Redone in Copper

Sorry for the dearth of posts. For some reason my phone's forward-facing camera stopped working, so I could only take pictures in selfie move. So all the images in this post are now mistagged as selfies. Plus, you know, they kind of suck because the selfie camera is not really good for photos of things.

Actually, that's kind of funny. Anyway, I haven't taken a lot of photos this week because of this hilarity.

Anyway, the rough plumbing has been motoring along. The plumber really wanted to redo the PEX plumbing in copper, and since he's responsible for designing the plumbing system, we agreed. Though I am a little bummed about all the work we did going away.

Here is the lavatory, replumbed:

The old lavatory

And here's the shower. Since we were replumbing everything, we are also installing a system that recirculates hot water so it takes less time for the shower to heat up. In California we can't do traditional recirculating systems because they use too much energy, so we use a system that sends the not-yet-hot water back into the cold side until it gets hot enough (sound confusing? This page has a diagram that explains it a little better). I think that is what that business with the extra pipe is there, though I'm not 100 percent sure. Since we didn't end up using copper when we plumbed it ourselves I didn't spend a huge amount of time learning the details of shower plumbing in copper (which is very different from PEX).

The old shower

At the same time, the plumbers have also finished the plumbing for the back bathroom.

Here is the wall-mounted faucet for the lavatory:

Lavatory plumbing

Note that the drain is in copper as well. That is way more time and expense than we put into our own plumbing.

And here is the shower valve:

Shower valve

Sorry for the crappy quality. Imagine my face off to the side of it, scowling in concentration as I attempt to take photos of things behind me.

Anyway, this is another thermostatic valve. I'm a big fan of being able to just set the temperature and then every time you get in the shower it's in your sweet spot already.

Tub plumbing

And here's the tub. We had a bit of a go-round on this for a somewhat complicated reason.

Tub fillers are allowed to have as high a flow as you want, at unlimited temperature. Showers must have flow restrictors and a valve that controls the temperature to prevent scalding (I guess on the principle that you may screw up and hit the controls while shower, whereas if you do that in the tub you are protected by the mass of the water around you).

We have here a tub filler that connects to a handheld shower, so you can wash up while in the tub, but there's no overhead shower. So the handheld shower needed a pressure-balancing valve (no need for thermostatic here because this is not a primary shower; it's for things like hair washing while taking a bath in the tub). The shower valve had to be accessible, which normally would not be a problem because you just put it right behind the controls, and if you need to access it, you unscrew the controls and there it is, but in this case we skipped the controls because we just put a diverter valve on the tub filler. So the shower lines run over to the nearby closet of the back bedroom, where the valve is accessible through a panel, and then back to the handheld.

Anyway, before we arrived at that solution we had multiple discussions with the plumbing supplier and the plumber and the contractor and me in pretty much every combination possible, but none with all four of us. Maybe that would have been more efficient. At any rate it is working now.

This weekend we are moving the last of the random crap we have in the house out, because we have rough inspections early next week, and then the drywallers are coming through. Then the warm boards are going down on the floor, and the hydronic heating will be installed.

In the meantime, our dining room at the Admiralty looks like a lighting warehouse as the various fixtures arrive, I'm meeting with the contractor tomorrow to talk about cabinet dimensions, I need to design the back stair handrail/guardrail, and we are interviewing some landscape architects to talk about a garden masterplan in the next week or so. And maybe I'm getting a new cell phone with a functional camera. Busy times.

posted by ayse on 09/29/16


I'm trying to decide between copper and PEX at my build. What was the reason the plumber gave for choosing copper?

I like the idea of copper pipes, but it always scares the crap out of me that they have to use a soldering torch so close to bare wood.

Can you talk a little about why the plumber wanted to do away with the PEX and switch to copper? I'm contemplating PEX for my house because it looks a little more DIY friendly than copper. Maybe plumbing experts don't like it?

After I clicked submit yesterday, I thought, did I fill in the name etc fields? It is easy to forget to do that, maybe it should be impossible.

I looked up thermostatic valves, but I did not find ones that could have their settings changed. It sounds like a plumber sets them once and for all?

OK, some responses here:

The plumber wanted to redo the pipes in copper because he felt more comfortable with its durability over time. PEX is approved for use in California and is a well-tested material here and abroad, but he just felt better about the copper.

The cost of copper was more than 4 times the cost of PEX, for perspective. If it were not that this plumber had such strong feelings about it I would have gone with PEX with no qualms. There are a couple of reasons why PEX is pretty awesome, including the ability to bend it so you don't need a lot of fittings, and that you can do all homeruns to the manifold so things like flushing the toilet don't affect your shower experience. And it's easy to work with.

For soldering, it's really not that big of a deal to solder next to wood. Your house is not going to catch fire from soldering unless you really suck at it; even if the wood gets a little charred it's fine. And you leave things open for inspections for long enough that nothing is going to be quietly smoldering in there.

As for thermostatic valves, the temperature adjustment is done by a dial on the wall. You have two controls: temperature and volume. So you can set the temperature how you like it, then just turn the shower off. The next time you turn it on, the temperature is right there. The only thing that is set at the valve level is done by the manufacturer, where they set the valve to not allow scalding temperatures.

This may be out of an abundance of caution (or ignorance) so take it FWIW. We changed our plans from PEX to copper because we've had so many sprinkler heads and drip lines be eaten by squirrels and varmints trying to access the water inside during this drought, that my husband was afraid they might also go after the PEX as well. They are made out of different materials but in a drought, the squirrels/mice/rabbits/etc. may not care. (We are on a raised foundation with a small dugout basement in L.A.)

I'd love to hear how it goes with the landscape architects! We just did a massive removal of bamboo, trumpet vines, and trees that we had allowed to get overgrown and that the previous owner had planted too close anyway. Now we're staring down beginning the research process to figure out better trees (and maybe plants) for us. I would love to hire a landscape architect but my guess is that they would be out of our price range at this point in time.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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