I discovered years ago that readers like stories and hate to be lectured to. Stories can be fun and intriguing. Lectures tend to make your brain hurt. I’ve got a story for you that’s been unfolding over the past eight weeks with a random visitor who stumbled onto my AsktheBuilder.com website.
This story is about hope. Hope is an emotion you experience when you wish for things you can’t control. For example, you hope you’ll get rescued from a deserted island. You hope the weather will be nice for your vacation.
But you should never ever hope that everything in your new home is going to be done the best possible way or to the highest level you can afford. Some upgrades cost very little extra money but pay huge dividends down the road. One of these is cast iron drain pipe.
The visitor who showed up at my website is a professional who’s building a new home in New Jersey. Like thousands and thousands of others who build new homes each year, he undoubtedly thought he had done his homework and hired a knowledgeable builder who’d do every aspect of the job the right way.
That’s where the trouble begins. What’s the right way? Often you’ll hear builders or others say something’s built to “code” or that everything in the house passes all the building inspections.
The building code is a set of minimum standards. If your home passes all the inspections, it’s like getting a 70 percent on a test. You can always build something to a much higher standard than the building code mandates.
The man building the home in New Jersey asked me a fairly complex question. I developed a phone consulting product a long time ago for these situations where back-and-forth questions and answers are required to offer the best advice. He was overjoyed to discover he and I could talk on the phone.
His first questions were about the strength of the concrete being used in the footings, foundation walls and basement slab. I gave him all the answers and told him that they were in past columns on my website he could read for free. He told me he’s so busy he doesn’t have time to sort through all the information and would rather just talk to me.
A week later the homeowner wanted to discuss gaps in the plywood wall sheathing that covered the exterior walls. Then a week later he wanted to talk about how the walls were joined together.
Every week a new set of questions came up about whatever work had just been installed. Last weekend, he sent me photos of the PVC plumbing drain pipes that had been installed. After reading a past column on my website, he became very concerned that he was going to hear lots of rushing water noise in the pipes.
PVC is a great piping material because it doesn’t rust or develop cracks. But its shortcoming is that it’s very noisy. When water rushes out of a toilet and cascades down a vertical drain stack in a wall, you’d think you’re living under Niagara Falls. This rushing-water noise is horrible and it’s preventable.
This homeowner didn’t want to hear any noise and asked me how to stop it. I told him that the pipes can be covered with a foam sleeve, sound-deadening fiberglass batts could be placed in the wall and ceiling cavities and sound-deadening board could be nailed to the wall studs and ceiling joists before the drywall was installed.
Or, he could remove as many of the larger-diameter 3-inch drains as possible and replace them with no-hub cast iron pipe. This is what should have been installed in the first place. It’s very expensive to try to correct the problem, but not so expensive to install noise-proof cast iron.
One wonders why many builders don’t mimic car manufacturers. Builders are keenly aware of the different model levels of pickup trucks today. You can buy a basic pickup truck or one that’s got every option and the plushest interior you could ever imagine. Of course, you pay more for the better things, but if the buyer wants it, then sell it to her/him.
This homeowner hoped that the builder would automatically build the home to the highest standards. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. It’s up to you to determine what the best is. You need to do your due diligence. You need to do the research and find out how to avoid all the pesky problems that await you a month after you move into your new home.
Fortunately, I was able to give this homeowner a few tips about his electric system, as the wiring had not been installed. I told him that he should consider installing nothing less than 12 gauge wire in all normal house circuits. This wire only costs (2018 prices) $25 more per 250 feet. The cost of the circuit breaker for this wire is the same as for thinner 14-gauge wire.
The advantage to using 12-gauge wire is that it’s rated for 20 amps instead of 15. There are lots of reasons you’ll appreciate this extra capacity on a circuit. I also told him to make sure there’s plenty of exterior outlets in strategic locations. All of these should be controlled with indoor switches.
I could go on and on about the best things for a home. Maybe I should write a book. What do you think? Let me know at my website, and if enough ask for it, I’ll do it for you.
Tim Carter can call you to solve your problem. To request a call, visit https://www.askthebuilder.com/ask-tim/.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter