It’s easy to take for granted conveniences that are as integral to daily life as plumbing and lighting fixtures—unless they don’t work well. My late father-in-law was in the wholesale plumbing business. In honor of his memory, I had to give my selections diligent attention. So, I started thinking about plumbing fixtures right after Vernon and I agreed to work together.
Overall, it turned out easier than I’d imagined. Vernon wanted me to use Ferguson as the supplier. For starters, I wanted an efficient, low volume toilet. Ferguson offered a nice one-piece Mirabelle Alledonia at a lower price point than a dual-flush, two-piece offering from American Standard. Their Mirabelle line also included a matching sink that I liked.
To install the toilet in the master bath according to certain Vāstu constraints, I needed to have the exact specifications before the plumbing rough-in phase of work. I even went to the showroom to validate as best I could the information that was readily available online. It proved accurate. Vernon and I used it to precisely mark the layout for the tub and toilet area on the subfloor as a guide to the framer and plumber.
Master Bath Shower
In developing the construction drawings, Vernon was enthusiastic for doing a curbless shower in the master bath. At 3′ x 5′, the shower was deep enough that the water could be contained. This plan required a small adjustment in the floor framing similar to adding a window to a wall. Based on his prior experience, we used a Schluter linear drain. It integrated perfectly with the floor tile and has been a pleasure to use and maintain.
The one area that proved particularly tricky was the laundry room. There was just enough space to fit my washer and dryer side-by-side next to the sink on the east wall. That allowed us to create a 40″ high granite work space the length of the room. To avoid the concern for water lines on an outside wall, we did a 6″ soffit that also served to support the granite.
The question then was how to access the water supply/drain unit, which had to go below the level of the countertop. We elected to cut an access hole in the granite.
The initial buildout by the trim carpenters had to be revised to assure it could accommodate all the hoses without binding. The waste-water drain hose, which inserts between the two faucets, has a sharp U-bend at the end to keep it from popping out. As you can see from the photos, it was a good thing I caught the problem before the granite was installed!
Even so, installation of the washer and dryer required attention to sequence. There was just enough room behind the divider panels supporting the granite to connect the dryer to power and the exhaust vent. After that, I was able to slide the washer close enough to connect the water supply (I needed 4′ hoses to make it work), drain and power before final positioning.
I’m a fan of levers for faucets and doors. I like their simplicity of use. In the kitchen, I was biased by my favorable experience with a Delta model that Marlene had selected for her home. I especially liked its direct, short throw function compared to the many other offerings that require longer movements in two axes—one for volume, the other the temperature. For the bathroom sinks and showers, I chose Pfister Ilya for the comfortable design of the lever and sleek appearance.
I’ve already shared my search for a good soaking tub and a faucet capable of filling it quickly. There’s more to that story. The Hansgrohe tub faucet that I selected was capable of delivering 6 gallons per minute. When tested, I only got 2. After double-checking that a ¾” water line was run to the faucet and reviewing the faucet installation guide to make sure there was no option for a flow-restrictor, I threw it back to the plumber. He checked the cartridge and found no issues. He boosted water pressure a little to match the faucet specification, but the marginal gain was tiny. On the other hand, after cleaning the aerator of sediment, flow doubled. That was good enough to satisfy me.
I gave much attention to the kitchen sink. Knowing I would have a septic system and, therefore, no use for a garbage disposal, a focused on finding a high-quality, single-bowl undermount stainless steel unit that would be large enough to clean my biggest pots and cookie sheets. Basically, I wanted the largest sink that would fit comfortably into a 33″ base cabinet.
I’m not one to leave dirty dishes in the sink. They just get in the way. So one associated consideration was what to do about drying pots and pans. By this time, Amy Norris, my kitchen designer, had convinced me that routing drainage grooves into my granite countertop was a bad idea. This came from Johnny Grey’s Kitchen Culture. Even so, I got some other good ideas from the book, like adjusting countertop heights according to the associated work purpose.
My Ferguson rep had steered me toward an impressive Franke sink that offered many choices for accessories at three levels including basin drainage racks and a cutting board. It was also the price of a good dishwasher. I was also concerned that the ridge to accommodate mid-level racks would be a pain to clean and reduced the available space. Amy educated me that basin racks are available for most sinks. So I settled on a comparable 28″ Blanco model. I got a full-size basin rack to go with it, but soon found I was happier without it. Clean or dirty, anything in the sink gets in the way. Moreover, you have to remove the rack to clean the sink.
