Monthly Archives: August 2016

Tips To Installing a Spa on Your Deck

Hot tubs and spas come in an array of shapes and sizes, and can be equipped with scores of accessories. Accordingly, they have a wide range of prices. Choosing the right spa depends on its intended use, how big your deck is, and what structural alterations will be required for your deck. In addition, you’ll need to know the cost of installation, day-to-day expenses, and how much you can expect to recoup on your investment should you sell your home.

Different Types of Spas and Their Costs
It started with that icon of laid-back living, the redwood hot tub. Before long, fiberglass versions with circulating jets appeared called “spas.” Today the terms “hot tub” and “spa” are used interchangeably, but because most units are jetted, spa is the term more commonly used. Spas range in size from two-person models costing about $2,000, to 20-foot-long swim spas costing $18,000 or more. In between are those most popular for decks: 4- to 8-person models costing from $2,500 to $10,000.

Choosing a spa can be challenging. You’ll need to select from a dazzling number of accessories, including cup holders, colored LED lights, iPod docks, stereo systems, pop-up TV screens, and even waterproof keyboards.

“The gadgetry is there to catch your eye while shopping,” cautions Erich Johanson, an experienced spa installer in Olympia, Wash. He recommends choosing established manufacturers and narrowing your choice from there. “Look at the national brands and find one you like,” he says. “Then chose a model that has the features you want.”

His top recommendation is for “full-foam” insulation—a high-density, closed-cell polyurethane foam that fills the cavity between the fiberglass tub shell and the outer cabinet and helps reduce heat loss. In addition, full-foam insulation helps reduce noise and adds stability to the entire unit.

Check installation costs as well. They’ll be dependent on the size of the spa and the ease of getting it where it needs to be. In some cases, limited access may require the use of a crane to lower the spa into place. For an 8-person spa, expect about $300 for delivery and setup.

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Adding Structural Components to Carry the Weight
The safest—and most cost-effective—location for a spa is the lower level of a deck. A deck only a few steps above ground, if built to code, should be able to support 100 lbs per sq. ft.—a filled 8 x 8 spa at 6,000 lbs. works out to about 94 lbs per sq. ft., just within limits. Check your local codes for any restrictions governing the installation of a spa on a deck.

Even better is a reinforced concrete pad, a great option if you’re planning a new deck or intend to add on to an existing deck. A 4-inch slab will safely bear 115 lbs per sq. ft.

If you want the tub on a deck more than a couple of feet above ground or on an upper level of a deck, things get more complicated. You’ll need to hire a structural engineer to provide specs for a site-specific framing structure to support the weight. Expect to pay an engineer $300 to $500 for these services. The necessary framing for a typical backyard deck may cost only a few hundred dollars, but expect to pay much more if your deck is a high-flying structure perched on a slope.

Accessing Power and Water
Spas require a nearby source of electricity. Because water is involved, any electrical hookup for a spa must include ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. This nifty device shuts down the system within milliseconds if it detects the tiniest change in current flow caused by a short circuit. Some spas come with an extension cord with a GFCI built in that can be plugged into a 110-volt, 20-amp circuit.

Larger units require at least one dedicated 220-volt, 50-amp circuit. In addition, there must be an emergency shutoff within sight of the spa, but not closer than 5 feet or farther than 50 feet. A new circuit and shutoff will cost about $800.

Water access is simple; spas fill with an outdoor hose. The spa then heats and circulates the water. Insulated tub covers limit evaporation, but the tub will need occasional topping off. When it’s time to empty the unit, all spas have built-in hose bibs so you can drain the water.

Safety
Getting in and out of a spa provides opportunities for mishaps. A handrail is a good idea for older—and younger—users. A cover with a lock is must if you have children.

If you plan to build your spa into the deck, it may seem best to drop it into the deck so that the rim of the tub sits on the decking. Unfortunately, this makes it easy for people to fall in or step on the cover, and also complicates getting into the tub. The ideal arrangement is to set the spa partially into the deck so the rim is 17 to 24 inches above the decking. That way, bathers can sit on the rim, swing their feet over, and enter the water.

Hot water feels great, but needs to be indulged with caution. The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals recommends keeping the water temperature between 100°F and 102°F, with 104°F as a maximum. A safe soaking duration is 15 minutes. To keep the spa free of bacteria, you must be clean it regularly and add sanitizing chemicals.

