LESLIE: Well, even avid do-it-yourselfers often shy away from tackling plumbing work, mostly because to make any changes, you need to know how to handle flux, solder and a torch.
TOM: And that can be pretty dangerous. Well, DIY plumbers, though, can rejoice because there are ways to fit pipes together without the fear of burning your entire house down. Here to tell us about those options is This Old House plumbing guru, Richard Trethewey.
Richard, welcome back to the Pit.
RICHARD: Hey, guys. Nice to be here.
TOM: And these new fittings make the process of joining pipes a whole lot easier. Tell us how they work.
RICHARD: Well, most people never have to think about connecting any plumbing pipe; they move into a house, everything’s fine. And the first time they might have to think about it is they buy a new refrigerator and in that refrigerator comes a little thing called a saddle valve. And that’s designed to send water to the ice maker.
RICHARD: Now, this is a valve that is going to clamp over a piece of copper piping. As you tighten it up and you screw it in, it’s now going to pierce a small hole into a copper pipe. It’s got a little rubber gasket between it. And in many states, it’s illegal and it should be.
TOM: And why is that?
RICHARD: Well, over time, it just isn’t going to last long enough. The clamp itself is made out of metal. If you have a high-condensation basement, it can rust the metal away and all of a sudden, you’ve got full city water pressure. So, in our state, you can’t do it at all but that’s the one thing that homeowners tend to do and it’s actually – it ends up being dangerous.
TOM: So as easy as they are to install, they may not last and they may be basically more trouble than they’re worth.
RICHARD: That’s right. There’s a little bit of a risk to them.
So, the most common thing we see people doing is these things called compression fittings. And that means you’re going to connect two pieces of copper pipe and it’s going to use a thing called a ferrule. It’s a little brass ring.
And so, imagine you’re going to make this connection to copper. You put the nut on to the pipe, then this little brass ring called a ferrule. Then you bring the fitting in and now when you bring it all back together again and you tighten that nut, as you tighten the nut, it’s now compressing that brass ring so tightly down over the outside of that copper that it makes a beautiful, watertight seal.
TOM: So that’s pretty reliable if you get all those parts assembled in the right order?
RICHARD: Right. Right. That is the standard connection that everybody sees underneath, on the connections at their toilet and underneath of their faucets. So there’s plenty of those connections around.
LESLIE: Now, what about the SharkBite fitting? You hear so much about this at the home centers and they seem fairly simple for a do-it-yourselfer to tackle.
RICHARD: Yeah. These are a relatively new innovation. They’re code-approved fittings and they’re available in all these configurations that allow you to quickly connect a variety of sizes of pipe. You’ve got to just cut the pipe, clean up the rough edges, get rid of any burrs and then push it onto the SharkBite fitting. And it’s really just like what they call a Dutch finger: it goes in once and it locks in. And now you’ve made that connection without soldering, without any wrenches and things like that.
Now, it doesn’t hold the pipes as rigidly as the compression or a solder connection, so that they can move. So you’ve got to really be sure you hang the pipes correctly because it’s moving around a little bit more.
TOM: So if it moves, it could loosen up and break.
RICHARD: That’s right. That’s right. Right.
TOM: Now, the SharkBite fittings, whenever I see them, they remind me of the finger puzzles, like the Chinese finger puzzle: the tube where you stick your fingers in either side and you can’t pull them out.
RICHARD: That’s right, that’s right. Don’t stick your fingers in there, please. Right, right.
But they’re actually pretty popular with homeowners. The fittings are much more money but you don’t have to do the additional work of the solder, the flux and the cleaning.
TOM: Right. That’s because they compare the cost against the plumber.
RICHARD: There you go. We’re affecting the market.
LESLIE: Is there ever a plumbing project that a homeowner might think, “Aha! I could do that.” But you’re just saying really leave it to the pros?
RICHARD: I think there’s more plumbing projects that scare people. I think the fear of flooding their house away, so that they’re going to do what they think their skill level is. And just doing a basic connection to an outside faucet or something like that, I think they can do it.
The key to – for anybody in plumbing – is to know where the main shutoff is in that house. It’s to know where all the important shutoffs are. They should be labeled.
LESLIE: And everyone should know where they are.
RICHARD: Right. I don’t think a house should be changed hands. I think it should be part of the process of buying a house is that all the important valves should be labeled so that you – so that in an emergency, you can control the damage.
TOM: Absolutely. That main water valve is the key. And in fact, I always tell folks there’s no reason not to turn it off when you go away.
RICHARD: That’s right.
TOM: Why leave yourself open to the risk?
RICHARD: Yeah. Yeah. My father, the super-plumber, he made sure his water main was off every time he went away.
LESLIE: Now, if you do that, is there anything that you have to do to the fixtures in the house or it’s just a week, turn it off and you’re fine?
RICHARD: That’s right. You just want to take the pressure off or just make it see – if you had a leak, you wouldn’t have full city water pressure for the entire time you’re not there.
LESLIE: It’s a nice surprise to come home to.
TOM: Exactly. Well, if your water heater ruptures when you’re away, you’ll lose 40, 50 gallons. But if that main is open, they’re going to see it running out your front door before it’s done.
RICHARD: Yeah. Four thousand gallons. Yeah.
LESLIE: Oh, good Lord. And then the dolphin I always dreamed of having in my basement as a child is a real possibility.
TOM: Now, Richard, what about PEX? That’s the newest pipe out there. Is that a lot easier to connect than the metal piping?
RICHARD: Yes. The issue with PEX is there are a variety of connection methods and some of them have proprietary tools that can become expensive. But the basic crimp fitting has a relatively inexpensive tool. The tradeoff is that that crimp fitting isn’t the strongest connection. So it’s a – I like the ones that require the proprietary tools and if you have those tools, it’s easy.
TOM: Definitely more of a pro project, then.
RICHARD: Right. But PEX as a product, as a material for the pipe, it just – it lasts and lasts and lasts and it’s really here to stay.
TOM: And without the torch, it’s got to be a lot safer system to use.
TOM: Richard Trethewey from TV’s This Old House, thanks for stopping by The Money Pit.
For more great tips just like that, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And remember, you can watch Richard and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House, which is on your local PBS station.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you by The Home Depot. The Home Depot, more savings, more doing.