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Wrap Your Plumbing Before it Freezes


plumbing freezeYou don’t want your plumbing to freeze right? Well before the temperature drops too low, take action now.

It happens every year and people know it’s coming, yet they still don’t do anything about it…until it is too late. It seems the most obvious thing to freeze is the pressure vacuum breaker. These stick up out of the ground. The valve sits on two pipes and the entire assembly can freeze. The pipes and/or valve will split open against the incredible force of expanding ice. It is easier to buy $5 worth of pipe insulation and prevent it.

Pipe insulation comes with a split down one side so you can place it around the pipe (get the right diameter). Some insulation needs to be taped together and some has adhesive on the edges of the cut so that you can just mate the edges together and they seal around the pipe. At that point you can cut the insulation to length with a utility knife.

If you have any hose bibs that stick out far enough that the piping is exposed, you can add insulation there too.

There are specialty products available for these purposes too. You can buy an insulated dome that is made to look like a rock that you place over the valve. There are similar products for hose bibs.


Pinhole Plumbing Leak Repair


plumbing pinhole leakA pinhole plumbing leak in a supply line can leak plenty of water. I had a customer call and discover that when he was hanging a picture, a nail penetrated through the wall and into the pipe. Things were okay until he pulled out the nail.

For small repairs like this in copper, you can use a repair coupling. There are two types of repair couplings; one with internal stops and one without. You want to use the coupling without stops. This will allow you to move the coupling (also known as a sleeve) freely up and down the length of the pipe. To get the sleeve onto the pipe, you will need to cut the pipe at the pinhole location, and the coupling will span the damaged area. You will need to clean and flux the inside of the coupling and the outside of the pipe. Then you can slide the coupling into place.

Light the torch and heat up the area. Touch the solder to the opposite side of where you are holding the flame to make sure the entire joint is hot enough for the solder to flow. Once the solder melts and flows into the joint, you can turn the torch off, clean up the area and turn the water back on to check for leaks.


Replacing a Plumbing Angle Stop


plumbing angle stopYou might find yourself needing to work on your plumbing sometime, specifically replacing an angle stop. If your angle stop is dripping, you can try to slightly tighten the nut right under the handle but if that doesn’t work, you are likely looking at replacing it.

You will need to turn off the water to the house. Some angle stops have a water supply line connected to them (like a toilet angle valve), but most are separate from the supply line. You have to be prepared to drain the water from the line when you start removing it. It’s easier if you just point the supply line into a bucket, but be prepared for water to come out once you start working on it.

The easiest replacement is on a bare copper pipe. Use two wrenches and hold the nut with one and the valve with the other. Start unscrewing it and it will come out easily. I generally just push the new valve on the pipe without replacing the ferrule or nut. The nut will squeeze the ferrule into any voids and close off the leaks. Again use two wrenches, one to orient the valve and the other to tighten the nut that holds it in place.


Using Flexible Copper Plumbing Supply Lines


flexible plumbing linesFlexible copper plumbing lines are a fantastic option to using straight copper piping. They are fast and you can save money because you don’t have to buy separate fittings, elbows, and straight lengths of pipe. Rather you buy a flexible line and gradually arc it to where you need it to go.

You can buy flexible lines as a sweat fitting, meaning you have to use a torch and solder it on, or you can buy them with a female thread. You can also get them with compression fittings to mate with a bare copper pipe.

The time savings come in because you have fewer connections to make. Rather than sweating multiple fittings and lengths of straight pipe together, you can connect both ends of the flexible pipe to their destinations.

You want to be careful not to bend the pipe to the point where it restricts any water flow. So gradual arcing of the pipe is very important to maintain good water flow. If you bend the pipe too much you will see that it will start to become out-of-round and the volume of the pipe (it’s inside diameter) will decrease. It sometimes helps to get a longer flex line in this case as you will have more room to make the connection.


Condensation Plumbing Line Dripping Outside


condensate plumbing lineNaturally when it gets hot outside you turn on the air conditioner. When it is humid outside, a byproduct of cooling the air is condensation. The more humid it is, the more condensation will be produced. The condensation drips off of the coil and into a condensation pan underneath the unit. The condensation is then carried out of the pan by a drain line to the exterior of the house. So what a homeowner will occasionally see is water dripping from a small PVC elbow coming out of the house.

A common call I get is about this very issue. People will call and say they have a plumbing problem because water is coming from a pipe that normally doesn’t have water coming out of it. Yes, that is by design. I try to tell people that this is exactly what should be happening when you are running the air conditioner and it is very humid outside.

What you may notice is the condensation pan will leak and you will develop a stain on your ceiling. This of course is not normal and needs attention. This will lead not only to a repair of some type on the pan or unit, but also a repair on your ceiling to make the stain go away.