Anticipating the Cost and Value of a Spa
It costs as little 50¢ a day to run a spa. That amount can vary according to the amount of use, your local energy costs, the quality of insulation in your spa, and the quality of the cover. Covers typically come with spas, but consider upgrading to a higher efficiency type. The additional cost is modest and the better-insulated covers are often lighter, making them easier to remove.

If you live in a region with a climate moderate enough for year-round use, a deck equipped with a spa should give you a slight edge in selling a home. John Tripp, an appraiser with Foundation Trust in San Jose, Calif., says that spas “normally are assets as long as they have been properly maintained and there is no evidence of leakage or deferred maintenance.”

In other areas of the country, don’t expect much of a return. “They don’t have the payback to meet the cost,” says Richard Koestner, an appraiser with Koestner, McGiven & Associates in Davenport, Iowa. “If they do add any value it would be in the upper price range. It could be detriment if they aren’t in the right market.”

People react differently to the prospect of purchasing a house that has a spa. Some buyers may ask that it be removed as a condition of sale. Others will hardly be able to wait for that first soothing soak.

Let’s Learn About Types of Plumbing Pipes and Their Lifespans

Nothing lasts forever, and that includes the plumbing pipes in your home. Fortunately, the majority of pipe materials perform well for decades. However, when that lifespan is reached, pipes may start to leak.

To prevent leaks, use the chart below to determine if your home’s plumbing lifespan is adequate or if water pipes are bursting for attention.

To prevent health hazards, check for lead pipes.

Know Your Pipes
Review the home inspection report you got when you bought your home to see what kind of pipes you have—or bring in a licensed plumber to do an inspection of your plumbing system. Expect to pay at least $75 for a plumber’s service call.

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If your pipes are older than these guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Residential Rehabilitation Inspection Guide, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be replaced. Well-maintained pipes may last longer, and poorly maintained ones or those in areas with hard water (meaning it has high mineral content), may fail sooner.

Check for Polybutylene
Polybutylene piping—a gray, plastic plumbing material used from the 1970s through the 1990s—is extremely prone to breakage. It’s commonly found in homes in the Sun Belt, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Pacific Northwest.

If you suspect your home has polybutylene pipes, have a plumber inspect the system immediately. You can’t assess their condition with a simple visual check, as the exterior of the pipes may appear fine. Chlorinated water causes these pipes to flake from the inside out, which ultimately results in the pipes failing without warning.

Get the Lead Out
Lead pipes, used in the early 1900s, have a life expectancy of 100 years, but they can leach lead into your drinking water, a potential health hazard. Lead pipes are typically dull gray and the surface of the pipe can be easily scratched with a knife or key.

If you suspect that your home has lead water pipes, have the water tested. If results show the lead content at 15 parts per billion (15 ppb) or more, call in a professional plumber to replace your home’s lead pipes.

Know More About Should You Repair or Replace Your Septic System

When sewage backs up into the house or terrible odors overcome the backyard, you know something is wrong with your septic system. Depending on what’s causing the problem, you’ll face some big decisions about whether to repair or replace the equipment.

If it’s a broken pipe, patching it might cost just a few hundred dollars. But if the drainfield needs to be replaced, you could be out $2,000 to $10,000. Worst case: You need an alternative treatment system, for $15,000 or more.

First Steps in a Septic Emergency
Here’s how to handle problems when they arise.

If you find sewage in your house: Lift the lid of the septic tank and check the water level—or call a septic tank pumping company to do this for you. If the water is lower than the outlet, the pipe between the house and tank might be clogged. Call a plumber.

If the level is higher than the outlet, the problem is the tank or something beyond it. Have your tank pumped ($200 to $400), which gives you a little time to figure out what to do next and allows the pumper to see whether there’s an obvious problem, such as a clogged screen at the outlet.

If the drainfield is saturated because of flooding, however, wait to pump because emptying the tank may cause the tank to float, breaking the pipes. Take precautions as you clean up the mess in your house, so you don’t get sick.

If the drainfield stinks or is soggy: Keep people away from any standing water or soggy soil, which can be a biohazard. If you have young children or pets, you might need a temporary fence. Have your septic tank pumped, and cut back on water use. These steps should reduce the odor.

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Drainfield Failures
But they aren’t long-term solutions. When a drainfield fails, it’s often because the septic tank wasn’t pumped often enough. Sludge and scum layers can grow so thick that there’s little space left for wastewater to pool while ingredients separate.

This lets grease and solids get into the drainfield and clog it, resulting in stinky water bubbling up to the surface. By the time you notice, the damage is done—and the drainfield needs replacement.

