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. If you do decide to make a purchase – how do you know how much to spend? I would say that 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 you see any existing 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.
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.
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.
With acquiring any service, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Acquiring plumbing services, is no different than making a purchase online, you have to vet the company providing the goods. Installing a new boiler for example, can cost upwards of £1000, so be careful.
As you might know, a ball-valve is what controls the flow of water into a cistern and it works by a ball, made of either plastic or metal, floating on the surface. This ball is what opens and shuts off the supply of water, depending on water levels. There are different types of ball-valves and which one to use depends on the water pressure in question. The three main types of ball-valves are diaphragm ball-valves, equilibrium ball-valves and piston ball-valves. In this article I will tell you a bit more about these.
These types of ball-valves were developed as a solution to overcome the quite noisy piston type ball-valves. There is no moving piston in these ball-valves but instead – a rubber diaphragm. The rubber diaphragm closes over a type of nylon seating at the end of the float arm movement. You can buy them in either brass or plastic depending on how much you want to spend.
Just like diaphragm ball-vales were developed to overcome an issue, so were the equilibrium ball-valves. The issue in this case being the ‘water hammer’ created when ball-valves are shutting off too fast. The flow of water is operated by the movement of the float arm. This means that the pressure of the water in the mains pipe cannot open the valve. However, once the valve is open, it is balanced by an equal water pressure on both sides of the piston.
This is the simplest type of ball-valves and comes in different designs. One of these designs is the Croydon. It works by a vertical falling piston that goes against a nozzle but as it happens, this design is more or less outdated. Another type of design is the Portsmouth which is normally found in domestic properties. In this design, the float arm closes over a horizontal piston which is fitted with a washer and sits against the valve seating. The main negative with this design of piston ball-valves, is that they are noisy when in use so silencer tubes used to be fitted to them but they are no longer allowed.
A good solution that combines the best qualities of the equilibrium ball-valve and the diaphragm ball-valve is the well-named ‘Equilibrium/Diaphragm ball-valves’. These types of ball-valves are also known as the Torbeck and they combine equal water pressure with the closing of the diaphragm. Torbeck ball-valves are quiet, compact and best of all – maintenance free!
Cistern ball-valves of all types are fitted with a BSP screwed inlet and this is for the tap connector. New regulations state that they have to be adjustable and it is because of this that the Portsmouth version is no longer in use.
When it comes to cold water plumbing, water travels from your main stop-valve via the rising main. From here it can be directed in one of two different ways – through an indirect cold water supply (this is the more common way) or through a direct cold water supply. In this article, I will tell you a bit more about the latter one and discuss some of the pros and cons with both systems.
Just like it says in the name, when it comes to direct systems, all pipes and WCs that carries cold water are directly connected to the rising main. In most houses where central heating has been installed, you might find a so called feed-and-expansion cistern or even a hot water cylinder cistern. With a direct plumbing system, there are several different ways to supply the hot water but the two most common ones are through combination boilers and gas heaters with multi-points.
Direct or Indirect Systems?
Despite the direct plumbing system being cheaper to install and also less complicated to work with, many water companies nowadays prefers the indirect system and some of them only allow for this system to be used. The water companies’ say that indirect systems are better for busy periods like early mornings, as they will have less of an impact on the mains. Another thing that the water companies’ also like with indirect systems is that a householder’s own water system is mainly kept separate from the mains supply. This means that there is lesser of a risk for the mains to be contaminated through a backflow. A backflow is where dirty water from a household is being sucked backwards and up the mains. It is very important for water companies to provide and maintain a high quality of water and according to regulations, all water systems should have a device of some sort, preventing backflows from happening. There are some positives for the householder as well when it comes to indirect systems. By having a cold water cistern, you will always have a reserve of water, should you suffer a water cut. The indirect system is also quieter than the direct system.
However, there are drawbacks to the indirect system as well. They could provide a less than ideal ‘head’, so if you are a fan of a decent shower, you might want to look elsewhere. There is also a higher risk for indirect systems with a cistern and pipe work in the loft to freeze, if they are not correctly insulated but both of these issues can be rectified by using an unvented hot water system.
As you probably know, water travels to your house via the water mains. Your house will have its own branch service pipe with a stop-valve – this is the water company’s stop-valve. Leading from the water company’s stop-valve to your house’s own main stop-valve, is the service pipe. It is from this point on that your own supply starts. Once water has reached your main stop-valve, it is moved along via the rising main. The cold water supply can work in two different ways: indirect and direct. The indirect cold water supply is the more common version and it works by the rising main going directly to the cold water cistern and the cistern can generally be located in the loft. With the direct cold water supply on the other hand, cold water supply for fittings and taps within a house, comes directly from the rising mains.
