Plumbing is not something we often think about until a blocked drain or leaky pipe prompts us to make a call for help. In fact, plumbing is an integral component of the design and build process to create a comfortable and serviceable home.
Plumbing ensures we have all the creature comforts, such as hot and cold running water and gas for heating and cooking. Broadly speaking, plumbing covers water, drainage and sewerage. Scott Robinson from Gallant Plumbing says plumbing encompasses a broad spectrum, often far more than people realise. “It’s roofing, gutters and flashings, gas, water, sewerage and stormwater — it’s a big component,” he points out.
There are a few key things that can help you to optimise your plumbing layout, as well as avoid potential costly maintenance or replacement issues later on.
PLANNING YOUR PLUMBING
One of the main things is planning where to put pipes. “For example, you wouldn’t run pipes through bedroom walls as pipes are noisy,” says Scott. Another is placing rooms that require plumbing in the same proximity, where possible. By keeping plumbing fittings near each other, you’ll reduce the initial installation cost in a new build. In a single-storey home, bathrooms, laundries and kitchens should ideally be relatively close together. For double-storey dwellings, ideally bathrooms should sit directly above or below each other.
During the process of home construction, Scott recommends documenting where plumbing pipes, stormwater and sewerage are located for future access for renovations. “We do a lot of retrofitting and renovation jobs and often there are no plans. I always recommend as soon as the drains and waterpipes are finished that you have the plumber draw them on the plans,” he says. “In 10 years’ time you’ll never remember where they are and if a picket goes in the ground and through the stormwater, it’s a costly business.”
There are some decisions you’ll need to make when choosing which plumbing fixtures and fittings are right for your home. Scott says it’s important not to skimp on quality products. “We always recommend clients use quality tapware and plumbing fixtures. What might seem a like a bargain at the time could end up very expensive to fix later,” he says. “For example, you might not be able to buy a cartridge for a cheap mixer tap; suddenly you need a full replacement when it could have been a simple fix.”
The take-home message is clear. When you are choosing new products, always check with your plumber. “There can be many issues. For example, some hot water services won’t run certain water-efficient showerheads,” advises Scott. “You have to marry your fixtures with the appliances you’ve got and sometimes this may mean the plumber doing some minor upgrades to the water pipes.”
If you love hot water, Scott is also an advocate of hot water recirculation systems. “If you have a large home, you don’t want to be waiting for 10 seconds plus for hot water,” he says. Hot water recirculation systems connect to your plumbing to ensure that a constant flow of hot water is immediately available when the tap is turned on.
As with any construction process, there can be things that don’t always go according to plan. However, some of these can be avoided by applying due diligence and ensuring all the checks and balances are put in place. Scott says one of the biggest plumbing issues is usually roof leaks. “When guttering is being fitted, the question always needs to be asked, what happens if that downpipe blocks with leaves? “Without the correct overflow provisions, water can damage timbers and ceilings and there can also be mould issues,” warns Scott.
DECIDING ON THE LAYOUT
If you are building and project managing yourself, establishing open and honest communication with your plumber will help the process go smoothly. Before you enlist your plumbing tradie, plumber Taran Mellors from Mellors Plumbing suggests doing some research on the styles and layouts that appeal to you. “Draw a plan, know what you want, then your plumber can give you ideas and suggestions too,” he suggests.
If you are renovating, changing the position of taps and other fixtures can be costly, says Taran. “For example, if you’re renovating and changing showers and bathtubs to different locations within the space, and if the home is built on a concrete slab, that means cutting concrete and moving pipes as well as replacing the termite barrier,” he says.
As for bathroom layout, there is no general rule of thumb, but Taran says it needs to flow. “There should be a feeling of symmetry in a space where you place things like showers and vanities,” he says. “As for toilets, well, most people don’t like to see a toilet from the door.” When it comes to showers, larger is definitely more popular. “Some people like to offset the mixer from the showerhead so you can turn the shower on, step in without getting wet until it reaches your desired temperature,” says Taran.
As for tapware, Taran points out that over the last decade or more there have been some prominent changes. “Mixers are definitely more popular and taps have gone the other way; they are harder to source and more expensive,” he says. “With mixer taps there’s the added advantage of less things that could go wrong later on.”
In kitchens, the plumbing layout depends on the shape of your space. Ideally, though, the dishwasher should be placed next to the sink for rinsing and cleaning up. You can place filtered tap water over the sink, but some people also choose to put filtered tap water in another location, which will need more plumbing connections. If you are thinking of installing a fridge with chilled water and an icemaker, allowances also need to be made for plumbing.
Around your home you might also have gas installed — ovens, cooktops, heaters, water heaters, and hydronic or underfloor heating can all be powered by gas, and all need to be installed by a professional plumber.
The plumbing layout and design must adhere to specific building codes. All work carried out by a plumber has to meet Australian Standards (AS3500 and 5601) and the Plumbing Code of Australia, so it’s important to use a licensed and registered plumber for any work you get done at home.
With cleanliness in mind, many Australians are researching and investing in products like smart toilets. Reece Bathroom and Kitchen merchandising leader Daniela Santilli says at Reece Bathrooms, they’ve seen an enormous spike in popularity of their Roca In-Wash Inspira smart toilet this year for its multitude of benefits. “For one, it cleans itself after each use. It’s full of clever integrations, like in-built bidet functionality that offers integrated cleaning and drying, an LED night light, and control over water temperature and direction — all dictated by an easy-to-use remote control,” she explains. “An added bonus is the integration of rimless technology in some models, which means the toilet pan is more hygienic than standard designs.”
Water is a precious commodity, so embracing water-saving measures has become part of the way we live. Did you know some older-style showers used a whopping 15 to 20 litres of water a minute? Nowadays, many showerheads have built-in flow restrictors to reduce flow to around nine litres of water a minute or less.
In the past, toilets were very inefficient when it came to water usage, and some used even more water than showers, recalls Taran. “When toilets were single flush they used more; now with dual buttons, they’re far more water efficient. A half flush uses three litres or less and full flush is four-and-a-half litres,” he says.
Water tanks can be a good option but they need to be maintained properly. Scott says some tanks don’t have the ability to drain properly or flush out. “Tanks need to be flushed and have the right filtering method. Many people have tanks fitted and then put them on bypass as they cause too many problems,” he says.
Products that use water, such as taps, toilets and showerheads, are tested under the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme. A rating score is allocated (between one and six stars) to flag the product’s efficiency.
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