Copper pipe or plastic pipe

Copper or plastic?

So when it comes to deciding what pipe to use for your next plumbing job. Do you choose a copper pipe or the cheaper plastic pipe? When it comes to comparing a rigid plastic pipe with a copper pipe, the copper pipe will win on all counts but the price. A rigid plastic pipe is not even easier to cut or bend and it is just as difficult as the copper pipe to join. A plastic pipe will need more support clips than a copper pipe but there are still a risk that they will expand and sag.

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Semi-flexible plastic pipe

When it comes to a semi-flexible plastic pipe though, there are some further benefits. This is a pipe that is easy to work with as it is easy to cut and bend into gentle bends. It is also available in longer lengths which mean you will have to use fewer fittings. It is light in weight, making it easy to carry with you and you can even install it through floor joists – just like an electric cable. The joints for these pipes are called push-fit joints and they are easy to make and can also be undone if needed. You will only need a little bit of pressure to fit them, which could sometimes be tricky if you are working in a tiny space. The negatives with a semi-flexible plastic pipe is that it needs regular supporting and might still sag if it is carrying hot water. It will need extra earth connections if you are replacing a copper pipe, the range of fittings are quite limited and more expensive than the fittings for copper pipes. However, you do need less of them than for a copper pipe.

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Copper pipe

The most used material for pipes are still copper and in most cases, this is still the best option. You just need to learn how to join it. If you have any visible pipes in your home, copper is the material to go for. Not only do they look nice but if you are using capillary joints, the joints themselves will look very tidy. Copper pipe also have the best choice of fittings available. Another great thing is that you can get short and corrugated copper pipe that you can bend by hand – this is great for smaller jobs such as a basin. So copper pipe or plastic pipe? The choice is yours. Personally, I would always go for copper when possible.

Plumbing and working with plastic pipe

Plastic pipe

When it comes to plumbing, plastic pipes have been used for both drains and waste. Unfortunately it has not been used to carry hot water – until recently that is. The reason for this is that hot water will make the plastic pipe expand and this can lead to the pipe sagging.  Nowadays, plastic pipes are used in plumbing and the way to overcome previous issues is to make sure that the pipe is supported and to make sure it has enough room to expand. There are many different plastic pipes fitted for plumbing and you can choose between white polyethylene (also known as water pressure pipe), light grey polybutylene which are both semi-flexible. A rigid plastic pipe widely used is the cream-coloured Hunter Genova pipe (CPVC for short). Some of the benefits of using plastic pipes is that they are not only easy to use and light in weight but they can handle frost very well and they will cause corrosion which is a common thing with both galvanised water pipes and tanks.

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Plastic pipes are not only used for hot and cold water supplies but you can also use it with central heating systems. This is providing that the part of the pipe that is connected to the boiler itself is made of copper rather than plastic. Common plastic pipe sizes used are 15mm and 22mm and you often buy them in lengths of 3m pieces. They are easy to join to existing copper pipe so this should not cause you any issues. If you are looking for rolls, you can buy them in either 50m or 100m and this goes for cross-linked polyethylene and polybutylene pipe. If you are working with a CPVC pipe, which is more rigid, and you are looking for it to be joined, solvent welding is the solution. If you are joining semi-flexible pipes, you can either use brass compression fittings or just normal plastic push-fit fittings.

Cutting and bending

You can easily cut a rigid plastic pipe with a hacksaw, removing the burr with a sharp cutting knife or file it away. You can also use a pipe cuter for a rigid CPVC pipe. When it comes to cutting semi-flexible plastic pipe, I find the best thing to use is a pipe cutter of the secateurs type. You can easily bend a semi-flexible plastic pipe to about 90 degrees as long as it is done in a gentle curve rather a sharp bend and you can get brackets for this. Unfortunately you cannot bend a rigid CVPC pipe but it is still a bit more flexible than a copper pipe.

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Copper pipe and capillary joints

Copper pipe and joints

If you ever have to join two copper pipes together, you can use one of two joints: a capillary joint or a compression joint. Both of these joints can be found as straight pipe couplers, elbows, reducers, tees and tap and tank connectors. You can also use either brass or plastic push-fit joints when working with copper pipe. In this article I will tell you a bit more about the capillary joint.

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Capillary joint

The name given to this joint comes from the solder flowing between the small gap between the actual pipe and copper fitting in a capillary action. These come in two different types: end-feed and solder-ring (also known as Yorkshire). With the end-feed fittings you have to add your own solder and these are therefore cheaper. With the solder-ring fittings the solder comes as part of the fitting and this makes them easier to use. However, even if you are using a solder-ring fitting, it is always a good idea to carry some spare solders with you – just in case.

