How hard is plumbing, really?
September 4, 2009 11:27 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about installing plumbing in a cabin from scratch?

I would like to install a bathroom in my currently bathroom-less cabin. I am having the septic (holding tank) put in with a stub up to the cabin. All relevant items (kitchen sink, bathroom sink, toilet, tub, water heater, pressure tank) will be along the same wall.

I got a quote from a plumber and nearly peed my pants. And not in a good way. It's about $3,500 to hook up those fixtures (not including the price of the fixtures). I basically don't have it, so I'm starting to consider other options.

I'm industrious. I've done construction, some electrical work, etc., but never plumbing. My question is, barring legal/permit issues, can I do it myself? If so, where do I start? Is there a book that will walk me through hooking up all my fixtures?

Here's my vision: I go to the hardware store and get a bunch of those PVC pipe dealies and some funny shaped ones for good measure. I put on a bandana, yank up the wood floor, and start plumbing, whatever that entails.

I'm more interested in answers that will tell me I can do it, and where to start, than those that say I can't. Although, a few "it's impossible"s may help motivate.

Thanks, MFs.
posted by letahl to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Wait... you have water-supply lines (probably copper) and a drain (probably black or gray ABS plastic) already roughed in ("stubs") and in the right approximate areas? All you have to do is plumb between those roughed-in pipes and and install your fixtures?

If so, yes you can definitely do this yourself in a single day. $3500 is crazy labor, unless I'm missing some step.

Draw a picture of what you have where, then buy a $10 "How to Install Plumbing" book at Lowe's (or just take all their free little pamphlets), and you'll be done in no time. Ask one of the nice guys there to help you pick out the right $20 of doodads and pipe scraps, and go to it.

I did just fine the very first time I installed a new water tank, sink and bathtub in a new unfinished room (though I did hook a couple things up poorly/backwards and had to do them again the next day when I was wiser. Until and unless you pour cement on top of it, plumbing is the kind of thing you can do five or ten times over until it's perfect, losing only some fifty cent scraps of pipe and connectors in the process.)
posted by rokusan at 11:37 AM on September 4, 2009

Along these lines -- can someone link a book that covers modern best practices? Traps on sinks, when to use copper, when to use plastic, how to join the two, things you should do before you put lines into the walls. Are there rules about how to put items that drain into parallel (such as a shower, toilet, and sink? do they need anything special between them? be connected in a special order?
posted by SirStan at 11:38 AM on September 4, 2009

Yes, I am getting a well and septic put in and both will stub up to the house.
posted by letahl at 11:43 AM on September 4, 2009

Some of those costs may be in development fees. Municipalities like to tack on fees for any new installations.

Bootlegging it could save you money, but also could get you in trouble with whoever has jurisdiction around there.
posted by Danf at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2009

Look into PEX tubing. We're having renovations done on our old Victorian and, where water lines are being added or rerouted, the contractor is using PEX, which basically clamps together. It's supposedly freeze-proof (but UV sensitive).

In our area, plumbers get about $100/hour. So $3500 is about a week's work, which doesn't seem all that extreme. It's not just hooking up the pipes -- it's routing them through floors, walls, etc., testing for leaks, etc.
posted by RichardS at 12:09 PM on September 4, 2009

I'm confused. Do you currently have any plumbing in the cabin at all? rokusan's answer seems to imply that all you need to do is attach the fixtures to pipes that are there right now. Is that your question? Or by "from scratch," do you mean you need to install the water and waste lines to a point outside the cabin? One person with no previous experience isn't finishing that in a day or two.
posted by sageleaf at 12:18 PM on September 4, 2009

Think it out, sketch the job, and consider the mechanics of the water flow. You will have to chase leaks after the job is done. This is standard. Try to avoid appearing in the This Old House Home Inspection Nightmares plumbing hall of fame.

Go look at some other cabins, and see how the plumbing looks. Get a friend who has done this before to help.

If this area is subject to freeze, consider how you will drain all of the pipes. A few drain cocks at the bottoms of the runs would be useful.

Good luck.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:11 PM on September 4, 2009

I think the confusion is the term "stub."

He has had stubs run from his septic and main to the cabin, but nothing in the cabin itself, sounds like. So he has the main shutoff, main sewer connection, and that is it. Generally "stubbed out" is plumber lingo that a house has been completely finished plumbing-wise, except for the fixtures.

I have re-plumbed an entire one story house. Its not that hard, if you are very handy. If you screw up, water goes everywhere, possibly when you aren't home.

All it is is gluing/crimping/soldering bits of tubing together. Your main challenge will be joining tubes so they won't leak or pop loose. Your next biggest challenge will be running things without tearing up walls and floors. If you have to tear up walls and floors then you have general contracting on top of plumbing.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:19 PM on September 4, 2009

The skills for installing pipe can be quickly learned. You need to understand draining and venting to get the design right before you start.
If you are going to be soldering, have a fire extinguisher on hand.
I have used Plumbing a House by Peter Hemp. This is published by The Taunton Press whose books I generally find useful.
posted by llc at 4:57 PM on September 4, 2009

Seconding Taunton press, especially the plumbing books by Rex Cauldwell. Good teacher, a total pro.

In his books on electrical work, he features tidbits he calls "beyond code;" that is, techniques and practices that exceed minimum codes but have benefits that make them worth the extra effort/expense. I'm not 100% his plumbing texts do this, though, but it does give you an idea of his approach to the craft.
posted by BleachBypass at 6:24 PM on September 4, 2009

Are you in the US? I know in some states you can do your own plumbing but not your wiring, and in some it's the opposite. If you do need a licensed plumber you might find one who will just check your drawings and check your final installation for a small fee. Installing new plumbing fixtures is pretty straightforward, it's fixing old plumbing that's a real pain. Just don't sniff too much of the glue!
posted by mareli at 7:32 PM on September 4, 2009

He is a she, and you guys have really helped out. Thank you. Antidisestablishmentarianist was right on in terms of what I have and what I'm going for. I will check out the Taunton books.

I found this one at the library which was really edifying -- Cottage Water Systems. Maybe there is a reprint out there that is more affordable.
posted by letahl at 5:58 PM on September 6, 2009

I have a couple of questions:
Are you within city limits? Before you do ANY plumbing work or reconstruction, be sure to check with the city building inspector (if you're in town) and/or the county attorney's office or a building permit office. You don't want to go to the expense and trouble of installing fixtures and lines (including your septic system) just to learn you've done it all wrong and against code. And then you'd have to do it all over again. Some municipalities require a licensed plumber to do the work; others are more lenient. And where I live, there are no requirements if you live outside the city limits.
Please, do that first!
Now, I'm guessing you've got Internet access. Go to one the best do-it-yourself magazines around, good old Mother Earth News. What may help you most is this link:
Also, check out these:
(and the forum -- )
posted by Smalltown Girl at 2:06 PM on September 7, 2009

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