A-Z Guide: Home Plumbing Explained

Plumbing is a major part of a home that often goes unnoticed until something is wrong. Plumbing includes water distribution throughout a home to sink, faucets, hoses, showers, dishwashers, etc. A water supply line comes in from the street main or a good system. Once this single line, commonly 3/4” copper is split with one distributing throughout the house and the other into a hot water tank that generated hot water. Once, both hot and cold lines are into a home, they are then distributed throughout the home in parallel to each room requiring water. These lines can run inside of walls, through walls to the exterior of a home, underground and into other floors of a home with minimal restriction. Plumbing also includes drain lines that take the used water safely from a home out to the sewer or septic tank, where the material is processed and ultimately cleaned and returned to the home as drinking water. With supply lines, simply distributing lines can be installed throughout a house without much thought, drain lines, on the other hand, are unique and need to be well planned out. Drain lines need to be properly installed with more care and planning, requiring a certain downward slope and need to be vented in order to allow sewer gasses to pass through the plumbing but not into the home. Having a solid long-lasting plumbing system is vital to a home to ensure proper operation and durability for the life of a home.

Importance of Good Plumbing

With plumbing drain lines being such a vital part of a system, they must be properly sloped out of a home to “wash” the pipe as used water passes throughout of a home. Improperly sloped drain lines can cause havoc over time, causing backups, blockage and in some cases, leaks and additional damage. Unlike supply lines that are under constant pressure to supply water into a home, drain lines are unpressurized and rely on gravity to pull the used water and sewage out of a home to be processed. Gravity only works if drain lines are properly sloped out of a home. Supply lines are constantly under pressure and have a lot more flexibility when installing.

Drain lines in the home not only allow wastewater to be managed but also serve an important function of keeping sewer gases out. A drains trap does this by sealing water in the pipe. This creates a permanent air seal against dangerous and toxic sewer gases. Having a proper drain is paramount to a good plumbing system and installing plumbing without one is not code and could cause injury.

Like many aspects of a home, the intent is to keep weather and moisture out of a home. Plumbing is basically the engineered use and management of water and waste. If any part of the plumbing system is not installed properly, this can lead to a failed system and water leaks. Water leaks in a plumbing system can quickly lead to mold growth, mildew, rota worst-case scenario, flooding.

Many have heard horror stories about leaking plumbing, most do not end well and result in tens of thousands of dollars in damage. A certain homeowner, left in the morning to go to work, after he returned after a long 10 hour day, found his sink faucet had broken off in an upstairs bathroom and been running for hours unattended. This water found its way across the majority of the first floor, into the walls, down the stairs, and throughout the first floor, ruining the drywall, flooring, trim, woodwork, carpet and also causing structural damage to the beams, and subfloor. This is one example of many damaging leaking and broken plumbing can be in a home and the need for proper plumbing, there are thousands of stories of homes being ruined by poor plumbing, do not let yours be one of them!

Prevent Water Leaks

One way to combat water leaks is to do a typical inspection on all fittings to make sure they are tight and not leaking, this includes washing machines, toilets, sinks, dishwashers, fridges, and showers. If a connection is loose, simply sighted with a wrench and make sure the fitting does not continue to leak. Doing a quick inspection should only take about 10 o 15 minutes, depending on the size of your home and if any leaks are found. Doing this a few times per year will help provide peace of mind that your home is protected and your plumbing is safe against leaks and failure.

Another easy way to protect your home is to shut off your main water supply in your basement or crawlspace and drain your water system before going on long trips or weekends away. Shutting off a water valve only takes a few seconds, and will provide an even further peace of mind that your house cannot have a leak and will not come home to any surprises or water damage.

Shutting off a water supply valve seems easy, but like everyone else, many homeowners are rushing to pack, clean the house, and get ready for a trip and forget to shut off the water. With everything being integrated into a homes wireless network, some manufacturers make an electric automatic water shutoff valve that can be controlled from your mobile phone through the internet. Like this FLO-N-Stop Automatic Water Shutoff

This automatic valve allows homeworkers to remotely close their water supply valve and provide even more peace of mind that their home is safe. Many valves can automatically detect a water leak and automatically shut off the water without any input from the homeowner.

