Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
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If you plan to construct your home, one of the first things you need to think about is the plumbing system. The pipes run in dirt, so you need to do the plumbing before pouring the concrete.
How deep you place the plumbing underneath the slab depends on the city, state, and federal guidelines. Warm areas have their pipes laid anywhere between 12-24 inches (30.48-60.96 cm) below the slab. In states like Alaska and Minnesota, pipes are buried 80-100 inches (203.2-254 cm) deep.
The pipes underneath your house are expected to last a lifetime unless something goes wrong. The slab provides structural support that protects the pipes from external impacts, such as seasonal changes. This article analyzes plumbing under the slab, the benefits, and the risks.
Why Is Plumbing Done Under the Slab?
Plumbing is one of the first tasks to be performed before preparing the slab. There are several reasons why it’s done under the slab.
Plumbing is done under the slab for aesthetic and functional reasons. The slab protects the pipes from damage and seasonal changes that can cause the pipes to freeze and burst. Besides bringing water into the house, some pipes carry waste out. The slab keeps foul smells from the house.
Since they’re susceptible to physical damage, plumbing is strategically placed under the slab. Plumbing repairs are likely to be more frequent and expensive if you don’t take measures to prevent physical damage.
Is Plumbing Always Run Under the Slab?
Although plumbing is best run under the slab, there are instances where the plumbing is done above the slab.
Plumbing is best run under the slab. However, soil that has a lot of moisture and abrasive material is unstable and unsuitable for plumbing. So, plumbing is also run over the slab of old houses or houses with a basement. In some cases, the floor is raised to create space for water pipes.
You often do plumbing over the slab because the alternative is too expensive or the soil structure doesn’t support water and drainage pipes. In some instances, plumbers opt to create sleeves in the slab to generate a balance so that the pipes are exposed and easily accessible.
Factors That Influence How Deep To Fix Plumbing Pipes
Before working on your plumbing system and deciding how deep to place the pipes, you must consider the following.
- Plumbing regulations in your city or state.
- The seasonal changes: How hot or cold it gets will determine the depth of the pipes. For example, underground pipes are placed at least 12 inches (30.48 cm) below the slab in California, while plumbing in Alaska is done at least 100 inches (254 cm) deep. If pipes are placed too close to the surface, you may not get cold water during summer, and during winter, your water may not heat up fast enough.
- The soil structure: Is the soil loose, rocky, sticky, or hard? The ideal soil drains well and provides adequate support to the pipes.
How deep you place your plumbing pipes is often subjective. If following your city’s plumbing guidelines, you also need to consider other factors before deciding the ideal depth.
Common Concerns About Plumbing Under the Slab
Plumbing under the slab is often a concern because of the difficulty in reaching these pipes. Unless something goes wrong, these pipes are a permanent fixture under the slab.
These are some of the concerns about under the slab plumbing:
- Will the pipes be affected by all the construction going on above the plumbing?
- In case of a leak, how will it be fixed?
- Will the slab expand and contract? How will this affect the water pipes?
- Is it more costly to repair under slab plumbing?
- How easy or difficult is it to identify the spot with a leaking pipe?
These issues are commonly raised about plumbing under the slab. Fortunately, you can take steps to prevent some of the issues, so you may never encounter these difficulties.
How To Identify Leaks in Plumbing Under the Slab
Plumbing problems are expected even when they’re done under the slab. If done correctly, you may not experience a pipe leak. However, so many things can go wrong, and you’ll start noticing issues that may indicate a leak under the slab.
Leaks under the slab often occur in hot water lines. Some of the signs of underground leaks include cracks in the floor, low water pressure, water leaks in the house from an unknown source, a malfunctioning heating system, sounds of running water when the taps are closed, and high water bills.
Identifying leaks in the slab isn’t easy. However, plumbers use various tools, such as pressure sensors, video pipe cameras, and ground microphones to identify possible water leaks under the slab.
You can also use flood detectors, such as the Govee Water Detector (available on Amazon.com). It has a sensitive leak and drip alarm, an adjustable audio alarm, and a sealed waterproof design.
This YouTube video gives tips on how you can identify slab leaks in your home:
Causes of Slab Plumbing Leaks
Slab plumbing leaks have many causes. Homeowners should look for signs of slab leaks so that they can quickly identify the location and cause of the water leak.
The main causes of water slab leaks include:
- Expansive soils. The soils contain water-absorbing minerals, which cause the soil to expand. When this happens, the soil moves, resulting in bent or weaker pipes. Unfortunately, when the pipes start leaking, it causes further soil expansion, and the result could be costly damage to your property.
- Poor pipe installation.
- Weakened pipes.
The repair costs of slub leaks can go into tens of thousands of dollars. If you discover the leaks too late, the cost won’t only be financial, but you may also lose your home if there’s structural damage.
Some of the plumbing issues you face may be linked to how deep the pipes were laid. Plumbing guidelines are specific for each area based on soil structure, seasonal changes, and the gradient. When you follow all the guidelines, your plumbing will be approved, and you’ll likely be safe from future plumbing problems, such as slab leaks.
- YouTube: 15 Ways to Detect a Plumbing Leak UNDER a SLAB FOUNDATION
- YouTube: How a PROFESSIONAL PLUMBER Finds PLUMBING LEAKS UNDER A SLAB FOUNDATION
- YouTube: Under Slab Plumbing
- Contractor: Plumbing Problems for Concrete Slab Foundation Homes
- World Population Review: Frost Lines By State 2021
- United States Plastic Corp: Can PVC and CPVC pipe be installed underground? How deep does it have to be buried?
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