.... What can an architect say that will help the small home builder to get a bounteous supply of water where he wants it, so that he will not have to think of that part of the plumbing system again? In the first place, he can make large use of brass pipe. There cannot be any argument about this being the best material. The simple fact is that it does not break down and does not rust. Furthermore, it does not become stopped up with lime deposits. The other factor about it is extra cost. If you cannot afford brass pipe that is all there is to the question for you. But first be sure you cannot afford it, for it is worth its cost and it is worth making some sacrifice to get it. Steel pipes about the house heater and hot water tank rust more rapidly than elsewhere. If one cannot do more at least these should be of brass.
Enough about materials. What else can the architect offer on the subject of water supply piping? This; install stops. Have you ever had the faucets over your sink get out of order only to find that the simple task of replacing gaskets or valve seats first required shutting off the water over the whole house? It is a common experience. Stops, or inexpensive valves, placed on the water supply to these fixtures eliminate this nuisance. If you cannot afford even this little added expense then drip cocks can be placed on the more important water lines in the basement. They will save many occasions for annoyance. The cost is inconsiderable.
The hot water supply deserves careful study also, principally as to the way the water is heated. The simplest arrangement is a coil or crook of piping run over the house heater fire. Unbiased engineers have shown that this is an expensive method of water heating for it cuts down the efficiency of the house heater, especially when the weather is very cold, for then it overheats the water without an appreciable effect on the temperature in the house. Furthermore these pipes over the fire gradually stop up with incrustations of lime, become less and less effective and finally break, requiring costly replacements. Needless to say, they do not work when the house heater is off and then an auxiliary gas water heater is necessary. In a plan such as this the auxiliary heater is often a rudimentary affair that burns much gas and at best provides only an intermittent supply of hot water. A much better scheme is provided in an automatic hot water heater that works in all seasons. There are many types of equipment of this sort, but fundamentally the best ones for small houses are those that include the heating unit within the hot water storage tank itself, or else those that heat the water instantaneously. In the former the tank is thoroughly insulated. With hot water in the tank there is barely perceptible warmth in the outer jacket of the tank. The burner operates under control of a thermostat, thus when water temperature drops to a certain point the gas flame is turned on. It goes off when the temperature rises to a fixed point.
1 Adapted from "Plumbing - What You See and What You Don't," Small Home, January, 1930.
There is a limit to the amount of hot water that can be drawn from this outfit, for the production of water is not instantaneous. Yet there is a full tank of water, enough for almost any case. This type of equipment is especially recommended for homes having shower baths, for fluctuations in the temperature of the water at the shower head are not so likely to be marked as with the instantaneous type.
The instantaneous heater is recommended where there is a continuous and heavy demand for hot water, as in a rather large house, and also for the small house where hot water may be required infrequently. Here hot water is produced only when the hot water faucet is open, thus if by chance there should be no one at home through the day, there would be no production of hot water at all, and the only expense entailed would be that of keeping the small pilot light going. With the automatic instantaneous hot water heater the supply of hot water is practically unlimited.
Now which will you take? A water heating plan that involves a furnace coil that will need replacements, that will rob your heater, that will not give you at any time all the hot water you may want and none in summer, late spring, and early fall, with a cheap and inefficient auxiliary heater that has to be turned on and off, is expensive to operate and thus gets turned on principally only for the proverbial Saturday night? Or will you add a little money to your first expenditures and get a boundless supply of hot water all the year? It seems to me the answer is manifest. So much for that, only buy a water heater that bears a guarantee backed by a good name.
If you choose the storage water tank, have it of copper. The difference in cost between a copper tank and a steel tank will be made up almost before you know it by savings in fuel, and you will never have a rusted out heater that has to be plugged to make it last a little longer, or else replaced.
Faucets, like every other mechanical device can be cheap and nearly worthless or they can be elaborate to the point of magnificence. Design, kind and amount of metal used, operating device, all of these take their part in fixing the worth of the faucet. They can be of light metal with poor plating and trouble-making working parts, or they may be of solid brass or bronze with heavy nickel or chromium plating and working parts that will stand a lot of abuse and, when worn, are easy to replace. The renewable feature of any faucet is an extremely important part of it, for when the faucet is closed against the water pressure there is bound to be wear. A well-made faucet requires infrequent repairs and has an easy method of making repairs.