Plumbing Water Supply Line Leak at Dishwasher


dishwasher plumbingA plumbing leak at a dishwasher line is just like any other water supply line to a fixture…it’s just typically a longer line because if goes from under your sink all the way to the dishwasher.

You will find these water supply lines in a variety of materials from plastic to copper to braided lines. Braided lines have female threads on them and they simply screw on to the angle valve under the sink. For the lower cost options, they use compression fittings to attach.

Slide a nut onto the line, then push on a ferrule. Mate the line into the end of the angle valve opening and seat the ferrule at the opening angle valve. Thread the nut onto the angle valve and tighten it until snug. The nut will compress the ferrule and seal out any leaks.

Finding a leak is really about running the water and looking around. A leak will typically be located at a connection where a water supply line meets a valve or the machine itself, but this is a general statement. There is also a possibility that the line itself is damaged or even the dishwasher may be leaking. You really have to troubleshoot it and not assume it can only be one problem.


Flexible Copper Plumbing Lines


plumbing flex linesUsing flexible copper plumbing lines to install things like a water heater or water softener can really make things easier. Plumbing purists love to hard pipe these items but, I really like the flex lines.

I think flex lines are more convenient and faster than hard piping in an appliance. However, flexible lines can diminish the interior diameter of the pipe. If you make a sharp turn with a flexible pipe, you could easily restrict the volume of water able to flow through that pipe. Not so with hard piping. With hard piping, you use fittings and lengths of straight pipe that will not decrease, because they do not bend.

Also, since hard piping is soldered in place, you have fewer problematic areas. On a flex line, for example, you may have a rubber washer fail which causes a leak. This won’t happen with hard piping, although a poorly soldered joint can fail. If a joint fails with hard piping, it is a real challenge to fix since you need to heat up the joint to pull it apart and repair it. With flexible lines, you can just unscrew the joint, replace the washer, or clean up the threads and re-assemble everything back together. There are good and bad with each style, and each installer has his preference.


Plumbing: Removing a Water Softener


plumbing softenerSome folks want to take the water softener with them when they move, and others just want to be rid of it. So how do you remove it?

If you plan on removing the water softener, you have to connect the loop back so that the house will still get water. As water enters the house’s plumbing, it is diverted into the softener and back out (except for the kitchen sink). When a softener is removed, there will be a void where the piping used to be. You just need to reconnect these pipes.

After you turn the water off to the house, disconnect the piping at the softener. Typically you will find that there are some male adapters on each end of the loop, and the lines leading to the softener are just threaded onto those. Use a wrench and unscrew the supply lines where they connect to the male adapters. You will get a little water that comes out.

To span the void left by removing the softener, you can use copper, copper flex, or braided. The flex is nice because you can just screw the ends on and be done.

You will have to disconnect the drain line from the stub-out in the wall. When you do, I would cap that line.


Plumbing Straps Secure Piping to Walls


plumbing pipe strap resized 600I had a friend call asking for advice on a plumbing issue. He was relocating a washing machine and he needed to secure the piping to a masonry wall.

The easiest way is to use pipe straps or hangers. These are small clamp-like mechanisms that come in various sizes to match the diameter of the pipe being secured.  They will come with one or two holes and you simply place the strap over the pipe and screw it into the wall. With wood or drywall surfaces it is easy, but masonry makes for a more time-consuming job. You will need to place the strap where you want it, mark the hole location(s) and pre-drill a hole. You can use masonry screws or tapcon bolts. Basically, you will use the appropriate sized drill bit, drill the hole, and then place the strap back over the hole location and install a screw there.

You will want to place enough straps so that the piping is held securely to the wall. Washing machines can produce water hammer via the electric valves quickly closing shut. You want to minimize the potential by strapping the piping any time the pipe changes direction and along the length of the run.


The right Plumbing Part isn’t always at the Big Box Stores


plumbing partsFinding the right plumbing parts can be like playing a game of hide and seek. You have to go look for the right ones. Home Depot and Lowes will carry most of the popular fast-turning items, but for many parts, you will need to go to a plumbing supply store.

If you know the part you are looking for, certainly a call is in order. You may be able to tell the clerk over the phone the brand and part you need, and he can tell you if he has it.

Some parts, however, will be unidentifiable.  For that you will need to bring the part with you (always a good practice anyway), and go to the counter. This happens frequently with faucet stems and seats. You may have a 25 year old part that has no distinguishing markings or features…that part needs to go with you to make sure you get the right one.

You can find plumbing supply stores in the yellow pages. Some plumbing companies will also stock parts and sell them to the public. These will be some of the most expensive parts you can buy. However, when you are in a pinch, sometimes you don’t have much of a choice.

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