Integrating plumbing into the overall design

Having a qualified, knowledgeable plumbing engineer involved in early planning will help select the right system and equipment for the project before construction begins.


Learning objectives:

  • Learn about the integrative design process.
  • Understand how integrating the plumbing engineer can enhance system design.
  • Review the water efficiencies that can be achieved by integrating the plumbing design early.

Due to the increasing interest in U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, and sustainable design in general, the use of an integrative design process can add value to a project’s success via increased energy efficiency, aesthetic appeal, and innovative building components and in decreased construction cost,. To incorporate an integrative design process, the project coordinator brings together all designers, stakeholders, the commissioning agent, and other individuals who have an interest in the completion of the project.

Early participation in design decisions creates an inclusive environment that ensures buy-in and a cohesive team approach to the building’s basis of design. At several stages of the design process, an integrated team is often returning to the table to discuss progress, revisit any decisions that are creating obstacles to success, examine any new issues that arise, and collaborate to resolve them in a manner that respects how such decisions affect each discipline and/or stakeholders.

The integrative design process urges the early inclusion of all project team members in the planning stages of any project. Obvious members to invite to the table include the client or owner; the architect; electrical, mechanical, structural and civil engineers; and community officials.

The plumbing engineer’s role

Often overlooked in these early planning stages, the plumbing designer or engineer can provide value to the project due to his or her expertise in water, waste, storm/sewer, fuel-gas, or medical-gas systems. Including the plumbing engineer during the initial planning phase of any project can eliminate costly delays during construction. Engaging these experts from the start will avoid frustrating errors and oversights and help the entire project team create the best possible collaborative plan before construction begins.

The right plumbing engineer also can offer valuable insight that is specific to a particular project. Plumbing and pumping considerations are dictated by the intended use of a structure. When designing a single-story retail outlet, the plumbing needs will be vastly different than those demanded by a mixed-use, high-rise building. Hospitals and other health care facilities often require plumbing to deliver medical gases.

While building exteriors get the glamorous curb-appeal shots and an interior designer’s dazzle, no structure is going to satisfy its occupants if the plumbing is substandard. Including the plumbing engineer from project conceptualization to completion will ensure that this critical system meets everyone’s performance expectations and serves the needs of the structure throughout its lifecycle.

Figure 1: The integrative design process includes all aspects of a building project, and all of the key partners in the project. Because the process is ongoing, all parties should be discussing all aspects throughout the project. Courtesy: WD PartnersFor example, imagine a 1-story office building design that is ready for engineering design to begin, but without input from an engineer. When the plumbing engineer gets the plans, he sees that the catering kitchen, restrooms, and natural gas-fueled hot-water tank are all placed on the north side of the structure. All of the service lines enter the building on the south side.

If the building’s engineering design proceeds with no input from the plumbing engineer, the design of plumbing systems may result in a less optimal layout and an increased cost for more materials and labor. Over the course of the building’s lifespan, inconveniently placed plumbing equipment can mean greater expenses for eventual repairs or general maintenance.

Suboptimal placement of restrooms and kitchens can lead to an overall system that underperforms or jeopardizes other parts of the facility. For example, a wastewater line that has to run the span of the building to reach its evacuation point will be more vulnerable to clogs or breaks. Instead of being isolated at the point of exit, wastewater and other contaminated material can put the whole structure at risk in the event of a failure.

The single-use, 1-floor office space used in the example clearly requires thoughtful planning. Specific-use facilities like hospitals and mixed-use high-rise buildings that populate many urban centers demand it.

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