In the planning phase of my project, based on conversations with neighbors, I anticipated the potential for water quality issues. Vernon recommended that we take it step by step should problems surface, because they can be tricky to solve. So, all I did initially was to spec a Pentair water purification filter for the kitchen sink and select a dedicated faucet for it, Delta 1977-AR-DST.
I Learn About Manganese
Things were fine for the few months. Then, my well water quality report from the state noted manganese above the recommended level. That got my attention. Fortunately, my research of the medical literature was reassuring. It seems that manganese is an essential micro-nutrient which has shown toxicity primarily related to industrial inhalation exposure. There is only one report of toxicity from drinking water. The concentration was 28 mg/L. My level was 0.5 mg/L. Studies have found the normal intake of manganese ranges from 2-9 mg/day through both food and water. So, at two liters a day (unfiltered), I’m really just getting a small dietary supplement.
Dealing with Stinky Hot Water
Soon after, things got even more interesting. I discovered that the geothermal hot water pre-heat loop was not configured correctly. When that problem was resolved, the hot water started to give off the rotten-egg smell characteristic of hydrogen sulfide. I found that my next door neighbor had the same issue. His plumber had him pour 4 pints of hydrogen peroxide into his 50 gallon hot water heater. He does this a few times a year. Another on our road responded with the suggestion to use more hot water (as in “a rolling stone gathers no moss”).
My research suggested this is a common problem generally caused by harmless sulfur-reducing bacteria that thrive on iron and manganese. Apparently the water heater sacrificial anode rod can contribute and is best changed from magnesium to aluminum/zinc in this situation. Regardless of the smell issue, magnesium anode rods don’t hold up well to hard water. So that’s where we started. Changing the anode only improved things for about 3 weeks. That short-lived benefit was most probably from draining the tank.
At this point, Vernon brought out a PhD chemist from Kenetico Water Systems to do an assessment. His testing confirmed the state lab’s findings. He found that my Pentair filter reduced manganese by 67%. He also proved that the water-line rings in my toilets were simply calcium carbonate (easy to deal with) and not silica (a big headache). I embraced his recommendation for a filter containing KDF 55 bacteriostatic media on the cold water feed to the water heater. I also bought into the idea of a whole house 5 micron filter to trap well sediment before it gets into the plumbing (a problem I’d already experienced with the bathtub faucet).
The Well Aerator Option
We also explored the possibility of installing an aerator at the well head, which had been suggested by the well driller. The device basically sprays water continuously from the top of the well down to the static water level. The process helps to oxidize minerals such as manganese and iron into a form that can easily be filtered. It also inhibits growth of anaerobic bacteria like the ones making the smell. Unfortunately, the device puts an extra load on the well pump and the spray nozzle can get clogged from the minerals.
The Water Softener Option
He also recommended a water softener. I wasn’t convinced by his argument. By reducing iron, manganese and sulfate the softener would deprive the little bugs of food, but when you consider all the externalities, it doesn’t hold up as a sustainable solution.
Water softening systems generally rely on ion exchange: sodium for calcium, etc. The resin that does the exchange has to be recharged with a brine solution. It’s basically an all or nothing deal. The cycle volume is set proportionate to the hardness of the water. The briny waste and captured minerals have to be discharged somewhere. In my case, that would have meant another drain line headed toward my southern neighbor’s horse farm.
In addition, they would have needed to dig a hole in my pristine sealed crawl space to get enough head-height for the equipment. I’d also get stuck with the chore of dragging bags of salt down there to maintain the system.
What is more, the softened water would have too high a sodium level for drinking. That would have meant I’d also need a reverse osmosis system to get rid of the salt. Such systems require at least 2 gallons of water to net one for drinking. More waste.
Aside from my issue with smell, the practical downside of hard water is that it requires a lot more soap to make suds and can leave scale on appliances and plumbing fixtures. The upside is that hard water tastes fine and is much better for heart health than soft water.
I decided that I’d rather spend $16 a year on hydrogen peroxide and double my soap expense than pony up $4,000+ today for a water softening system. In the worst case scenario, I could always do the water softener later. I brought the plumber back out to install quick connect fittings on the geothermal tank so I’d have access to pour in hydrogen peroxide whenever needed. So far I’ve been happy with my decision.
Funnily enough, the cold water began to smell right after they installed the filters. I briefly reconsidered getting the well aerator, but decided to wait to see how it all played out. I simply started using hot water preferentially in the kitchen and bathroom sinks. Flushing the toilets, which are always drawing cold water, never produced an objectionable smell. About five months later, I was delighted to find that the smell was gone.