As far as the finish is concerned, one has a choice of many metals; nickel, chromium, silver and gold. The latter two, of course, are manifestly extravagances. Of the nickel and chromium the former is brighter, takes a very high polish. Chromium has a bluish-silver lustre quite unobtrusive and beautiful. Chromium does not corrode with ordinary usage and does not stain. It costs more and is worth it.
Looking through the catalogues of many manufacturers of faucets even the architect is likely to be appalled at the multiplicity of different types and designs and the different character of finishes. But he would begin to make a choice by a process which I do not hesitate to recommend to you. He would eliminate every type that was not backed by a high grade manufacturer. The architect knows from long experience that when he chooses a faucet from such a source, the manufacturer will be as insistent as the owner that the faucet make good. If it does not, it will be replaced and the owner will be satisfied. That is a basic principle underlying all high grade manufacturing.
When it comes to making a choice as to design of faucets purely from the point of view of appearance, taste is involved heavily. Personally I like the unobtrusive kinds, and I prefer the all-metal types rather than those of china. This is a matter of taste, although the metal ones are clearly more permanent.
People generally prefer in the lavatory a combination faucet, so that one may have tempered running water at that place. If rigorous economy must be practiced, double faucets may be used.
The cheapest kind of stopper will be the rubber one with a chain on it. The more modern one is a pop-up waste operated from a knob.
The kitchen sink should certainly have a swinging spout combination faucet with a metal or porcelain soap dish. Many who work in kitchens also like a transfer valve on this faucet so that the water may be passed through a rubber hose to spray china.
The shower head is another fitting to which it is worth while giving some study. Plumbing catalogues are replete with them. The shower head should be of cast brass, with a removable face so that it can be taken off and cleaned. The whole head should be on a ball bearing. There should be a mixing valve that will be a reasonable assurance against scalding.
Faucets for laundry trays and for hose connections can be of dull brass, and provision should be made for hose connections in the basement, preferably for both hot and cold water.
One thing more about the water supply and then we will be through with this part of it. This is the water softener. From one point of view perhaps this may be thought of as a luxury and perhaps it is. But it is also an extremely satisfactory part of a complete plumbing installation.
It works by passing the service water directly through a mineral, which has what the chemists call an affinity for the elements that harden water, - the sulphates of magnesia and lime and the iron. The water passes through the mineral, leaves these hardening or soap destroying elements behind, and passes on otherwise unchanged and the water is softer and cleaner and more pure than rain water. Operating costs are low.
That brings us to the sewage disposal system. City ordinances invariably define the exact methods and materials to be used so providing a good contractor is employed there is not much an architect can add that will be of service save the advice to include adequate cleanouts. A clean-out is what its name implies - an opening in the drainage lines through which the plumber may insert tools for the purpose of removing obstructions. The rule is that they should be installed wherever the drainage lines change direction. The practice is to use them far less frequently. The argument in support of cleanouts will be manifest to all. A single job of removing pipes that cannot be reached with the plumber's rod, because of a change in direction of the piping, will cover the initial cost of cleanouts many times over.
One of the most important items in connection with the sewage disposal lines is the way they fit into the house framing, especially where they must cross wooden joists. Many a joist has been utterly ruined by injudicious cutting to accommodate a large pipe. These pipes should go between the joists not through them.....
To have such matters worked out properly requires foresight and that means practically the employment of an intelligent contractor who will be considerate of your interests.
Now the third part in this trilogy about plumbing - the fixtures. Like every other thing about the house there are two phases to this. One is the quantity and the other is the quality. It is the disposition of those who build very fine houses to be generous with the plumbing accommodations. The prospective home builder looking over the plans of houses of larger size will be surprised at the magnificence that these more expensive houses offer on this score. Many provide complete bathrooms for every bedroom, with additional toilet facilities on the first floor. But the man who must build from limited means will have to decide for himself how far he can and should go in supplying like luxuries for his own home.
