Carpentry, Plumbing, and Wiring Tips

by Tobe Walter
(New Jersey)

A person can live in a house for years without knowing (or needing to know) how water travels to and from the kitchen sink, the structural importance of a kitchen's walls, or the hidden pathways electricity and heat follow.

Call in a remodeling contractor, though, and these are among the first things he'll want to determine. Our anatomy drawing, opposite, along with some sleuthing on your part, can help you get the jump on him and find out in advance if your plans are practical or even feasible.
Start with the sink Of all a kitchen's fixtures. the sink is perhaps the most fixed, and the most difficult to relocate. The problem lies not so much with the sink itself, nor even with its hot and cold supply lines; these are relatively easy to extend in just about any direction.

Drainage is a different matter. Look under your sink and you'll see a trap that looks something like the one pictured. Water collected in the trap provides a seal that prevents sewer gases from backing up into your kitchen. The trap in turn connects to a vertical run of piping inside the wall. Waste water from the sink drops down the drain be-low the point where the trap hooks in; piping above that point serves as a vent that carries off sewer gases and also lets air into the system to promote drainage.

Your sink's trap may be directly connected to the same stack that drains and vents other fixtures in the house, or it may hook in via a system of branches. Plumbing codes (and good drainage) limit the distance a trap may be located from its drain/vent lines.

The actual span varies somewhat from one locality to another, but generally speaking, you can't move a sink more than 3 to 4 feet without either adding or extending branch lines; in some situations you may need an entirely new run of piping from basement to roof. Modifying lines inside your walls ups the plumbing bill, of course, and usually calls for carpentry work as well.

Which walls hold up your house? Speaking of carpentry. do you know how your kitchen's walls fit into your home's overall structure? Some walls serve merely as partitions separating interior spaces: these walls bear no structural responsibility for what's above, and are known as non-bearing. Non-bearing walls are relatively easy and inexpensive to remove, provided they don't carry drain and vent lines. Bearing walls, on the other hand, support the roof or floor above.

To remove a bearing wall, a contractor has to add a beam or some other alternative support system. You'll pay a premium for the extra work and materials. About the only physical difference between a bearing and nonbearing wall is that the former has a double top plate, as shown in our drawing. This you might be able to identify by drilling a small hole in the wall a few inches from the point where it meets the ceiling.

Better yet, journey to the basement or attic and note the direction floor joists run. Bearing walls always run perpendicular to joists: nonbearing are usually parallel. While you're in the basement or attic, pinpoint the location of your home's plumbing stack and any branches that run off it.

Getting gas to a range Compared to water pipes, gas lines are simple, and relatively easy for a plumber to relocate. A single line runs from the meter to the range, and possibly to other appliances as well. Some localities permit range hookups with a special flexible. connector. These come in differing lengths, which means you can shift your range a few feet in one direction or another without modifying the gas line. Other communities require a solid hookup a bit more costly to provide.

Making electrical changes The trouble with altering the wiring in a kitchen especially an older one is that you usually face an all or nothing proposition. Most codes stipulate that the entire system be brought up to present day standards any time a change is made, so you may as well brace yourself for a complete overhaul, and possibly the additional expense of bringing in more power to your home's main service panel.

The silver lining here is that an electrician can snake new lines just about anywhere, leaving you plenty of freedom in locating receptacles, lights, and appliances. And of course you also benefit from the safety and convenience of an up-to-date electrical system.

What about heat outlets? For clarity's sake we've eliminated heating equipment from our drawing. Electric base-board units are the easiest to relocate. Moving hot water or steam radiators calls for moderately simple re-piping, and usually can be done by the same tradesman who handles your plumbing. Forced air heating or cooling registers may require sheetmetal as well as carpentry work.

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