Different Types of Fittings

Residential plumbing has been around for some time, with many years of development, growth, engineering and new products, etc. With these different products comes confusion, which one is the best, which is the easiest, etc. We breakdown each of these products, fitting types and provide clarity for your next plumbing project.

Copper

Copper has been used in mechanical systems for years and for the longest time was known to be one of the only solutions for residential water supply line mains. Copper is a form of metal but is fairly rigid with little flexibility for forgiveness, bending, etc. Copper pipe is commonly purchased in 8-10’ pieces and typically cut to size on-site for a project using a special tool designed for cutting solid pipe. These tools are fairly inexpensive and easy to purchase & use, as this pipe cutting tool from Rigid.

Copper is an expensive material to purchase which brings many homeowners to other solutions but is worth the investment if homeowners seek durability, reliability and a lifelong solution.

Typically, copper is connected through soldering joints, which includes special tools, skills, and practice in order to create a watertight joint. This means, commonly a solder joint is best left to a professional and not to DIY friendly, though it is possible, just a bit more difficult than other plumbing solutions. A soldered joint is one of the strongest plumbing connections possible and is extremely resistant to becoming undone, leaking, breaking, etc. Copper is a great material for a lasting plumbing project and for many is a bit more difficult to work with but does offer the ultimate, life long solution for supply lines in a home.

PEX

PEX or Cross-Linked PolyEthylene is the easiest plumbing materials to use for supply lines in a home, PEX is DIY friendly and offers a quick solution to plumbing. PEX typically ships in a roll or coil in increments of 25’ all the way up to over 100’ for large projects.

PEX is extremely flexible, and can be bent, turned and looped into corners, even walls or across the ceiling, where typical copper could not provide enough flexibility. With PEX being so easy to handle and work with, this makes it the most popular for DIY and most General Contractors. Because PEX is so durable and can be installed in such long lengths, this reduces the number of field joints and ultimately reducing the number of leaks that happen during installation.

PEX is not a metal-based material, which does make it substantially cheaper than the copper alternative in many cases. PEX is a man-made material that comes in both red and blue colors to signify hot and cold, where copper only comes in a single standard color, making identifying some line difficult if not labeled properly.

With PEX not being as rigid as copper and it does require special fittings in order to connect valves and other fittings. PEX makes special fittings that are crimp-on that require a special tool in order to attach, these crimp-on fittings are the most cost-effective way in order to connect a different piece of pix together, make sharp 90 degree turns, etc. With PEX being so flexible, this means there are other ways to join sections and valves into the system, we cover these different methods below.

Drain Lines/PVC

With supply lines being under pressure, PVC cannot be used and more sturdy material is used such as copper or PEX, but with drain lines, different material can be used. Drain lines are downstream of sinks, showers, toilets and other drain lines. The common drain system is fed by gravity and in most residential homes unpressurized. With the system not needing to withstand pressure, allows most to be constructed of a plastic PolyVinyl Chloride otherwise commonly known as PVC. PVC Material is very cost-efficient and is used throughout the industry for various uses. For new drain lines, because PVC is such a standard, easy to work with and cost-effective not many other materials are used. A long time ago, cast iron drain lines were installed, but now are being replaced with PVC because they rotted and rusted away. PVC is incredibly durable and long-lasting, able to be buried and is rust/rot resistant.

PVC is very rigid and does not bend, it requires, certain fittings in order to be installed properly and because the system is not pressurized means everything must be properly sloped to local codes to ensure a clog-free system.