It is no doubt quite true that the more commodiously a house is fitted with plumbing fixtures the more readily it is sold. One has only to read advertisements of houses for sale to see how true this is because these advertisements in a very large number of cases make note of the fact that there are two bathrooms or a bathroom and first floor toilet. Evidently people think well of the convenience and comfort such installations afford. But if one can not afford two bathrooms completely equipped he can still go far toward getting practically equivalent accommodations by putting the water-closet in a compartment separate fromthe other fixtures and having a plan that contemplates the installation of tub and lavatory in one room and a shower and lavatory in another. If the arrangement of this equipment is such that they stand back to back, so that a single drain pipe and vent through the roof will accommodate them all, a marked economy is obtained.
It should be observed that there is a definite trend toward the inclusion of some sort of a shower in houses even of the simplest kind. This may be in connection with the tub or it may be in a separate compartment. A shower head over the tub does very well and its economy speaks for itself, but there is always some difficulty, which is not always overcome, of making a water-tight joint between the wall and the tub. One must be careful with a shower arrangement of this type, so that excess water is not splashed on the wall. On the other hand, a shower compartment constructed separately, made of metal throughout, both sides and base, supplies its own protection from the point of view of waterproofing and practically eliminates the whole problem of leakage.
The manifold arrangement of showers, tubs and other fixtures in the bathroom are such that it is impossible for me to go into much detail on this score. Everyone knows they may all be placed in one single bathroom. But it has been shown quite clearly, as I have said before, that when we put shower and lavatory in one room and bath and lavatory in another, with water-closet convenient to both, we get a flexibility of arrangement that commends itself to everyone.
Eventually, as a matter of course, fixtures must be selected. The multiplicity of these is such as to carry an adequate discussion of them completely beyond the possible confines of this article. One has only to know that every one of these fixtures is offered in many designs and also in many colors, as well as, of course, in many prices. The cheapest ware is made of cast iron which has a glazed enamel surfacing. Another range of expense includes fixtures made of burned clay with a glaze of porcelain. The most expensive is solid porcelain throughout. The sewer fixture - the water-closet - must be of porcelain. Plumbing ordinances require that. The other fixtures may be obtained in any of the three wares, with price ranges of the widest sort. The first quality in any of the glazed ware shows a surface without defects.
The best way for a home builder to make sure of the fixtures that he wants is to make a choice from a demonstration of the fixtures themselves. Pictures and catalogues do not tell the story half as well as the fixtures do themselves.
To give a very brief example of how even the simplest fixture may be elaborated from a rudimentary type to one of the most elaborate order, we may take the case of the kitchen sink. In the elementary form this is the familiar vessel with a back on it reaching up the wall some six or eight inches and with a flat metal rim around the edges supporting on one or both sides a wooden drain board. The bottom of the sink is painted. With the next step the metal flange or edge becomes a rolled rim. With the next one the roll gives place to an apron which extends down to cover the bottom of the sink, all, of course, enameled. The next degree of excellence finds a sink with the drain board cast integrally with the sink. This may be on one side, either right or left, or on both sides. If china ware is substituted in place of metal we get into new areas of expense. And if this kitchen sink also includes integrally with it one of the modern dish washers we have the final added touch of luxury. Color is an added quality to be obtained in most of these types.
[Note. - The cost of plumbing of a house usually varies from 6 to 10 per cent of the total cost. Mr. H. Vandervoort Walsh states the following: "The smallest system consists of one bathroom, two laundry tubs, and one kitchen sink; all of which costs about $800. For every additional bathroom, drained into the same vertical soil pipe, about $400 must be allowed. If, however, the additional bathroom must have a special drain line of its own, it will cost about $525. A small wash room on the first floor will cost about $150.....These estimates are based upon union labor wages and average priced fixtures, which run about as follows: Built-in bathtub - about $105. Lavatory - from $40 to $60. Water-closet - $45-$8o. Built-in showers - about $225" ("Simpler and Better Plumbing," Arts and Decoration, April, 1930).]