) so putting a few spigots on the walls makes a lot of sense.
Do you have any tips for Smart Home Plumbing? Comment below and I’ll add the best ones to this list.