Smart fixes for common plumbing problems
With these smart fixes for common plumbing problems and the proper plumbing tools, many common plumbing problems are relatively easy to repair. To repair most plumbing problems, use replacement pipe that matches the existing pipe. If this isn’t possible, the replacement pipe should match the inside diameter of the existing pipe.Plumbing pipe is made of several different materials:
- Copper pipe, which comes in three thicknesses (Type K) thick, (Type L) medium-thick, and (Type M) thin wall.
- Galvanized steel pipe, stronger than copper but can corrode over time.
- Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC) typically used for water supply lines.
- Chloride (PVC) used for waste and vent piping. (Check local codes to make sure CPVC and PVC are permitted in your area.)
Calculate pipe diameter
Here is another one of the smart fixes for common plumbing problems. Use a steel tape to measure the inside diameter at the widest section of the pipe exposed. If there is no exposed end, use a caliper or C-clamp to measure the outside diameter, then consult a chart that relates the outside diameter to the inside diameter for the type of pipe you are using.
Measure replacement pipe needed
After removing the damaged pipe and determining the inside diameter, purchase a length of pipe several inches longer than you need. To determine the proper length, use a steel tape or mark the new pipe section with a pencil. Place new fittings at both ends of the section removed and be sure to include the depth of both fittings in your overall length.
How to solder copper pipe replacement
This is one of the most popular fixes for common plumbing problems. Close the main shutoff valve and drain the system through the water heater or lowest spot possible in the house. Open a faucet at the highest point to speed draining. Be sure hot water heater (gas or electric) and other equipment that would be affected by lack of water are turned off.
Fit a tube cutter around the pipe next to the break. Turn the knob on the cutter until it bites into the pipe. Rotate the cutter around the pipe once, tighten the knob and rotate again. Repeat until the pipe is nearly severed, then snap it apart with your hands. Insert the triangular blade attached to the cutter into the cut ends of both the old and new sections of pipe and ream out any burrs inside.
Place the new couplings and cut the pipe to the proper length. Rub the inside of the couplings and the ends of the old and new pipe with an emery cloth until shiny. Remove any grit left on the surfaces.
Using a small, stiff brush spread a thick, even coat of flux on all of the cleaned surfaces and inside the couplings. Dry the inside of the existing pipes, place the couplings over the cut ends, and turn them a quarter turn to spread the flux evenly.
Insert the new section of pipe into one coupling, and then gently pull the pipe toward you until you can slip the free end into the second coupling. Do not move the pipe or couplings excessively or you will remove the flux.
Solder the joint with a propane torch. Touch the solder to the edge of the joint and apply heat to center of the coupling. Capillary action will draw the melted solder into the joint. Move the torch down the coupling to draw the solder in to fully seal the connection. Solder should leave both solder and copper shiny. If either is discolored or brown, remove the pipe and couplings, then clean and flux them again.
Repairing section of copper pipe with CPVC pipe
Remove the damaged section of copper pipe and debur both ends. Hold the section of CPVC pipe at the gap, mark and cut the new section to length with a hacksaw and miter box. Using a sharp knife, debur the inside and bevel the outside of the CPVC pipe ends.
Loosen the knurled ends of the adapter couplings and after cleaning the copper pipe ends with an emery cloth, push the couplings onto the copper pipe until the pipe is fully seated inside the coupling. Hand tighten both couplings.
With an applicator or clean cloth, apply coat of primer to the inside of each coupling and the ends of the CPVC pipe. Allow the primer to dry. Using a different applicator apply a coat of CPVC cement to each coupling and both ends of the pipe. Insert one end of the CPVC pipe into one coupling, and then pull the free ends towards you until you can insert the other end. When the pipe is in place, give it a quarter turn to spread the cement evenly within the couplings. Work quickly, the cement sets in about 30 seconds. Wipe away excess cement.
Turn on the water. If leaks appear, hand-tighten the couplings a quarter turn.
Repairing steel pipe
Steel pipe is connected with threaded couplings that, once in place, cannot be removed without loosening the next section of pipe. Unions are inserted into the pipe run at regular intervals to allow sections to be removed. If there is a union near the damaged section of pipe, remove it using two pipe wrenches. Grip the union with one wrench to brace the rest of the run. Then use the second wrench to remove the section of pipe.
If no union is near, use a fine-toothed hacksaw to cut through the damaged section, and unscrew each section from the coupling.
Buy two lengths of pipe and one union. When assembled, the combined length should be the same as the damaged pipe you removed. Have the pipe ends threaded at your supplier.
Wind 1½ turns of pipe tape, clockwise, around all threaded ends and screw one end of each pipe section into its related coupling. Disassemble the union into its three pieces and slide the ring nut onto one section of pipe. The end of that section will receive the smaller of the two union nuts.
Screw both union nuts onto the ends of the pipe sections, deflecting the pipe ends as needed. Then slide the ring nut to the center of the union and screw it onto the exposed threads of the larger union to complete the connection. Grip the exposed union nut, and tighten the ring nut with a second wrench.
Replacing steel pipe with copper using dielectric unions
Remove the damaged section of pipe as described above. Measure and cut the replacement, allowing for fittings.
Use two dielectric unions, one at each end of the copper pipe. These unions have a plastic collar and rubber washer that keep the different metals from touching and corroding. Disassemble the unions, apply pipe tape, and screw the spigots onto each end of steel pipe.
Support the copper pipe section from a joist with a pipe hanger and slip the ring nuts and plastic collars over it. Prepare and solder the copper “shoulder” pieces of each dielectric union to each end of the copper pipe. Place the rubber washer against the face of the copper shoulder, thread the ring nut over the spigot and tighten by hand.
—By Bruce Webb