When it comes to the indirect cold water supply, there is normally only one permitted connection to the rising main and that is the one going to the cold water tap in the kitchen. In some houses there could be an existing connection to the WC as well. As a home owner, you are allowed to make connections off the cold water supply branch in the kitchen and this could be to an outside tap or for the plumbing to a washing machine. You do however have to use water regulated and approved fittings and valves. If you connect a washing machine to the cold water supply from the rising main, it should be at the mains pressure. Hot water supply should be at the lower pressure.
You might also want to make a connection to the rising main if you have an electric shower or an instantaneous gas water heather as these need mains pressure. The same thing goes for any conditioner, filter or softener devices that change the quality of water. It could be good to know that the rising main, travels up inside a house to a large water cistern in the loft. Some people call this a water tank but technically, a tank is under pressure and closed on all sides. A cistern on the other hand, is open at the top. A cold water cistern is basically a large cylinder that stores water and provides the rest of the house with water. Water tanks and cisterns can be moved if needed, but this is definitely a job for your local plumber.
Have you ever wondered where your water is coming from? If you live in England or Wales, the water in your tap comes from several different private water companies. Some of these companies can be seen as the successors of regional water authorities, also providing us with sewerage services. In Scotland, on the other hand, water is supplied by a fewer number of national water companies. Nowadays we tend to be charged for water in accordance with our consumption but this was not always the case.
Cold Water Supply
So, how does the water end up in your tap? Well, water travels to your house via the water mains and these are generally run down your local roads. Each individual property will then have its own branch service pipe and these are fitted with a stop-valve. This particular stop-valve is commonly known as the ‘water company stop-valve’ and they are normally found just outside your property boundary. This valve can be located under a small metal cover by the pavement if you live in a town, while it might be a bit trickier to locate it if you live in a more rural area. If you need the mains turned off, you will normally have to contact the water company and they will send out one of their engineers with a special key. The service pipe goes from the water company’s stop-valve to your house and it has to be buried at least 750 mm under the surface in order to avoid frost damage. It can often be found inside a drain pipe in order to protect it from damage and it should rise slightly so that air bubbles can be avoided. The service pipe leads to the property’s own main stop-valve and it is from this point onward that the property’s own supply starts.
As a home owner, you are responsible for the supply pipe as well as the entire domestic distribution system. In older houses, the mains and service pipes were made of galvanised lead or iron but nowadays they tend to be replaced by either copper or plastic pipes. When the pipes were made of galvanised lead or iron, the pipes had another purpose as well. They were used to provide an electrical earth connection to homes. Since plastic pipe started to be widely used to transport water, electricity companies are now using their own earthing terminals to provide electricity to homeowners.
There are many different kinds of valves but when it comes to plumbing it is mainly four different ones that are used. These are called drain-valves, gate-valves, servicing valves and stop-valves. You can find them fitted in both hot and cold water supplies and they are used to cut off water from the entire system or if needed, just from individual branches. In this article I will tell you a bit more about two of these valves.
Some valves can fully restrict the flow of water but gate-valves only have the capacity to restrict it slightly when opened. Therefore they are usually fitted to cold supply pipes. You can find them along pipes going from a cold water cistern as the water pressure is lower there. The control mechanism of many gate-valves is typically a solid gate (or portcullis) which is lowered to cut into the water flow when screwed in. Most gate-valves are fitted with wheel-handles and they have to be opened completely open to avoid creating airlocks. They normally come with compression fittings and can be fitted way round. If you come across cold supplies from a cold water cistern that is not yet fitted with gate-valves, you can easily sort this out as it only requires a short length of pipe to be cut out. Rather than having to drain the cistern of water, you can use a cloth and polyethylene sheeting. Bung this up and place it against the outlet. By turning on the taps, the ‘bung’ should seal o the opening. If this does not work or if you so prefer so, you can always use a drain-easy-kit.
The water regulation stipulates that servicing valves should be fitted on pipes leading to ball-valves, or so called float-operated valves, on cold water, feed-and-expansion-cisterns as well as WCs. Most servicing valves that you come across should have a small ball fitted internally with a whole through it and this is so that a quarter turn is all that is needed to fully open or close the valve. This is operated by a small circular knob or by fitting a screwdriver into the slot. Service-valves used for installing washing machines generally have a tee fitting and a lever. It would be advisable to fit servicing valves before every single tap to allow them to be rewashered without having to drain the entire pipe and possibly also the cistern. Always leave a job in the same good state as you want to find your next one in. Best of luck!
