Depending on the area you live in, your water might be classified as ‘hard’ water or ‘soft’ water. The main differences between the two are that hard water contains dissolved minerals that soft water does not. Not only do they taste different, they also react differently when it comes to washing. However, when it comes to the cold water system, there are different devices that you can have fitted in order to treat the water. In this article I will tell you a bit more about three of these and they are; a scale reducer, a water conditioner and a water filter.
A scale reducer is, as it says in the name – a device created to reduce scale. It does this by containing polyphosphate crystals which in turn modifies the hardness salts and prevents them from forming scales. A scale reducer is generally fitted on the branch pipes that lead to electric showers, combination boilers or gas multi-point heaters and it should have two isolating valves.
A water conditioner should be fitted to the rising main and above the main stop-valve. It obviously does not change the chemical composition of the water but rather works by affecting the condition of the water by using a magnetic field. It works by affecting the magnesium and calcium ions from precipitating. Some types of water conditioners are fitted directly into the pipe-work and other types are electronically operated. The later ones are plugged into the mains and use a low-voltage wire which is then wrapped around the pipe itself.
When it comes to water filters, there are many different types to choose between but they should always be fitted to the branch pipe that supplies the sink and it should also be connected to a separate tap if possible. You can buy kits containing self-cutting valves and these can be then be fitted without having to switch off the water supply.
A Word of Wisdom
If you are reasonably handy and have a grasp of basic plumbing you can obviously try to tackle some of these fittings yourself but like with most things – always contact a professional to deal with any complicated or specialist jobs rather than trying to attempt them yourself. The reason for this is that if anything goes wrong, the job at hand might turn out a lot more expensive and time consuming that you first expected it to be. Best of luck!
Whether you work as a plumber or fancy yourself a handy-man, it bears to know a thing or two about some of the processes that can happen, should you accidentally put two materials together that should not be together. In this article I will tell you a bit more about two of these processes – corrosion and dezincification.
When it comes to water, you have to be careful what material you use with it. Take metals as an example – if you are using two different metals in the same system, they will inevitably cause corrosion. This means that if you are using copper pipe by a galvanised water cistern (which has a coating of zinc) – corrosion will occur. When it comes to copper pipes, there will unfortunately always be a very small amount of copper that dissolves in the water, despite how careful you are to clean out any copper filings. However, it is still important to take care cleaning the pipes once any work has taken place, making sure to remove all copper filings. This is because copper filings travel and ends up being deposited on the galvanised surface of the cistern. What happens when copper and zinc are in contact is that they act as a battery. This means that tiny electrical currents are produced and that the water acts as the connection between the two elements, completing the circuit. The current produced from this causes small particles of the zinc to be dissolved and it makes the coating porous. This in turn means that the water in the cistern will come in contact with the steel underneath the coating and the steel will also start to corrode. If you come across this issue, my best advice is to replace the corroded cold water cistern to a new plastic one.
Some areas of the country have chemicals that occur naturally in water and they can sometimes react to metals found in certain brass fittings. This reaction is known as dezincification and it basically dissolves the zinc found in brass, leaving it just as porous as the copper pipes mentioned above. As a result, it can cause them to disintegrate. You can avoid dezincification by using brass fittings with gunmetal inhibitors. Speak to your local water company to find out more about the water in your area and whether you will need to take any of these measures. When it comes to inaccessible concealed fittings, it is mandatory to use gunmetal or another similar resistant metal for the job.
Here in the United Kingdom we are fortunate enough to have four different seasons and nice as it is, the colder months bring with them a drop in temperature and this is sometimes enough to cause problems with our plumbing systems. The issues we face as it gets colder are not only frozen pipes but also burst pipes. Luckily, there are ways to avoid this and in this article I will tell you a bit more about preventing this from happening.
Prevention and Protection: Pipes
When it comes to cold water pipes, all of them – despite ownership, should be insulated as to avoid frost damage and possible water leaks. Even though all cold water pipes should be insulated, it is especially important for the pipes found in the loft close to the eaves and the ones underneath the floorboards and close to the air-bricks to be so. Nowadays you can get modern preformed pipe lagging in most sizes and they are not only inexpensive but also a lot easier to install than the older versions. However, preformed insulation might not work everywhere and I have found that a felt or a glass fibre wrap-around seem to work best for valves and some compression fittings. These are easy enough to fit yourself.
Prevention and Protection: Cisterns
When you insulate cold water pipes, it is important not to forget that the cold water cistern itself will need some sort of insulation as well. It is best to insulate the top of the cistern but to leave it if off underneath, allowing instead for some of the heath from the house to rise up to it. It is a good idea to bring up the ends of the blanket towards the sides of the cistern when insulating the loft floor. If you come across a pipe that is very exposed, it would be a good idea to use a small heater to keep the cold off the pipe. Alternatively, you can purchase tapes that protects against frost and these are called electric frost protection tapes. They incorporate a very low wattage heater and you simply wrap it around the pipes that need protection. The great thing is that they do not need special wiring and some are even thermostatically controlled to switch on when the temperature drops.
A good tip for you if you have a cistern kept outside, is that the cistern could be kept from freezing by simply hanging a light-bulb by it and leaving it on.
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.