Just like old plumbing used to use lead pipes but moved to copper pipe, capillary fittings are nowadays sold with either a copper based solder or a silver one – no more lead. This is also in accordance with water regulations and pipes carrying drinking water. The biggest benefits of using capillary fittings are price (they are much cheaper than compression fittings) and they look much neater so will suit a location where the fittings cannot be hidden. The bad thing with capillary fittings is that once it has been made you are unable to adjust it. This can be an issue if you are using several elbows.

How to make a solder-ring capillary fitting:
  • Cut the ends of the pipe square
  • Deburr the cut clean the pipe with wire wool
  • Brush the inside of the fitting with a wire brush and rub with wire wool
  • Do NOT touch it with your fingers once cleaned
  • Smear a very thin layer of flux over the pipe and inside the capillary fitting
  • Assemble pipe and fitting
  • Apply flux
  • Apply heath very gently to pipe and fitting
  • Once a bright solder can be seen at the end of the fitting – the joint is done
  • Leave it to cool down
  • Using a damp cloth, wipe the joint to remove any excess flux
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How to make an end-feed capillary fitting:

The technique for end-feed capillary fittings is pretty much the same as for the capillary fittings. Once the fitting has been heated though, remove the blow-lamp and touch the solder in order to expose the end (obviously not with your hand). If you reached the correct temperature, it should flow into the joint itself.

Buying plumbing tools and equipment

Buying plumbing tools and equipment

 As a plumber you will need your fair share of tools and equipment in order to provide a good service for paying customers. There are generally two main places to go for your pipes, fittings and plumbing supplies and the first one is a plumber’s merchant. They specialises in all sorts of plumbing goods and even though they were first intended for the tradesmen, many now sell to home owners hoping to deal with certain plumbing jobs themselves. A great thing with a plumber’s merchant is that they are very knowledgeable and can often provide good advice when needed and they will often stock even the most unusual fittings. These are however rarely on display so it is useful if you know what you are looking for.

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DIY superstore

Another place where you can find plumbing supplies is a normal DIY superstore. Most of these will have an excellent range of everything from plumbing fittings to pipes and one of the great things with a DIY superstore is that have most things on display so it provides for easy browsing is you are not quite sure what you are looking for. Another great thing is that components are often sold in kits. This means that if you are looking to install a basin the kit contains all necessary fittings for this. You can also buy a complete waste pack for a modern sink if needed. Another great thing about DIY superstores is that they are often cheaper than the plumber’s merchant but you are not likely to get any advice from them and if can be tricky to find some of the more unusual fittings.

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Other stores

There are other places that often stock plumbing goods and you can normally find some at a regular hardware shop, a builder’s merchant or from a do-it-yourself shop. The range they hold might be quite limited and sometimes the prices are higher than in other places. Most bathroom centres or kitchen specialist stores often keep a good range of plumbing supplies so it might be worth popping in for a quick look. Plumbing goods of all sorts can also be ordered by mail order from suppliers of other products such as central heating suppliers. Obviously, in this day and time you can get most supplies online as well but you will need to know what you are looking for. Remember that many products are cheaper if you buy it in bulk. Once you have been in the business for a while you will learn where to go in order to get the most for your money.

Plumbing – pipes and fittings regarding water supply

plumbers

When it comes to plumbing, there are a lot of tools and equipment to learn about but this is far from the only thing a plumber needs to know about. Obviously you will need to know what tool to use for what job but you will also need to learn about all the different pipes on the market and how to fit them correctly. In domestic plumbing for an example, you generally use two different types of pipes. The first one is used to carry both hot and cold water to the fitting and the other one is used to removing the dirty water and carry it to the soil and waste pipes installed.  In this article, we will cover pipes and fitting when it comes to water supply.

Plumbing Background

 Let us start with a little bit of trivia. The word plumbing actually derives from the Latin word of lead and when you hear that lead pipe has traditionally been used for water systems in the United Kingdom you can see how the term plumbing came to be. Lead pipes have, for the most part, been replaced by copper pipes and this means that most houses nowadays have a copper plumbing system. When it comes to lead pipes used in houses, it is predominately in houses from the 1930s or built before that, where this can be found.

Plumbing

Another type of pipe that can be used for water is the galvanised iron barrel piping. This can easily be recognised by the screwed ends and they use British Standard Pipe threads, also known as BSP. Threaded pipe joints are traditionally sealed with jointing compound and hemp. For all you who do not know what hemp is – it is a plant. This is often referred to as plumber’s hemp. If you are looking to use it, make sure that it is clean and dry.

You can also find stainless steel pipes in some houses and this is from the time when copper prices went up. One of the advantages of stainless steel pipes is that they do not cause corrosion to galvanised cisterns. It is however rarely used nowadays as it is more expensive than copper and it is a material that is more difficult to bend and to join. A newer thing on the market is plastic pipes for hot and cold water, including heating pipes. Any capillary fittings will need special flux. Happy plumbing!