As a plumber you know how important taps and valves are to the plumbing system and it is important that all parts work as well as possible. All parts need to be kept in a good working order to avoid water leaks and therefore possible water damages to your home. It is also important that you can turn off the water if you need to, for an example if you happen to have a leak. One of the most common reasons for a call out as a plumber is a water leak. The reason for this can differ but it is often due to a packing or gland failing or due to a worn washer.
Glands and Packings
A packing or gland failing is basically when there is a leak from the top of the tap whenever it is open. A good thing is that a packing can easily be changed without having to turn off the water but you will have to remove both the tap head and the ‘easyclean’ cover in order to do so. If you come across an older style of cross heads and have trouble getting it off, even after removing the grub screw – try tapping it gently with a hammer. If this still does not work, open the tap completely and unscrew the easyclean cover and place two small pieces of wood underneath it, before tightening the tap with the head down. Sometimes the ‘easyclean’ cover is easy to remove and sometimes it is trickier. The thing to remember though is to always protect it with a small piece of cloth if you are forced to use any tools to shift it. Sometimes it helps to pour boiling water on it in order to shift it. You can replace traditional packing with wool covered in petroleum jelly. If you come across the more modern non rising spindle taps, you can easily change the rubber O-ring seals when needed. If a mixer tap is leaking at the base of the swivel nozzle, you can be sure that the O-ring or the washer needs replacing.
A warn washer means that there is a leak from the actual spout rather than the tap and this happens when the tap is closed. How you go about changing the washer depends on what type of tap is in use. I would always advice you to keep a few spare tap washers to hand and make sure they are replaced regularly. If the washer and jumper cannot be separated you will have to replace both. You will generally have to turn off the water if you are replacing tap washers – unless it is a ‘Supatap’. As with many other things, tap washer comes in different designs and sizes. If the washer is of a brand name, the smooth side needs to come into contact with the seating. If the actual tap has gone or if the valve seat has gone, it can be re-cut or you can insert a replacement seat of nylon. This cannot be fitted to ‘Supataps’ though.
When working as a plumber you will most definitely come across people that do not want to have their pipes on display and when this is the case, you will have to cover up the pipes. This is normally not a big issue as most pipe-work can easily be covered up. The best way to do this is with home-made boxing using either plywood or you could use proprietary products such as additional skirting boards or architraves in either wood or plastic. These will have extra space at the back in order to hide any running pipes.
You can also use something called ‘mini-trunking’ and this is similar to what electricians use if they have a lot of loose electric cables. Whatever way you choose to cover up the pipes, if possible, always try to fit pipe insulation on both hot and cold water pipes. If the pipe you are working with have to pass through either a floor or a wall, always use a pipe sleeve around the pipe. This is not only to protect the pipe but it will also make the junction look nice and tidy. As always, allow space for the expansion of hot water pipes. If you are working in a house with solid floors, you can lay pipes in an under-floor duct. Do not lay pipes embedded in concrete! Every pipe and joint you ever work on has to be accessible so that any future work can be carried out easily. Also remember to insulate any pipes that are exposed to cold temperatures to avoid cracked and leaking pipes. Sometimes hiding the pipe is not an option and the best way forward then is to paint the pipe in a suitable colour or if it is a copper pipe, polish it to create a shiny surface.
Things to Keep in Mind
Remember to always take pride in your work and that a job well done is likely to be rewarded with repeat work and best of all, recommendations for new jobs. There is nothing more powerful than word-of-mouth advertising and you do not want to have a reputation of doing bad jobs. A job well done leading to new jobs with a previous customer’s friends or family is basically free advertising – which in the long run means more work and more income as your good reputation builds. Another great tip is to take a few extra minutes after you have completed a job to clean up after yourself. You want the place to look ‘spick and span’ after you leave – the only traces left of you having been there, should be a job well done!
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.
Semi-Flexible Plastic Pipe
However, when it comes to a semi-flexible plastic pipe, there are some further benefits. This is a pipe that is easy to work with as it is both easy to cut and to 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 however be tricky if you are working in a tiny space. The negatives with a semi-flexible plastic pipe is that it will need regular supporting and it might, unfortunately, 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 they are more expensive than the fittings for copper pipes. However, you do need less of them than for a 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 properly. 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.
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) or the light grey polybutylene – both of which are semi-flexible. A rigid plastic pipe widely used in plumbing, 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 not cause corrosion which is a common thing with both galvanised water pipes and tanks.
Plastic pipes are not only used for hot and cold water supplies but you can also use them 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 cutter 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.