Home Plumbing Basics

Home | Wiring | Plumbing | Kitchen/Bath

Whether you are repairing a leaking pipe or adding a new washbasin, the task is simplified if you know how your home’s plumbing is laid out and how to work with common pipe materials. These plumbing fundamentals, set forth in the pages that follow, will also help you to diagnose problems—and may enable you to fix the difficulty without an expensive visit from a professional.

Tool Kit for Plumbing

Elements of a Plumbing System

Conduits for Water and Wastes

  • Supply Pipes and Fittings
  • Drainpipes and Fittings
  • Measuring Pipes
  • Calculating Pipe Dimensions

First Aid for Frozen Pipes

Emergency Pipe Repairs

Repairing and Replacing Pipe

  • Replacing Copper with Copper
  • Mating Plastic to Copper
  • Repairing Steel Pipe with Plastic
  • Fixing Plastic Pipe
  • Mending Cast-Iron Drainpipe

Unclogging Drains

    • Opening a Sink Drain
    • Clearing the Main Drain

Increasing the Flow of Water

      • Diagnosing the Problem
      • Valves and How to Clean Them
      • Replacing a Valve to Improve Flow
      • Boosting Pressure for the Whole System

Silencing Noisy Pipes

  • A Device for Lowering Water Pressure
  • Banishing Water Hammer

Ways to Save Water

Improving Water Quality

  • Servicing a Water Softener
  • Replacing the Softener Control Unit
  • Adding a Water Filter to the Main Line


Applying primer to plastic supply pipe.


Toolkit for Plumbing

Many of the tools necessary for plumbing repairs and improvements are multipurpose instruments, such as screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, and adjustable wrenches. With the addition of the few specialized tools shown here, you can be ready not only to meet most plumbing emergencies but also to install and replace pipes and fixtures.

Included in this tool kit are implements for loosening and tightening plumbing hardware, cutting and soldering pipe, and clearing clogged sink and toilet drains. There is no satisfactory substitute for any of these tools, which are de signed for the hardware unique to plumbing or for work in awkward spaces, such as under the sink.


(various images of tools)

---Tube and pipe cutters.

Depending on the type of cutting wheel installed, these devices cut either plastic or copper pipes. The built- in triangular reamer on the larger cutter scrapes away burrs around the cut edge, leaving it smooth. A mini-cutter is handy when working in tight spaces.

---Seat wrench.

The repair of faucet leaks caused by worn valve seats requires a seat wrench. With a square tip on one tapered end and an octagonal tip on the other, the wrench fits the two most common types of seats in a wide range of sizes.

---Pipe wrench.

The serrated teeth and spring-loaded upper jaw of this durable tool tightly grip pipes while you hold or turn them. The spring allows you to release the wrench’s grip and reposition the tool without readjusting the jaws.

---Basin wrench.

This self-adjusting tool’s long handle is used primarily to reach otherwise inaccessible nuts that fasten faucets to washbasins and kitchen sinks.

---Spud wrench.

The wide-spreading, tooth less jaws on this wrench firmly grasp large nuts found on toilets and sinks. The jaws, which lock in place once opened to the desired width, are shaped to fit into tight spaces.


Elements of a Plumbing System

A though fixtures and pipe materials vary, all plumbing systems share two basic components: a supply sys tem to deliver water that is safe to drink and a drain-waste-vent (DWV) system to remove wastewater quickly and reliably.

--System Basics: Water enters the house through a single pipe. This conduit passes through a water meter and then branches into hot- and cold-water supply lines, both of which carry water that is under pressure.

The DWV system includes drainpipes, which work by gravity and vent pipes, which don’t carry water; instead they allow gases to escape through the roof. Vents also equalize air pressure in the drains in order to prevent partial vacuums that could retard drainage. Underneath sinks, showers, and bath tubs—but inside toilets—water-filled bends that are known as traps pre vent gases in the drains from entering the house.

--Local Codes: Plumbing is con trolled by local regulations that have the force of law. Observing these codes, besides being necessary, helps ensure the success of plumbing projects. For example, a roof vent is usually a single pipe, 3 to 4 inches in diameter. In the colder parts of Canada and the

United States, snow and ice could block such a vent; codes there specify wider vent pipes.

--Checking Water Use: Water meters show how many cubic feet of water are being consumed. Knowing how to read a water meter allows you to check how much water goes to a specific purpose such as lawn watering. Simply read the meter before and after the task, then take the difference. Convert readings from cubic feet to gallons with the calculator below.

Though some meters show a single easy-to-read figure as an odometer does, others have multiple harder-to-interpret dials (bottom).

Reading a water meter.