Tool Hire For Plumbers

When you first start working as a plumber there are quite a few tools and other equipment that you will need to invest in. If you do not want to invest in tools, then why not get a professional plumber to do the work for you. In my home town, Moran plumbing are the best plumbers Liverpool has to offer. How much to spend on this really depends on how much work you intend to do. Obviously it is better to have your own tools but to start with, try to invest in the basic tools needed to deal with emergencies and then take it from there. Whether you look to add to your collection on a monthly basis or buy stuff as and when you need them, your own collection will soon grow.

Tools of the Trade

There are certain tools and equipment that are quite large and bulky and therefore difficult to store and some are just plain expensive. Luckily many of these items can often be hired. If you decide to hire tools or equipment, you are normally asked for a deposit which will then be returned to you once the hired goods have been returned. You will also be asked to show some proof of identity. In order to avoid any misunderstandings later on, make sure to check over any tools or pieces of equipment for damage or dirt – before leaving the shop. If there is any damage to any hire equipment, make sure to have it recorded by the shop as they might otherwise try to charge you for any damage caused. Another good thing when renting tools or equipment is that if you are not sure how to use them, you can always ask the person in the shop for a demonstration.

Plumbing Tools

Any consumable materials used in connection with the item you hire, is paid for by yourself. This could be anything from drill bits to butane gas canisters and carbon dioxide cylinders for pipe freezing kits. Generally speaking, if you hire equipment by the week you normally pay about double the price of hiring it by the day. Unless I know that I will definitely finish a job in 24 hours, I tend to hire by the week or weekend if possible.

Hire Plumbing Tools
Plumbing tools with pipes

Always be aware that sometimes things might (and will) go wrong and you might need to dedicate more time and effort on a job that you originally thought. If this happens you do not want to have to rush a job in order to try to return the equipment on time. The best thing to do is to contact the hire shop and try to extend the hire. This is normally not an issue, unless someone else is waiting to hire that same equipment. If this is the case and you are returning your hired tools too late, many hire shops will charge you by the hour. If in doubt, ask for assistance.

The Right Tools for the Job

As with any profession, getting kitted for the job at hand and making sure to have the correct tools for the job are almost as important as knowing what you are doing. You will need a lot of different tools if you are hoping to work as a successful plumber and there are a lot of different types to choose in between. As with any type of job, you get good, solid tools and not so great tools. In my opinion it is therefore worth investing in good quality ones that will last you a long a time. Once you have purchased your tools, remember to take good care of them. Keep them clean, sharp and dry and occasionally smear them with a thin coating of oil.

Gripping Wrench

Gripping Wrenches

Gripping wrenches are always good to have and the largest and in my opinion, the most useful one is the Stillsons. They are designed for gripping round pipes. They should never be used for turning nuts that you are hoping to reuse and they should also never be used on copper pipes as they can come to damage and distort them. If you ever have to remove old steel pipe from a galvanised hot water tank, you might find that a large Stillsons is the tool for the job. I would recommend to keep two different size Stillsons in your tool box. I use an 8 inch and a 14 inch pair. If you would ever need a larger one, say a 24 inch one, these could always be hired.

stillson wrench

If you need a tool to grip on to something and basically giving you an extra set of hands, I would use a self-grip wrench called Molegrips. Newer designs have slightly curved jaws, allowing it to be more effective on different types of pipes and on stiff nuts.

Waterpump Pliers

Waterpump pliers are also known as gland nut or slip-joint pliers. Unlike many other gripping wrenches these are actually very useful for turning nuts. This is because of the serration on the pliers allows a firm and safe grip on the nut. Another good thing with waterpump pliers is that they can be set to different jaw openings.

Water Pump Pliers

A useful but not necessarily an essential tool for a plumber is the vice. It can be used either to hold pipes when making joints or to hold on to fittings when dismantling them. It you are working on a copper pipe, make sure you are using a vice with pipe jaws as they are less likely to distort or damage it. If you want to buy any of these wrenches I would like to recommend local suppliers in Liverpool but to be honest you get the best prices at Plumb Centre, so go there.

Pipe Cutters, Pliers and Plungers for Plumbers

As mentioned before, a plumber needs a lot of different tools in order to do his job. In this article I will mention three of these tools. The first tool is the pipe cutter. This is used when you need to make neat cuts to a copper pipe and it is by far the quickest and easiest tool to use. Unlike a hacksaw, a pipe cutter does not cause metal filing and sharp marks on the outside of the pipe and it also creates a very neat and square finish to the end of the pipe you are working on. A pipe cutter can sometimes cause slight marks on the outside of the pipe but if this is the case, most pipe cutters have a tapered reamer at the end or in the middle of it, allowing you to smooth the pipe after cutting it. I hope this goes without saying but all pipes and fittings are to be smooth on the inside. There are special pipe cutters for pipes in difficult to reach places or for pipes close to walls. These are called pipe-slicers or mini pipe cutters.