PVC is very rigid and offers minimal flexibility for bending making common lengths in 8’-10’ similar to the copper pipe; longer lengths are available but may require special order from local home stores. In order to join together PVC fittings, there is only one common solution, PVC cleaner, and glue. This is a 2 part system typically purple and clear in color. The cleaner acting as a binding agent applied to both the pipe and the fitting once applied the clean glue is applied to both fittings. PVC glue and adhesives have an extreme odor and should be used in a well-ventilated area as much as possible. The fittings are very easy to do with the right materials and are DIY Friendly, but can be time-consuming on a large project.

Solder Fittings

Solder fittings are used with copper pipe and are not compatible with PEX or other materials. Solder fittings are very inexpensive but do require special technique in order to install and make watertight. In order to solder a fitting, the pipe must be cut to size, properly prepped and then use a torch to heat up the pipe and fitting to apply and adhere to the solder connection. Because solder connections are difficult and time-consuming, this takes most DIY enthusiasts away from solder fittings, even though they are the most cost-efficient.

Push/Quick Connect Pipe Fittings

With different materials for supply lines and technology advances, engineers have been able to develop what is called Push Connector Quick Connect fittings. These fitting are incredibly DIY friendly, and simply push the fitting onto the pipe and the installation is complete, watertight, and ready for the next piece of pipe. These fittings work great in all aspects of plumbing, under sinks, new installations remodels, etc. Quick connect fitting are installed very quickly and if a mistake is made, come with a special tool for removal; allowing the fitting to be reused many times, the flexibility that solder fittings do not offer.

Push connect fittings are a great invention but are very costly. For comparison, a 90-degree solder elbow is around $.80 in most places. A push connect 90-degree fitting is around $7 depending on the brand and size. Like these 1/2” push connect couplings, Push connect fittings are incredibly convenient and quick but are costly, especially if performing across an entire home or a large remodel.

Copper Pro Press/Crimp-On

Copper pro press and crimp-on fittings are in between a solid solder joint and a convenient quick connect fitting. These crimp-on fittings are commonly made of copper but have a special rubber washer on the inside of the pipe, that when crimped down by a special machine creates a water seal connection. These connections are common in the commercial and industrial sector of construction but have recently made their way to residential. Crimp-on fittings, are convenient and durable for plumbing, offering a middle ground between expensive push connect fittings and time-consuming solder connections. For comparison, a crimp on the 90-degree elbow is around $4, finding a middle ground in price as well as convenience.

The only disadvantage of crimp-on fittings is they do require a special took in order to “crimp” the fitting onto the pipe. These camp fittings can be fairly expensive, and if only doing a small project, will not make financial sense to purchase the tool to install the fittings. A manual crimp-on tool starts at approximately $200 like this tool from IWS

For a company that is doing multiple projects each year, a crimp on connection is the absolute best method, offering a balance between quick installation and cost-efficiency.

Best Products for Home Plumbing

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we can consider some extra tools that you may require when installing or updating your home plumbing system. We’ve put together a list of some of the highest-rated products out there that just might make your life a little easier.

Lichamp Self-Fusing Water Leak Pipe Repair Tape

What happens if you notice a crack in a pipe and you can’t fix it right away? Sometimes, you just need something to tide you over. A decent water leak repair tape can help. This tape has a multitude of uses – you can use it to mend antenna wires and cables, for example, or patch up a leaky hosepipe – and it’s made of rubber with high-temperature resistance, so you know it’s going to last.

It’s fairly easy to install – just put the tape on the cracked or broken area, and then hold firmly and stretch it around the object. You then have to wrap it again, making sure it overlaps. The tape will then fuse to itself. You do have to apply a bit of pressure, and it’s not meant as a permanent solution – but could be a handy thing to have in an emergency.

FERNCO FPW3132CS Pipe Repair Kit

This is another product that is great to have around in an emergency. This is a water-activated fiberglass wrap – and it says it can repair almost any material. It’s EPA approved, and it can even work on high-pressure water pipes. It can be a little difficult to use – you have to work pretty quickly once you’ve started applying it – but it could quickly mend even a dirty, corroded pipe.

