Hello everyone,

I'm building a new home and it's a slab on grade and all PEX water lines and sewer lines have been run underneath the slab. I also installed radiant heat PEX piping under the slab as well.

I work as an industrial concrete flooring contractor and I did my plumbing design based on an industrial floor slab design, that is to bury the piping and electrical conduit underneath the slab. I've always preferred this design as opposed to the common residential design of having a crawl space. The whole premise behind having a crawl space is to be able to access, service and repair pipes in the event there's a future problem. Unfortunately, in my experience, crawl spaces are often the route of the problem as pipes are exposed to freeze/thaw cycles, rodents can chew through them; wood is subject to mold, mildew, moisture damage, termites etc. Long stry short, I've had nothing but problems with crawl spaces and I decided to eliminate mine as a result.

My plumber is here working now, and prior to pouring my slab he insisted that I leave box-outs so he can install my showers and tubs. However, EVERYTIME I pour an industrial floor and I get to the bathroom area I always encounter a managerie of plumbing pipes that are stubbed-out to be 2-3 feet above the finished slab and I have to pour my concrete around them. After I'm done with the concrete, a week later the plumbers come in and do their thing and install their vents, extend their water lines, the toilets, tubs etc. It's nice and simple as all pumbing has already been done and all traps have been installed underneath the slab.

I asked my plumber why I needed to have a 12" x 12" box-out around my tub and shower drains and he says it's to access the area in the event there's a problem in the future??? My question is "why would there be a problem?" That's like saying I should leave access ways in my concrete every 2 feet in case the PEX tubing in my radiant heat system springs a leak. if it leaks or fails its my problem and I'm willing to assume the risk.

Granted during the prep stage a lot more can go wrong with plumbing that's encased in a slab and it's crucial that everything is done correctly before the concrete is poured becasue once its poured its permanent. My radiant heat pipes were pressure tested during the pour and I kept the pressure gauge on 3 weeks after the pour and they're fine. I just can't understand for the life of me why it's necessary to provide access to the plumbing fixtures for the tub and shower? If they're done correctly and the slab doesn't settle or crack what could possibly happen to them?

I owned a 150 year old house years ago and my water and septic lines didn't dissolve, break down or rot?...and I've been in many 100+ year old commercial industrial buildings where pipes buried in the slab were perfectly fine. The concrete floor never had to be cut or accessed. In fact, the concrete seemed to serve to protect and insulate the pipes from damage.

I've poured hundreds of commercial/industrial floors and I've encased a lot of plumbing pipes causing them to become permanent and on every pour the plumbers and electricians would be present just in case I accidentally damaged something during the pour. And yes, that has indeed happened on occasion and I would have to stop the pour so they could fix the problem, and then I would resume pouring once their finished.

I just don't understand the reasoning for needing these access areas? My plumber said that the 12" x 12" box-out under my shower/tubs typically get filled with sand/dirt after my top-out inspection, but I don't want that! I never did I don't know why its necessary?

Assuming my slab never settles or cracks and everything has been done correctly under the slab why couldn't ALL the plumbing pipes be extended beyond the finished slab and then have the fixtures installed afterwards? Sure a drain could become clogged, but that happens with industrial/commercial buildings and it can always be remedied. I don't want a thermal break under my tubs and I don't want a 12" x 12" soft, spongy area under my tub that's been filled with dirt or sand. I want solid concrete everywhere and I want everything encased so that it's permanent...just as it always is done in industrial/commercial applications.

Any opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Steve