Adventures in home improvement: water repipe

When we first bought our home, we upgraded to a new 200 amp electrical service and rewired much of the home. With that project done, we installed a hydronic furnace  a tankless water heater hooked up to an air handler that pumps warm air to the ducts throughout the house. Unfortunately, our home had old galvanized steel water pipes which were too rusty to hook up to the water heat. We finally planned and started the water repipe project.

One lesson I learned right away is that any infrastructure work impacts the rest of the home. We took this opportunity to shift the garage wall five feet in to gain some space in the basement. We worked with my neighbor to frame out a 2×4 wall. I got a chance to play with a framing nailer and a powder-actuated nail gun. It uses a .22 caliber shell to shoot a nail into the concrete floor. Before any of this could happen, my friends and I pulled down lathe and plaster and some blown in insulation.

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Here’s a view of the basement side of the wall. At this point, I demoed most of the old wall. The old 2×4 are rock hard. They don’t make framing lumber like they used to.

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After the old wall went down, the cat boxes were temporarily housed there. We also found that the walls weren’t insulated and some of the plumbing was slowly leaking over the years. Fortunately moving the wall back opened up access to the plumbing upstairs. The old tank water heater was unsafely sitting in the middle of the basement floor.

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To level out the floor, I borrowed my neighbors rotary hammer to creak up some of the concrete and remove the old footings. I learned that concrete work is heavy, back-breaking, and very dirty.

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Here I got a clean slab removed, the old footing came up in one piece. I ended up expanding that hole almost to the drain line to lower it to the point where I could roughly level the floor.

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The plumber suggested that while we were doing the repipe project that I consider replacing the line to the water main. That meant bribing two amazing friends over to help me dig up a 2 feet deep trench from the sidewalk to the house. It didn’t sound like much until we started digging up rocks and tree roots. We broke sweat pretty quickly and no hidden treasures were found.

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We worked with a local independent plumber based out of West Seattle. He came over for three days to run the water lines and replace all the connections. I enjoyed working with an independent than a large company. There’s a lot more pride in craftsmanship and ownership in the project. I tagged along with him for a few hours a day to learn the technique and most importantly, to have an understanding and confidence in my new system. Hopefully I didn’t annoy him too much along the way.

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Here’s the new 1″ pex line that runs to the house. I insulated the line while we had access to it before I filled the dirt back in.

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Although it was a hard project, it was well worth it to replace this old steel line that went to my house. The rust is to be expected. That coupling is a patch job from a long time ago. Many homeowners forgo the process of replacing the supply line to the home because of the cost of trenching. One big benefit was that I was able to move the water shutoff into my mechanical room and build out the water lines in a more planned fashion than try to retrofit to an existing supply.

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Here’s a in progress shot of our new mechanical room. The tankless is to the left with new copper piping thanks to my plumber. That is hooked up to Pex lines that supply the air handler and provides cold and hot water for the house. The tankless is rated to cost me $200 a year vs. $650 for the tank heater. We’ll have to do some more benchmarking to figure out the actual operational cost.

The tankless provides both hot water for the furnace and hot water for home use.

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The wall we built earlier provided new spacing for the revamped plumbing. We got rid of most of the steel drain lines that never drained the tub well. The old washer drained into a utility sink. We now have a drain built into our new 2×6 wall. Once the wallboard goes up, it’ll be a clean look. You can’t tell from the picture but we also got hot and cold running into an outside spigot.

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A lesson I learned was that plumbers specialize in plumbing. He roughed in the lines to the bathroom but had to leave copper stubs until the wall was patched. This way, the person doing the patch could cut the pipe to the right length to flush mount the shut off valve. I took a stab at it and rough cut some 1/2 inch dry wall. It was hard finding solid structure to screw the drywall onto. Using a pipe cutter, I cut the copper stubs, attached the valve and hooked up the water lines and drains.

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I applied drywall mud in the joints, put a layer of mesh tape and added the first layer of mud. After it dried, I lightly sanded and added a second layer of mud with a larger knife. After that dried, I added the finish layer of mud and smoothed it out with my largest knife. A lot of sanding later, I have a smooth wall that’s ready for texturing, priming, and painting. Now I know why these guys charge so much. It’s not hard, it just takes a lot of time.

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Up next, I have a lot of finish work to do to clean up the mechanical room, dress up the laundry room, and finish out the garage so I have a place to store my tools.