On water meters with multiple dials, each is labeled with the number of cubic feet required to rotate the pointer a full turn. Thus each mark on the dial labeled 100,000 corresponds to 10,000 cubic feet of water. To take a reading, note the smaller of the two digits nearest the pointer, beginning with the 100,000 dial and ending with the dial labeled 10. The five digits from the dials provide the current reading (here, 74,926). Note that on a six-dial meter (far left), the smaller digit lies clock wise from the hand on some dials, counterclockwise on others.

The dial labeled 1 on a six-dial meter—and the pointer that sweeps the edge of a five-dial model—measure fractions of a cubic foot, a feature helpful in detecting leaks. To confirm a leak, turn off all fixtures, then check whether this indicator on the meter continues to advance, however slowly.

Converting to gallons.

To translate water-meter readings in cubic feet to gallons, multiply the difference between two readings by 7.5.

Cubic feet of water

________ x 7.5 = _________ gallons

Anatomy of a plumbing system.


Typically, water reaches a house through a supply line controlled by two valves—an underground curb valve owned by the utility and the main shutoff valve in the basement. Past this valve is the water meter, beyond which the supply line divides. One branch supplies cold water to fixtures (blue); the other supplies the water heater, of ten by way of a water softener (pages 290-294). Hot-water pipes (red) lead from the heater to the fixtures.

Drainpipes (gray) carry wastewater away from the plumbing fixtures to vertical stacks. These conduits lead to the house’s main drain, which connects to a sewer line. Cleanouts in both the stacks and the main drain provide access for unclogging the drain system.

Vent pipes (purple) channel gases from the drains through the upper portion of each stack and then outdoors through the roof.


Conduits for Water and Wastes

Pipes and fittings, the prime constituents of a household plumbing system, not only can be assembled in any number of configurations but also exhibit considerable variety in their own right. For example, several different materials may be used for the supply pipes in residential systems, and still other materials are acceptable for the drain- waste-vent (DWV) portion of the net work. (To determine what kind you have, simply examine the pipes in your basement, garage, or behind an access panel, and match them to the photo graphs on these pages.) As for fittings, they are designed for many roles— splicing straight lengths of pipe (called a run), allowing direction changes and branching, linking pipes of differing diameters, and so on. Some common sorts of fittings for the supply lines are shown opposite; DWV counterparts appear below.

--Keys to Buying Materials: Cost, durability; and ease of installation are among the important factors in choosing the materials for a repair job or an addition to your plumbing system. But before you make a purchase, check the code of your local jurisdiction. Some codes prohibit a particular material in one part of a plumbing system but not in another, and the local code may dictate the method used to join components. Among allowed materials, you can mix and match:

Special transition fittings will create secure connections between dissimilar pipes; and if the pipes are made of different metals, an appropriate fitting will prevent an electrochemical reaction that could erode a joint.

All piping is sized by inside diameter. When replacing pipe, determine its inner diameter and buy new pipe of the same size.



-- Rigid copper.

This metal, joined with durable solder, resists corrosion and has smooth surfaces for good water flow. A thin-walled version called Type M is the least expensive and will serve well for most repairs.

-- Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC).

A rigid plastic formulated with chlorine so that it can withstand high temperatures, CPVC is a popular supply-pipe material for its low cost, resistance to corrosion, and ease of assembly: Fittings are secured by solvent cement. For residential use, most codes specify a so-called Schedule 40 pressure rating, stamped on the pipe.

-- Galvanized steel.

Used for supply as well as drain-waste-vent lines, this material is found only in older homes. Although it’s the strongest of supply-pipe materials, galvanized steel is prone to corrosion over time. Runs of threaded pipe are joined by threaded fittings; the entire length between fittings must be removed and replaced to complete a repair.



-- Bends and branches. The direction of a supply pipe is changed by a fitting called an elbow, available in 45- and 90-degree turns. A T fitting joins a 90-degree branch run to a straight run of pipe.

-- Straight-line fittings. Many sorts of fittings are used to join pipes in a straight run. A straight piece of pipe called a nipple extends a run or fitting a short distance—from 1 to 12 inches. A union holds two pipes within an assembly joined by a threaded nut, allowing disassembly without cutting. Couplings, unlike unions, are unthreaded and permanent. A stop coupling like the one shown here has interior shoulders for a secure fit in new installations; a slip coupling, which has no shoulders, slides over existing pipe and is used for repairs. A reducer, also known as a bushing, attaches pipes of different diameters by reducing the opening at one end.

-- Transition fittings.

