Installation musts for below-grade bathroom fixtures

Unique pump likely requires multiple permits

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 10, 2012

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Unique pump likely requires multiple permits

Paul Bianchina
Inman News®

Q: We need to install a toilet and sink just below grade going into a septic system for my elderly parents. Do we need an ejector-type toilet? Also is there a specific make/brand that we should be looking at? Does someone also make an ejector sink or is there a way to connect it to the toilet? --Susan M.

A: For the type of installation you describe, where both the toilet and the sink are below grade, you actually need a sewage ejector pump. With this type of installation, all of the liquid and solid waste from all of the below-grade fixtures flows into a holding tank.

When the waste reaches a certain level, a float mechanism triggers a pump, which pumps the waste up to the home's main sewer line. With this type of arrangement, you can also install other fixtures below grade, such as a shower, bathtub or washing machine.

A complete installation includes the holding tank, which is a noncorrosive tank that's usually around 30 gallons of capacity; the pump and float; a waste line that's connected to the home's sewer line; and a vent line that's connected to the home's plumbing vent system. A grounded electrical connection is also required for the pump.

If you're not familiar with this type of installation, you'll want to have it done by a licensed plumber who's experienced with remodeling work. You'll also need to check with your local building department to see what plumbing and electrical permits will be required for the installation.

Q: We recently purchased a 7-year-old brick home with a crawl space. The inspector said we need to get a vapor barrier installed in the crawl space to prevent mold. We haven't moved in completely yet but do stay at the house for four to eight days a month.

During our last stay we noticed that it took a long time to get hot water to the kitchen faucet. It's about 30-35 feet from the water heater. I haven't been in the crawl space but I'm wondering whether the floor is insulated. What would you recommend we do? --Dave H.

A: You actually have three different issues here, so let's take them separately, along with my recommendations.

The vapor barrier in the crawl space is used to prevent moisture from the soil from migrating up into the crawl space and, as the inspector suggests, potentially causing mold problems. It can also cause problems on the wood framing, and other issues in the crawl space. The vapor barrier should be 6-mil black plastic sheeting, laid directly on the dirt.

Crawl-space vapor barriers have been code for quite some time, so it's surprising that your 7-year-old house doesn't have one. My recommendation: Have a vapor barrier installed as soon as possible.

Issue No. 2 is the floor insulation. Because you had a home inspection, the inspector would have noted the presence -- or lack thereof -- of floor insulation in his report. A crawl space definitely needs a vapor barrier if it has floor insulation, so unless the vapor barrier was removed for some reason, you probably don't have an insulated floor.

My recommendation: Floor insulation definitely helps with heat loss, so it will keep your home more comfortable and keep your energy bills down. If the floor isn't insulated, I'd certainly suggest that you have that done.

While floor insulation can help with hot water delivery by keeping water pipes from losing heat, that's not going to be the cause of your delay in getting hot water to rooms that are some distance away from the tank.

My recommendation: Drain and flush the tank to be sure it's clean and operating properly. Check the thermostats to be sure they're set properly. Insulate all the water pipes under the house. Consider having a plumber install a recirculating pump, which will make a big difference in how fast hot water makes it to the back of the house.

Q: We live in a 2 1/2-story home with a finished attic. We recently had it insulated. I just found out that [the insulators] didn't insulate the attic floor, which I thought they were supposed to have done. My husband says they shouldn't, that it needs to be "open." Who's right? --Kris C.

A: Insulation is used primarily to slow down the movement of heat between heated spaces and unheated spaces, such as between the inside of the house and the outside, or between a living space and an unheated attic.

Because both your main house and the attic above it are heated living spaces, from an energy standpoint there is no reason to insulate the floor between the two spaces. You could, however, insulate it if you wanted to reduce transmitted noise from that upper room.

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