Pliers

Pliers

There are several different gripping wrenches on the market and that can be very useful for a plumber. The second type of tool that I will mention is pliers. Personally, I find that a pair of general purpose pliers always comes in handy and my choice of pliers is what normally is referred to as an electrician’s type. As these come with rubber handles, it makes it easier to grip and more comfortable to use, especially after an extended length of use. The easiest tool to use when removing floorboard nails is a pair of pincers.

Plungers

Plungers

Now, the third tool I am going to mention is what a lot of people might first think of when it comes to plumbers and plumbing works. It is also a tool that most people already have in their homes, just in case of an emergency: the plunger. Depending on the seriousness of the drain or waste blockage, specialist equipment is sometimes needed or you might even have to use a specialist drain clearing firm. However, very often you can sort out the blockage by using a normal plunger. As I mentioned, most houses will normally have one of these but in any case, it should definitely be part of any professional plumber’s tool kit. It is cheap and cheerful and it can definitely save your day!

Different Types of Spanner

As a plumber you will need a wide variety of tools in order to do your job properly. Spanners are one of the most useful ones. They come in different varieties and sizes, depending on the job at hand. Immersion heater spanners are often used to deal with electric immersion heathers that need to be screwed to the top of side of a hot water cylinder. They have very large nuts, often around 89mm, hence the need of a very large spanner in order to tighten or loosen the nuts. Even if you use largest adjustable spanner you can find, it will not be large enough and this is where the immersion heater spanner comes in. They can be purchased rather cheaply but can also be hired if needed.

adjustable spanner

Adjustable Spanner

However, the most useful type of spanner is probably the adjustable spanner. These spanners are always the best choice for doing up and undoing nuts as using pliers and various gripping wrenches will not only damage the nuts you are working on but can also cause damage to the tool itself. When it comes to adjustable spanners you normally put them in of the three main categories: auto-pattern, crescent pattern and girder pattern spanners.

open ended spanner

Open-Ended Spanner

Another common type of spanners, and a type that is very handy for a plumber, is the open-ended spanner. These are often used for compression joints if you can fit the right size spanner with the right size joint. In these cases you will normally need two open-ended spanners: one for the actual nut and one to prevent the fitting from turning. The bath (or basin) spanner is another useful spanner and these are used when dealing with the nuts and joints that hold the taps in place under baths. The basin wrench falls under this category as well and this tool allows you to get into the most inaccessible corners underneath the bath.

For the novice plumber is might seem like there are a ridiculous high number of spanners on the market and it can be difficult to know what to get. One solution to this can be the universal plumbing spanners that are now available.  They will allow you to deal with most sizes and this includes dealing with angled basin-nut jaws. Many plumbers find this a very useful and cost-effective tool, especially if you are only just starting up. Personally, I think you can never have too many spanners and the only type of spanners you will most likely never use in plumbing are ring spanners and socket spanners.

Bending tools and blowlamps

Blow Lamps

The pipe most commonly used in plumbing is copper pipes and this is not easy to bend by hand. If you try to bend it, not only is it very tough but the pipe is likely to distort when being bent. It is therefore useful to use a bending spring. The bending spring is slid inside the pipe in order to support it as it is being bent, quite likely over your knee. These bending springs have a loop on one side in order to be easily pulled out from the pipe once it has been bent. They come in different sizes in order to fit different pipe. However, if you have a lot of pipe to bend or if you want to bend something like stainless steel or a thicker copper pipe, say over 28mm, which cannot be bent by hand, the best option is to use a bending machine and these can be hired rather than purchased. Bending machines can normally deal with two or three different sizes of pipe and it will make your work a lot easier.

Blowlamps

Blowlamps are used for soldered capillary fittings and nowadays these are much safer than the old-school paraffin type. The ones fitted on to a disposable cartridge are perfectly adequate for most types of jobs or otherwise a blowtorch connected via a hose to a gas cylinder can be used. This is a more expensive alternative but the torch itself is lighter and easier to handle than a blowlamp. Not to mention the risk of running out of gas halfway through a job. Even though you’ll have to carry the cylinder with you, the positive thing is that a blowtorch allows you to use it upside down in case you need to get under a pipe or fitting one. It is not advisable to use a cartridge-fed blowlamp upside down as it will cause flares. Another use of a blowlamp or blowtorch is when a nut seems stuck to its fitting, often due to dried up jointing compound. By applying gentle heath to the nut, it can sometimes loosen it. Just make sure not to use your blowlamp to close to ceramic basins, plastic baths or pressed steel as it can cause further damage. If you need to unfreeze pipes or nuts close to these materials, it might be better to use a hair-dryer or a hot-air gun on a low setting. For safety, make sure to always have a fire extinguisher close by if you do choose to work with a blowlamp.