It even works underwater, in salt or freshwater. Once it’s on, it’s super strong – so you can trust that your pipes will continue to work without it leaking again.

PlumbCraft Complete Kitchen Drain Repair Kit

What happens if your kitchen sink is out of action? You’ll want to get it fixed – and fast. This kitchen drain repair kit has everything you need to patch up your sink drain. It contains 27 pieces that are made to be universal – so it should fit your sink okay. It includes pieces like a waste arm, a flange tailpiece, an end outlet tee, and slip nuts. It also contains two outlet connection types (center outlet tee or end outlet tee connection). It comes with a detailed instruction sheet, but reviewers say it’s easy to install – so it could be a handy kit to have around if you have the space for it.

Zantle Ratchet-Type Tube and Pipe Cutter

If you’re renovating and you want to install or replace your plumbing system yourself, you’re going to need the right tools for the job. Something you may not have considered is a pipe cutter. It cuts PVC, plastic, and rubber tubing. It’s super durable and can be used for multiple DIY purposes – and it as ratchet drive technology to take some of the efforts out of it for you.

It also comes with a safety lock which you can buckle, and it even comes with a 1-year warranty, so if something does go wrong, you’re covered for the first year. It’s a good idea to invest in good-quality tools when you’re renovating, as it saves so much hassle and stress – and this is definitely a great choice if you need to cut piping.

Tectite 69PFRT Plumbing Tool

If you’re working with copper piping, however, you’ll need different tools. This plumbing tool is great because it has interchangeable faceplates for 1/2in, 3/4in and 1-in sizes. You can use it to remove push-to-connect fittings, and it’s made from steel, so it’s strong and durable. If you’re installing or repairing a lot of copper piping, and you’re using push-to-connect fittings, you’ll find this invaluable.

Home Plumbing: Tips and Tricks

You want to make sure your drains are clear, especially if you’ve put in the hard work of repairing or installing them yourself. Here are a few things you might want to keep in mind to help your plumbing at home run smoothly:

Don’t Tip Oil or Grease into Your Sink

It’s easy just to tip away some grease from a frying pan into the sink, but that could come back to bite you later: as fat hardens, it can cause a blockage, either in your pipes or somewhere further into the sewage system. It’ll either cause a problem for you or for someone else – but either way, it’s not a good idea!

Don’t Flush Everything

Even if something is labeled flushable, don’t just presume it can be flushed away with no issues. Items like flushable wipes and tampons can quickly clog pipes, and that is the last thing you want to be dealing with.

Use Drain Strainers

Stop small bits of food from going down the drain by catching it with a drain strainer. Saves you another potential blockage (this tip works very well for people with long hair, too – a drain strainer in a shower could relieve you of a lot of stress).

Have a Basic Repair Kit on Standby

It’s always a good idea to have a few basic things at hand: a plunger, some repair tape, a wrench. Having simple tools around can make a sudden pipe leakage much less of a headache. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have a basic knowledge of your plumbing, like where the shutoff point is – this is crucial if a pipe bursts and you’re getting covered in water. Also, it’s a good idea to have an emergency plumber’s phone number on standby – you never know when a problem might occur that you can’t fix yourself, and it will save panic-stricken internet searching during an emergency.

Protect Your Pipes from Freezing

If you live in a cold part of the country, chances are, you’re dealing with freezing temperatures. If there is water in your pipes that freezes, it can cause the pipe to burst – which could be a nightmare. Detach your hose to protect it from bursting, and cover your outdoor pipes if you’re concerned that they may freeze over.

Don’t Use Liquid Drain Cleaner

Sounds counter-intuitive, but liquid drain cleaners can be very harsh on your drains, causing them to erode or become damaged over time. Use a drain snake instead – not very pleasant, but at least you know you’ll be taking care of your pipes.

Summary

All in all, there are many different types of plumbing lines, equipment, connection materials, and technology. Finding the balance between convenience, price point and durability will help decide which material and connection fitting are right for your next project or home plumbing installation!

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