Plumbing Rough-in FAQ: What Does a House or Addition Need to Be “Roughed-In”?

If you're building, adding to, or renovating a home, you're probably going to deal with rough-in. Here's what it means and why it matters.
If you’re building, adding to, or renovating a home, you’re probably going to deal with rough-in. Here’s what it means and why it matters.

There are a lot of terms in plumbing where having clear definitions can be essential to getting your money’s worth from a plumber or contractor. One of the most frequently asked questions we get about plumbing involves what exactly constitutes “rough-in.” We’re going to go over what a roughed-in house or addition should look and shouldn’t like, keeping in mind that specific definitions can and will vary from state to state and from plumber to plumber.  This is part of a series of articles answering frequently asked questions about basics; other entries in the series include why you need to vent your fixtures.

What does rough-in mean for home building and remodeling projects?

In the context of home construction, additions, and renovations, rough-in refers to laying out main lines and cables but not making final connections. Your walls won’t be sealed and your drywall won’t yet be installed. Uncovered walls and floors makes it easier for the rough-in to be modified if it doesn’t pass safety and code inspections or if you, the homeowner, puts in a construction change order to modify the project.

Where is the term rough-in most frequently used?

You’ll hear the term rough-in most frequently in electrical and plumbing settings. In an electrical setting, rough-in means pulling all of your electrical cables to their boxes through studs. However, at this stage, none of your light switches, lights, outlets, fans, and so on would be connected.

In a plumbing context, rough-in is when holes are bored through studs to allow pipes to be installed and connected to each other. However, as with electrical rough-in, roughed-in plumbing won’t have fixtures, end elements, or terminal connections yet attached.

How does rough-in impact the permit process for home builds, additions, or renovations?

Roughing in is typically put in place before your plumbing, building, or electrical inspector drops by. A typical chain of events is as followed, although details will vary from one project and region to the next.

  1. Your floor, wall, and ceiling structures will be built but will not be closed, and drywall will not yet be installed.
  2. An electrician will run electrical wires throughout the house from your service panel, such as to your light switches and outlet receptacles. Wires will not be connected and will have bare ends in each electrical box put in place.
  3. A plumber will connect drain pipes and supply lines through studs and beneath floors to all necessary fixtures, including showers, bathroom sinks, kitchen skins, bathtubs, toilets, and more.
  4. Inspectors will then visit and either approve or fail all work done to this point; this is known as a rough-in inspection, and it is done before any insulation and drywall is added, as it’s much easier to change things before walls are put in place than after. If work is approved, drywall installers will then hang and connect drywall throughout the project.
  5. Plumbers, electricians, and other tradespeople will install all necessary end-point structures. For electricians, this means things like lights, switches, outlets, and fans. For plumbers, this means all of your relevant fixtures, such as sump pumps, sewage pumps, toilets, sinks, bath tubs, and showers.
  6. Inspectors will revisit the property and approve the building permit if all looks good; this is a final inspection. If work is judged to not be up to code, changes will need to be made and the inspectors will return at a later date to revisit the property and see if the necessary changes meet their requirements.
What are some generally accepted plumbing standards for rough-in? What’s the bare minimum necessary?

While the specific definitions of roughed-in plumbing will vary from one professional to the next, here are some basics you should expect. All of your supply lines should be stubbed out of your walls. The wall condition doesn’t matter; whether the walls have finished surfaces, bare framing, or are repaired, there should still be visible supply lines. On top of this, all of your drains should be connected to any existing wastewater lines. If there are finished surfaces present, your drains should be capped outside of them. This means that any drains coming from walls should stick out by several inches and be capped. Any drains from floors should protrude from where the finished floor surface is expected to lie and should also be capped. If you don’t have stubbed supply lines and capped wall drains and floor drains, your plumbing isn’t roughed in.

What are local township and municipal definitions of roughed-in plumbing to pass rough-in inspections?

Local definitions will always trump Internet definitions. Some townships and municipalities say roughed-in plumbing must have drainage and supply lines tested for water flow, connections to local sewer and water mains inspected by relevant water and sewage authorities, and more. As a minimum, most rough-in inspections will require piping through all wastewater and drain water lines, and you’ll also need hot and cold water lines stubbed out of flooring and walls.

Some states and cities significantly limit the amount of plumbing work homeowners can perform on their own homes without licensing, and that can include rough-in. The bad news about such specificity is that you might not be able to do much of the work on your own, no matter how experienced you are in plumbing. The good news is that such laws and procedures can protect you if you hire a licensed contractor who tries to argue that doing next to nothing was good enough.

Do I always need work approved by an inspection, even if I do the work by myself without a contractor?

The answer to this question will depend on your municipality. Some cities and towns will require rough-in inspections no matter who is doing the work as well as a final inspection for any plumbing or electrical projects of significant scope. Of course, what counts as significant will vary from one municipality to the next. The best way to find out what you actually need, when, and how it can be done, is to call your local inspection office.

If you find our work at PumpThatSump helpful, you can support our relentless reviewing of every sump pump on the market by shopping via our Amazon link for whatever you need to make your house a home. Despite being self-employed, we promise not to spend it all on health insurance.

