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In this series, we follow a Christchurch couple in their bid to turn their 1960’s fixer-upper, from a retro rental to a modern home.

If you’ve ever considered buying an older home but have lacked the confidence to tackle something totally outdated, this guide is for you. It’s a whole lot of fun, and not as hard (or anywhere near as risky) as you might imagine.

In the previous chapter, we looked at the various window joinery and glazing options Jeremy and Alana considered, what they settled on – and how they approached the task of measuring them up.

With the window manufacture underway, it was time to bring the plumbing up to a modern standard.

Their house had a low-pressure system with header tank and galvanised plumbing, typical of a house built in the 60’s. But it’s 2019 – so time to upgrade!

Why did you touch the plumbing? Why not just leave it as is?

“Out of sight, out of mind” is how a lot of people think of their home’s plumbing. Not so with this project. Jeremy and Alana take us through why they replumbed their home as part of this renovation.

  • Out of sight isn’t always out of mind. Out of sight means; expensive to repair if an issue crops up!

    The hotwater tank was positioned near the fire, for the fire’s wetback system to be efficient and effective. But, the fire had been previously replaced and was no longer running a wetback.

    The low-pressure hot water cylinder was thus, in a badly positioned cupboard which protruded into the living area. The house already had a lot of cupboard space. In the interests of achieving our project mission, the existing hot water cylinder cupboard had to go.

    Further to this, the galvanised plumbing throughout the house was showing signs of deterioration, quite typical of nearly 60-year-old plumbing. The water had a brown tinge when the tap was first turned on, and the water pressure was weak, demonstrating that some corrosion and narrowing was occuring in the pipes.

    Ultimately, we decided that as we were keen to move the hot water cylinder anyway, and as a lot of the gib would be off the walls through the renovation – now was the right time to guarantee we wouldn’t face any plumbing issues in the future.

How did you decide what to do?

With their basic objectives in mind, Jeremy and Alana set out to find a plumber that understood what they wanted to achieve, could consult with them to make a detailed plumbing plan, and then make it happen quickly with proven products.

  • We consulted with Nick Jones, owner-operator of Nick Jones Plumbing.

    As well as all the existing pipework being past its use-by date, Nick pointed out that our cylinder was over 20 years old, well past its 8-year warranty. With the issues in Christchurch with leaking hot water cylinders linked to the recent chlorination of the water supply – it was time to replace.

    Nick was extremely knowledgable, and keen for us to get the best out of our new home. From his perspective, this meant upgrading the existing hot water supply to a mains pressure system, and upgrading all the pipework he could access.

    There were a few advantages in particular that we were interested in, which a new mains pressure system had over the traditional low-pressure system:

    • Hot water pressure would be the same as cold.
    • Less to no temperature variation when using multiple hot water outlets (no cold shower when another hot tap is turned on).
    • Greater volume of hot water delivery (for example, running a quick bath).
    • “Solar ready” ports, meaning solar hot water heating could be added in the future.
    • The existing tank was only 180 litres, whereas we could replace with a bigger tank – we opted for 300 litres.
    • Cylinder was built out of superior marterials, lessening the high risk of future cylinder failure, associated with low pressure copper cylinders.

    With the conversion agreed on, we continued to map out the fine details of the plumbing aspects of the project, including the things we’d already identified:

    • Check over existing plumbing and replace galv pipework and other outdated/substandard pipework if/where it exists.
    • Replace existing low-pressure hot water cylinder with mains pressure cylinder. This will also involve moving the location of the cylinder and installing all necessary fittings, valves and pipework.
    • Remove existing overflow from roof.
    • Remove and replace existing plumbing/drainage to kitchen and laundry sinks.
    • Replace two seals in the shower and bath mixers – they are currently dripping.
    • Install new faucets and mixers in kitchen and laundry.

    Plus a couple more:

    • Install necessary ports for new washing machine and dishwasher.

How did the plumber approach the project?

With the fine details worked through, it was time for the plumbers to get to work.

  • As with all the sub-trades working on our project, Nick needed to discuss the most efficient way to work with Mark, our builder, on the project.

    There was some work Mark would need to do, to get things ready for Nick to plumb.

    Some of these included:

    • Making the necessary changes to the cupboard where the new hot water cylinder would be located.
    • Positioning the new hot water cylinder in its cupboard and securing it in place.
    • Removing the old kitchen and laundry, ready for the old wingbacks/ports to be blocked off.
    • Removing Gib, allowing the plumber, Nick, to access the old plumbing in the walls.

    After this work had been done, Nick would take 2-3 days to replace all the pipework and necessary fittings, and plumb up the new cylinder.

    After everything had been plumbed, Mark could work on replacing the gib and closing in the new plumbing.

    From there, after the first round of work, the plumber would wait until the new kitchen was installed, when he’d return and hook up the new taps, sinks, dishwasher and washing machine, and do a final test of the system.

Were there any unforeseen issues?

With the plan made and the building aspects of the plumbing completed, the plumber could now get in and do the work.

  • There weren’t any unforseen issues.

    Nick ordered the new hot water cylinder for delivery on the first day we met. It arrived the next day. The builders handled its delivery and installation which meant the plumber didn’t have to be on-site at that time and there weren’t any delays.

    Once the site was ready for the plumber to get in, they arrived and got straight to work. Because Nick inspected the house when the interior was partially demolished, he was able to make an easy assessment of the issues with the plumbing, and make a solid plan to upgrade everything. This plan was carried out over a couple of days with no issues or delays at all.

Lessons learned from the day

  • It’s a good time to get your home’s plumbing checked when you’re pulling gib off the walls and revealing pipework. With plumbing, access is key.
  • Replacing or moving a hot water cylinder is a great time to upgrade to mains pressure hot water.

  • Timing is everything. Organising the plumber to work around the builder, electrician and other trades ensured everyone’s time was used efficiently.

  • Galvanised plumbing has a lifespan. Depending on age, the chemical composition of your water and other factors, it can corrode and narrow from the inside. It’s worth discussing replacement options with your plumber if you’re undertaking significant work to wet-areas.

  • Consult with your plumber to get the best outcome from the water-related aspects of your renovation. Your plumber will be able to advise you on the best products and solutions, and how they can be used in your unique job.

Gallery (click to enlarge)

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