A drainfield can also fail when you haven’t done anything wrong. Over time—often 30 years or so, according to Craig Mains of the National Small Flows Clearinghouse, a non-profit that advises the septic system industry—beneficial microbes in the soil around the drainfield become so abundant that they literally clog the soil so it can’t properly absorb the water.

The only alternative if you have a plugged drainfield is to abandon it and build a new one. The good news is that once you have a replacement drainfield, you’ll never have this problem again. Eventually, the bacteria at the old site will die from lack of food, and will decompose. When the second field plugs someday, you can go back to using the first.

When to Repair the Problem
Some problems can be solved relatively easily. If there’s standing water or a sewage odor between the septic tank and the drainfield, it may be nothing more than a broken pipe, a roughly $600 repair. If you have an advanced treatment system, the maintenance company might need to adjust or replace a part.

If you have an aerobic treatment unit—one that aerates the tank to help break down the waste faster—and were away for a long period, the beneficial bacteria might have died off. You may just need to use your system frugally for a few weeks while the population rebounds.

When to Replace System Components
There’s usually no repair for a drainfield that has failed. You probably need to replace some or all of your system.

There are many ways to combine treatment and drainfield alternatives, and your decisions can have a huge impact on costs as well as on how much landscaping you need to redo and how you can use your property in the future. If you want to reserve land for a future garage, for example, you might be willing to spend more on a compact system.

Even if the drainfield is kaput, you may learn that the septic tank itself is okay. Reusing the tank can save you $1,000 or more—and keeps that part of your yard intact. But if moving the tank would solve a landscaping issue or make future pumping easier, now’s the time to do it.

Getting it Fixed
Check the websites of your local health department and state environmental agency to learn what procedures you need to follow for repairing or replacing a septic system—you may even find a list of licensed repair companies.

Call a couple and schedule visits. Or, if you have an advanced treatment system with an annual maintenance contract, call the company that’s overseeing your system already.

Paying for Septic Repairs
If you need major septic work, contact your local health department or environmental agency, which may be able to help you find affordable financing or provide tax credits for the work. Some municipalities use money received through the federal Clean Water Act to help finance septic system repairs by offering low-interest loans.

Informations Cost About Replacing Plumbing Pipes

You’ll need to closely inspect your plumbing or rely on a licensed plumber to advise you whether it’s time for replacing plumbing. Replacing plumbing in a 1,500 sq. ft. home is an expensive proposition that can cost $2,000 to $15,000, depending on the complexity.

However, you can mitigate the cost and hassle of totally replacing plumbing with these strategies:

Replace What’s Exposed
For a home with plaster walls, wood paneling, or other features that make it difficult to gain access to in-wall pipes, consider at least replacing plumbing pipes that aren’t buried in the walls.

Although it’s a big job, replacing plumbing pipes that are exposed in a basement, crawlspace, or utility room is fairly straightforward because your plumber can easily get at the pipes. Depending on the configuration of your house, your plumber may be able to access the vast majority of your system this way.

For a 1,500 sq. ft., two-bathroom home, you’ll pay between $1,000 and $6,000 to replace just the exposed plumbing.

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Replace Plumbing When You Renovate
When you remodel a portion of your house, take the opportunity to inspect—and if need be, replace—plumbing lines that you expose when you open up the walls and floors. This includes replacing plumbing in the kitchen or bathroom that you’re remaking, and any pipes passing through the walls to feed upstairs bathrooms.

Because the pipes are exposed during the project and because your plumber is coming on site anyway, the added cost of replacing plumbing may be only $250 to $1,000—a bargain, considering you’ve eliminated a hard-to-get-at problem area when you have the chance.

PEX Limits Demolition
If you’re thinking of replacing plumbing that’s inside your walls, your plumber may be able to limit wall demolition by using cross-linked polyethylene tubing, also known as PEX—a flexible plastic hose.

PEX can be snaked into walls in much the way electricians feed wires behind the wallboard or plaster with relatively minimal surgery—not an option with rigid copper pipe. PEX meets building code nearly everywhere, comes with a 25-year warranty, and puts a smaller hit on your budget than copper. For comparison, 100 feet of PEX costs less than $30. 100 feet of straight copper pipe costs about $285.

PEX also may offer lower costs in terms of labor. For example, a home that requires two days of labor to re-plumb will only require a day with PEX. Still, some environmental groups worry about as-yet-unknown health risks of plastic water supply lines.

And since PEX has only been widely used in the U.S. for about a decade, it doesn’t have enough of a track record to indicate how long it will last—in other words, how long it’ll be before replacing plumbing in your home is an issue again.