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What are plumbing vents & why do you need to vent pumps, toilets, & sinks?

No matter where you call home, if you've got indoor plumbing, you're going to need vents and you'll need to keep them clear.
No matter where you call home, if you’ve got indoor plumbing, you’re going to need vents and you’ll need to keep them clear.

One of the most recurring themes of our guides to installing sump pumps, sewage pumps, and macerating toilets for basements and half bathrooms is the need to vent them. It’s important, but if you don’t know what it means to vent your plumbing, you won’t be in a position to identify problems when they occur. Today we’re going to look at what plumbing vents are, why they’re necessary, which common issues affect them (e.g., blockage and damage), and how to fix them (or get help!).

What are plumbing vents?

Plumbing vents, which are commonly also called vent stacks, are miniature chimneys designed to regulate air pressure inside your plumbing system. Think of them as drain pipes for your plumbing system; instead of clearing water and waste, plumbing air vents clear gases and odors. They also bring in fresh air so water can flow effectively through your drain pipes. However, they don’t carry water; they are vertical pipes connected to drain pipes and they vent out through your roof. The pipe that runs to the main vent in your roof is the vent stack; it runs exhaust gases out of your home and keeps a safe atmospheric pressure in your plumbing system.

Why are plumbing air vents important for your home?
A sewage or sump pump like the M267 will require venting during installation.
A sewage or sump pump like the M267 will require venting during installation.

A plumbing system is designed to pump out waste and water; for it to work well, it needs fully functioning drainage and vent systems.

Your drain pipes run waste from your home to either city sewer lines or to septic tanks; you’ll need sewage pumps to pump waste to these lines if you install fixtures below them, or if you use a septic tank. Vent pipes bring fresh air to your plumbing fixtures–your bathtub, your sink, your toilet, and so on–via drain pipes. This occurs whenever water moves through a fixture, such as when you flush a toilet or drain a sink. Sump pumps and sewage pumps will also require venting in most cases.

Besides bringing fresh air to your fixtures, plumbing vents also keep sewer gases out of your home while venting out waste gases and odors (i.e., toxic fumes). This is why plumbing vent pipes are placed on roofs and far away from windows and air conditioning units; you want the fumes away from wherever they might get drawn into your home and into your lungs.

Which problems affect plumbing vent pipes, and how do you troubleshoot them?
The majority of macerating toilet kits (e.g., the Saniaccess 2) will require venting for proper and safe operation.
The majority of macerating toilet kits (e.g., the Saniaccess 2) will require venting for proper and safe operation.

If your plumbing vent stacks and air vents aren’t working well, your drainage system will soon let you know. The symptoms may present themselves in a number of ways, such as through gurgling noises from your drains, standing water in your bathtubs and sinks, or particularly slow water draining in your kitchen or bathroom. In any of these cases, you might be dealing with a blocked plumbing vent.

When your vent stacks stop working due to blockage, you’re going to build up negative pressure in your drain pipes and water flow will stop or become severely restricted. Even if you’re able to clear a clogged drain on your own, you’re going to experience water flow interruptions again and again if they’re due to a blocked vent.

If your drains are flowing slowly due to blocked vents, sediment can start forming and accumulating in your drain pipes; this can lead to further wear, tear, and damage in your plumbing system, and you might eventually need to have your pipes repaired or replaced.

How do you fix plumbing venting issues without calling a plumber?

The simplest and cheapest ways to clear slow-flowing drains involve plungers, augers (plumbing snakes), and drain cleaners, in that order. A plunger attacks drain blockages by creating dramatic pressure changes (vacuums) in the pipes that can clear mild stops. Augers mechanically attack blockages and attempt to physically remove or reduce them. Drain cleaners chemically target sediment deposits with the same overall goal of clearing your pipes.

In many cases, these tools will help you deal with mild venting issues. However, once you’ve got a completely blocked vent stack, none of these options will work, as you’ll be dealing with a vacuum. When there’s a vacuum present, you’ll no longer have air or water flow, and there’ll be no gurgling audible. This is where things get serious.

What are symptoms of fully blocked vents and when do you need to call a plumber?

With completely blocked vents, you’ll start smelling sewer gases in rooms with affected fixtures. For example, if your bathroom sinks are stopped up, the smell will start there. If it’s from a blocked sump pump vent, you’ll start smelling it in your basement. These gases are toxic; you don’t want to expose yourself, your loved ones, or your pets to them. In many cases, you’ll be dealing with methane gas, which isn’t as toxic at low levels as a range of other gases, but you don’t want to risk the life of your children and family by betting that whatever you’re smelling isn’t that harmful to your health.

At this point, you’re going to need to call a plumbing professional; while it’s possible to fully troubleshoot and clear clogged plumbing air vents on your own, it might involve roof work and significant risk to life and limb. Considering how rare blocked vents are relative to everything else that can go wrong with a plumbing system, this isn’t an area you want to spend lots of time becoming an expert.

If you find our work at PumpThatSump helpful, you can support our relentless reviewing of every sump pump on the market by shopping via our Amazon link for whatever you need to make your house a home. Despite being self-employed, we promise not to spend it all on health insurance.

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