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Ask the Architect

Is there support for a tub?

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Q. Our master bathroom is old and small, so we tore it apart and started making it wider, cutting into the attic next to it. We called a plumber, who told us that the floor was so bad — cut up to put the old pipes through enough floor beams — that he couldn’t do the new plumbing to add a tub unless we got an architect and replaced all the floor beams. He thinks the floor won’t hold the tub we got. It is large and free-standing. We’ve never noticed ceiling cracks in the kitchen below the bathroom, so we’re wondering if this is really necessary. More than one plumber told us we may need a permit, too. The floor wasn’t “broke,” so why “fix it”? We’re sure you’ll say to get a permit and have it done right, but seriously, the floor was fine. It all just gets more complicated, and we need to keep it simple and save money. Can it be done more simply? Can they add some kind of brackets around the holes and notches?

A. The best way to keep it simple is to stop calling professionals and maybe just continue doing it yourself. Go with your gut if you feel that confident. Keep it simple, keep it cheap, but get what you pay for.

When you ask people who are licensed, you have to expect that they’ll want to do a job they won’t have callbacks for. Buildings, especially homes, have many trouble spots that defy nature, physics, math, logic and plain old common sense. The reason homes manage to survive bad judgment is the nature of redundant materials, like your floor joists, and because wood takes a lot of bending before it cracks or snaps apart.

The sins of bad construction I’ve seen uncovered over the years make most of us professionals stand back and just gasp, usually followed by, “Wow, they were lucky it didn’t collapse/electrocute/make someone sick or die.” I’ve seen cracked pipes leaking raw sewage into wall cavities and crawl spaces, gas pipes in bouncy floors, waiting to separate and cause a fire, cut or split beams sagging, waiting for that next huge snowstorm to pop apart. So, in the words of Clint Eastwood, “Do you feel lucky?” If you do, you can ignore science, ignore the rules, even ignore common sense. It seems to be a trend these days, to take health or safety risks and deny the observations of professionals.

I’m impressed that you called plumbers. After all, there are plenty of how-to books and store aisles loaded with pipe fittings and hardware just made for do-it-yourselfers. I’m sure that an architect will know how to reroute the structure and piping, which is a three-dimensional puzzle based on building codes, plumbing codes, material tolerances, science and math. I’m also sure you really knew all this, though, or you wouldn’t have asked me the question. So, really, do you feel lucky?

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.