When building a custom home, as you think about the plumbing that goes into it, it’s helpful to take a step back and see the bigger picture of all the parts that make up a home’s plumbing system.
When you’re reviewing a bid from a plumbing contractor for your home, here are a few questions to consider:
- What brand of water heater is included in the proposal?
- Are all the fixtures included in the cost?
- What kind of warranty does the contractor provide?
- What kind of manufacturer’s warranty do the fixtures provide?
- Is the contractor a reputable company that knows custom homes?
Having a good quality water heater and fixtures are clearly important, as is understanding the warranties involved, and these are fairly easy to determine with some dialogue with your builder and the plumbing contractor.
Something that can be harder, though, is making sure your plumber is experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to plumbing a new home.
Choose the right materials for your home’s plumbing system
Another important factor in residential plumbing is deciding on the type of material that will be used. In Colorado, there are several types of options to choose from, and we usually put a mixture of three main plumbing materials into the custom homes we work on. These are:
- Copper pipe
- PEX (cross-linked polyethylene)
- PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
There are specific reasons for why you’d use one material in a certain application, and not another. Here’s a quick breakdown for each one:
Copper pipe: the biggest reason why you might use copper pipe in a new home these days is mainly due to familiarity. People just like copper—it’s a familiar, proven product. It’s been used for decades in millions of homes across America.
There are two main problems with plumbing an entire house with copper pipe: cost, and potential leakage.
First, copper is very, very expensive, so plumbing an entire house with it can be prohibitively costly.
Second, because copper has been used in so many houses for so many years, we now know that after 50 or 60 years it can get pinhole leaks in it, and eventually wear out, requiring replacement.
We do use copper for unions in the water entry room, like the connection to your water heater, because that offers a better install and it’s a better product at the starting point. So it’s copper for the mechanical equipment, then transitions into PEX for the whole house.
PEX pipe: in this day and age, the whole industry is switching to PEX. I believe it’s a great product: it saves time, saves labor, and saves costs for the homeowner. For the most part, we use PEX for a house’s plumbing.
The best part about PEX is that it’s strong and flexible: it expands with heat and contracts with cold. Whereas copper, once it expands or freezes, can burst, PEX is built to handle the change in water temperature. So when we install plumbing in custom homes, we use Uponor ProPex with stainless steel crimp rings. That’s really the best quality product that a homeowner can get.
As far as drawbacks, PEX doesn’t really have any, although some people that chemicals from the plastic can leach into their drinking water. But so far, that’s not proven to be a problem in our water systems.
PVC pipe: PVC is lightweight, has a long lifespan, and is corrosion-resistant. We use schedule-40 PVC for the drain-waste-vent system (septic system, sewage, venting, etc.).
Custom homes need far more attention than production homes
When Alphalete installs plumbing in a custom home, we use a combination of all the materials listed above for the most cost-effective, efficient, highest-quality plumbing installation we can offer. We’re happy to provide this, and it really goes above and beyond what a production builder would require.
In fact, a plumber that works in the production (non-custom) home environment is in a whole different ballgame than a plumber working on custom homes. It’s important for a plumber to have custom home experience because custom homes aren’t cookie-cutter, in-and-out projects with the same floor plan the plumber has done 75 times before.
Custom homes have special rough-ins, high-end plumbing fixtures, radiant heat boiler system, and other things that only someone experienced in custom home plumbing would know about.
For example, sometimes with a custom home, the city sewer is not deep enough to accommodate where the house is being built. So that tells you you’re going to have to add a sewage ejector pit in the basement to pump the basement out to the city sewer (because it has to go uphill). But you can only run the basement floor off that—you can’t run all the overhead plumbing to that system, so everything has to be gravity-fed above that.
Or let’s say you have a septic system, and your concrete foundation is six feet deep. That’s going to present a problem because you’re not going to put your septic tank eight feet deep: sometimes you don’t have that luxury to do that. You’ve got to say, “Okay, I’ll core a hole in the concrete here in order to stub out at four feet.” So the plumber has to know exactly what to block out when these types of variables are involved.
As a homeowner, you really have to know and trust that your home builder and plumber know what they’re doing because, in a custom home, it isn’t an engineer sitting in an office designing these systems before breaking ground: we’re the ones designing the plumbing system, and we have to make sure it’s all built to code.
I always tell people that it’s very important to take plumbing seriously: we’re not just installing pipes in your house. We’re helping you protect the health of your family. Sanitation is no joke, and there’s a whole city living beneath us. You want to be sure that your house’s drain, waste, venting, and water distribution is installed properly. That’s what strive to do at Alphalete Plumbing, and we’re proud to partner with Paramount Homes to build your dream custom home.