› › Remodel Part 11

Electrical, Plumbing & HVAC

The Non-Glamorous Essentials

Part 11 Of Our Real Life Remodeling Journey

Publisher's Comments

The following story is part of a series of articles about my family's experience with our home's remodel. Links to the other stories are found at the bottom of the page.

Electrical, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation & air conditioning) admittedly aren't the glamorous parts of a remodeling project. That's because most of the work involving these systems aren't seen and don't really add much visual !wow! to the end result, save perhaps for some light fixtures or sinks and faucets.

Despite this behind-the-scenes quality, these systems are an integral part of most remodels and it pays to give close attention to their design and implementation because you'll have to live with the end result.

Our remodel affected all three of these systems since we were relocating a kitchen sink, adding new lighting and changing out an older furnace and air conditioner. Upgrading these items had an impact on the rest of the house that went beyond the physical area that was being remodeled.

Lighting Design

Our original kitchen was short on lighting so increasing the amount of illumination in that space was a primary design requirement. The new family room addition needed lights as well and we chose recessed lighting for both rooms.

Since the family room was a completely new structure and had no plumbing or other hindrances located in the ceiling, the placement of the lights was easy and unimpeded.

The kitchen on the other hand had plumbing lines in various parts of the ceiling that serviced two upstairs bathrooms. Consequently, the placement of recessed fixtures in the kitchen wasn't as straightforward as the family room. In some cases, small plumbing lines were re-routed to accommodate the fixture layout but in other locations there just wasn't room and the overall design had to be altered to fit.

recessed lighting placementCrowded Kitchen Ceiling

The bottom line here is that the location of recessed lighting depends on what, if anything, resides in the ceiling and whether or not it's movable. You may have to get creative with the layout if moving obstructions is impractical. Just make sure you end up with enough light and the fixture locations and layout make sense.

recessed lighting placementPositioning The Kitchen Lights

One small regret I have with our family room lighting is that it lacks "layers" that offer variability.

Lighting designers often speak of designing rooms with layered light, which in simple terms means using several types of lighting. We considered using some wall sconces in combination with the recessed downlights but due to minimal wall space, opted not to.

The room was finished with just the recessed overhead lights and while they offer sufficient illumination and can be dimmed, they don't offer the same atmosphere and mood that other forms of lighting, like lamps and wall lighting, offer. I foresee a few lamps in our future to round out the lighting design is this room.

The point here is this: go over your lighting design with your contractor or whomever is in charge of specifying the fixtures and locations. Be sure you're happy with how much light is in the spec and where the fixtures will be located.

Moving The Plumbing Lines

Most of the plumbing work involved changes made necessary by the removal of walls and the relocation of the kitchen sink and dishwasher. Since the area below the kitchen plumbing (our basement laundry room) was unfinished and all the plumbing was accessible, there wasn't a lot of effort associated with plumbing the new sink and dishwasher locations. That was the easy part.

plumbing relocationThe Infamous "Waterfall" Waste Stack

The more interesting issue involved what to do with the plumbing that ran through the walls that were now removed.

The main waste line from the upstairs bathrooms had to be relocated a few feet and braced to one of the support columns. But that was before the structural part of the column was enclosed in its decorative outer skin.

Needless to say, the exposed pipes provided the sound of a waterfall with every flush and shower that occurred overhead. Initially we were mortified to think that we might have to live with these sounds permanently. We could just imagine entertaining guests at the kitchen island when suddenly the sound of a water park filled the room.

Thankfully however, some fiberglass insulation stuffed around the pipe and its enclosure within the column's outer panels eliminated any sound.

pex plumbingRe-routed Plumbing Using PEX

Something to note is that the original pipe was copper and was replaced with a PVC pipe. In hindsight one option for reducing pipe noise would have been to use a cast iron pipe. It has more mass and does a better job at muffling sound than the thinner PVC.

However PVC is easier to work with and less expensive which is why our contractor opted for this choice (we didn't actually choose the type of plumbing materials to be used).

Overall I was surprised at the relative ease the plumber had with the necessary changes. The use of newer PEX (a flexible plastic pipe material) and PVC avoided the need for the more tedious tasks associated with soldering and joining copper pipe.

Upgrading The HVAC System

Finally, our overworked air conditioner was replaced along with our old furnace. When it came time to choose the heating and cooling components we had three options to choose from: the 'Cadillac' version which paired the furnace with a heat pump, a middle-ground high-efficiency furnace and A/C unit, and a "builder grade" option.

Although the latter would cost less initially, we opted for the high efficiency (tier 2) furnace and air conditioner. The savings achieved with the more efficient products would pay off in lower home heating and cooling costs.

Our home has a forced-air system that makes use of several runs of ducting to distribute the air. One of the ramifications of eliminating several walls was the need to relocate some of the duct work, which ultimately affected other rooms in the house.

Of all the systems work that took place in this remodel, the HVAC took the most time and affected most areas within the house. In some upstairs rooms old heating/cooling outlets were abandoned and new ones cut into the wall or floor. This required cutting and patching of the walls and flooring.

Later on we found that one of the vents in the front of the house had been erroneously abandoned (cut off from the furnace). The problem necessitated another visit by the HVAC technician to reconnect it. It also meant that some of our basement ceiling had to come down to accommodate the fix. Thankfully it was a fiber panel ceiling and wasn't drywall which would have meant more patching and mess.

hvac remodelA Maze Of Ductwork & Plumbing Under The Kitchen Floor

The lesson learned here is that a remodel that affects your home's HVAC system may end up impacting areas of the house outside the specific remodeling zones. That means being prepared for changes and some messy work in other places in your home.

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