Thinking about plumbing is usually not the first thing that I do in the morning- except for finding where the bathroom is. This will be a learning experience and one in which we will ask questions, do a lot of research, and stick our heads into certain areas- something that heretofore I would not think of doing.
No PVC Piping in the Building
What was that advice given to Dustin Hoffman in the movie The Graduate about going into plastics? Well, all plastics are not created equal and apparently there is a swelling movement to rid buildings of PVC piping. This may still be controversial but so was lead paint, asbestos and pressure treated wood so we will not be using PVC piping in the Barn House. The majority of plumbing piping would be either HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) or cast iron for major drain pipes.
When trying to "Go Green", none of the choices are easy especially when you complicate the choice with the criteria that the building must last 200 years. Obviously, everything in the building is not going to last 200 years but the long-term durability and ease of maintenance of as many components as possible is high on our goal list.
We chose to use cast iron for the major drains in the building for a few reasons:
First is durability, cast iron will outlast just about any other product on the market.
Second is noise, we did not want to hear the drain noise from one of the bathrooms in other parts of the house. (Hey, give a break here, I have spent the last 24 years living with a wife and two daughters- do you know how many times everyone had to listen to a tub draining?)
Third is that we are able to put a heat-recovery coil in the cast iron drains in order to recapture some of the heat that is going down the drain.
Above are the benefits but on the other side, even though cast iron it is mostly a recycled product, there is a lot of "embedded energy" in the making of cast iron pipes.
Ability to Drain Complete Building
There may be times during the winter that we want to close the building up for a week or more and not worry about pipes freezing. We want to be able to completely drain all water out of the building easily. Sounds like an easy goal but this has its challenges as well.
Remodeling Made Easy
The bathroom and kitchen are the two most regularly remodeled rooms in any house. Trends change, needs change, color or just people's taste change. If we are building something to last for 200 years how many times should we realistically expect the bathrooms in the Barn House to be remodeled over this period of time? How long does the average bathroom last? Ten years, twenty years, thirty years? If the average bathroom lasts say, twenty years than are these bathrooms really going to be remodeled ten times over the next 200 years? What is the cost and waste for all of this remodeling? How can we design and build today so that we can either reduce the number of times it is remodeled, make it easy to remodel, make it less costly to remodel and recycle or reuse what is being put in there in the first place?
I know if everyone designed and built that way, the construction industry would take a big hit because these remodeling jobs are a large part of the residential construction trade. So the question is, from a builder's point of view, is it "better" to build to last or build to have others prosper?