Owner Built Homes and Homesteads: How to Install Plumbing

In this chapter of his book the Owner Built Home, Ken Kern discusses how to install plumbing with an emphasis on using efficient design principles.

| November/December 1973

MOTHER EARTH NEWS excerpted this series from Ken Kern's two books the OWNER-BUILT HOME and OWNER-BUILT HOMESTEAD while the writing of the latter book was still in progress.

The Owner-Built Home, Volume 4, Chapter 1: How to Install Plumbing

Unfortunately, far too many owner-builders resist the idea of installing their own plumbing and wiring. These amateurs somehow blunder through design and structural problems, but retreat for comfort in favor of "experts" when the time comes to plumb and wire their houses. And the duly licensed experts are apt to hoodwink their clients into believing that their "profession," above all others, requires special aptitudes and near magical powers of understanding.

True, the variety of pipes and fittings, and the usual complexity of vents and drains—when installed under building code jurisdiction—is enough to exhaust the hardiest. But plumbing-fixture arrangements can be simplified. New fitting and piping materials and improved drain layouts can be used. A rational understanding of plumbing practice exposes to honest daylight much of the costly hocus-pocus found in the Secret Order of Plumbing Officials.

These officials snugly protect their profession from renegade intruders by using the Plumbing Code. The only really just and decent part of the U.S. Uniform Plumbing Code is section 1.10(c), which states that:

Any permit required by this code may be issued to any person to do any plumbing or drainage work regulated by this code in a single family dwelling used exclusively for living purposes . . . in the event that any such person is the bona fide owner of any such dwelling, and that the same are occupied by or designed to be occupied by said owner, provided that said owner shall personally purchase all materials and shall personally perform all labor in connection therewith. 

Plumbing codes now in force date back to the 1870's when the water carriage system was first introduced. The erroneous nineteenth century belief that "sewer air" caused disease is now perpetuated by law. Sewer air code requirements demand individual venting of each fixture-trap. As background information to the function of vents it should first be known that the fixture-trap provides a water seal between the drainage system and the building's interior. When a fixture is discharged a pressure fluctuation occurs which tends to reduce the water seal in the fixture-trap. Therefore vent pipes are connected at various points in the drainage system so gases may escape to the outside. Those plumbing officials who continue to hold the discredited "sewer gas" theory would do well to read Winslow's, The Sanitary Significance of Bacteria in Air of Drains and Sewers. According to Winslow (as quoted by the American Public Health Service), a person who placed his mouth at the top of a plumbing stack and breathed the air from it for 24 hours would inhale no more colon bacilli than were then to be found in a quart of New York City drinking water.

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