As the name implies, these fittings al low a run of pipe to change from one material to another. Copper-to-CPVC adapters join the two most common kinds of supply pipe, both unthreaded. Threaded adapters join threaded pipe to unthreaded—and also are used to connect pipes to a variety of other plumbing components, such as a spigot or tub spout. Connecting steel pipe to copper requires another special- purpose fitting: a dielectric union, which prevents an electrolytic reaction between the two metals.


-- Cast iron. This is the strongest material available for DWV piping, and its heavy weight helps contain noise generated by active drains. Cast-iron pipe comes in two types, identified by the methods used to join them: hubless (left), which uses easily installed fittings; and hub and spigot, joined by a cumbersome procedure utilizing molten lead and oakum.

-- Copper. Although mostly chosen for supply lines, copper pipe also comes in larger drain-waste-vent forms. Because copper DWV pipe is comparatively costly, however, it’s seldom chosen for new installations.

-- ABS. This plastic pipe, acronymically named for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is less expensive and more durable than PVC, but many codes prohibit its use because of low resistance to chemicals and a low ignition point. Where ABS is allowed in homes, a Schedule 40 pressure rating is recommended.

-- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC). A rigid plastic pipe material like CPVC but less able to withstand heat, PVC is lightweight, easy to install, corrosion resistant, and inexpensive. In addition to its DWV uses, it can serve for cold-water supply lines. Codes usually specify a Schedule 40 rating for homeowners.


-- Reading the chart.

Always choose replacement pipe with the same inside diameter (ID) as the old pipe. To determine a pipe’s inside diameter without cutting it, measure its outside diameter (OD) and use the conversion chart below. The chart also specifies the socket depth of fittings used with the various pipe sizes and types. For example, the socket depth of fittings for 3/4-inch plastic pipe is 5/8-inch. When you cut a length of replacement pipe, be sure to account for the fittings at both ends—twice inch, or a total of 1.25 inches.




First Aid for Frozen Pipes

A house that is properly constructed and heated is safe from plumbing freeze-ups even in the midst of a severe cold snap—unless the heating system breaks down. If that should happen, the best way to keep pipes from freezing and bursting is to drain the entire plumbing system. Also drain the plumbing in a house that will be left empty for the winter.

Although a house may be well built, if its pipes run through a basement, crawlspace, laundry room, or garage that is unprotected, they may be vulnerable to cold. To avoid resulting problems, consult the checklist at right.

= = = = How to Keep Pipes from Freezing = = = =

-Protect exposed pipes ahead of time with insulation made to retard freezing, or warm them with thermostatic heating tape .

-When no commercial insulation is at hand and pipes must be protected immediately, wrap several layers of newspaper loosely around the pipes and tie the paper on with string.

-If you have no time to install insulation, open faucets so a trickle of water moves through the pipes.

-Keep a door ajar between a heated room and an unheated room with pipes so that the unprotected area will receive heat.

-If power is available, plug in an electric heater or heat lamp, or hang a 100-watt bulb near vulnerable pipes. Keep the heat source a safe distance from walls, floors, ceilings, and nearby combustibles.

= = = = =

-- Coping with Leaks: If a pipe freezes despite your precautions, the first symptom may be a faucet that refuses to yield water. But all too often, the freeze-up is announced by a flood from a break. Ruptures are especially likely near joints or bends in the plumbing. When a leak occurs, turn off the water supply and apply a temporary patch.

-- Getting Ready to Thaw Pipes: As you prepare to warm a frozen section of pipe, close the main shutoff valve most of the way. The movement of water through the pipe aids thawing and helps protect against later refreezing. Keep the affected faucet open to let water vapor and melted ice run out. Since leaks may go undetected until the pipe thaws, guard against water damage by spreading plastic drop cloths, and have extra pots and pails ready. Then warm the pipe by one of the methods outlined.

Electrical heaters of one kind or another are generally safest for thawing both metal and plastic pipe. Since electricity and water together pose a shock hazard, plug the appliance into a GFCI-protected outlet, which cuts power to the appliance if it detects conditions that could lead to injury.


  • Electric heating tape
  • Propane torch with flame spreader
  • Hair dryer
  • Heat gun
  • Heating pad
  • Heat lamp
  • Work lamp

Three steps to a ruptured pipe.


Unlike most substances, water expands when it freezes—a fact that can easily burst a pipe. Three stages in the freezing and rupture of a pipe are shown in the transparent tubing at right. Frost forms first on the inner surfaces of the pipe (top photograph), then ice crystals begin to take shape (middle). With freezing complete, the pipe cracks (bottom). By melting freeze-ups quickly, you may be able to avoid the final stage—and preserve your supply pipes from further harm.

A propane torch.


Equipped with a flame-spreader attachment, available at most hardware stores, a propane torch can thaw metal pipes rapidly and effectively during a power outage, if used with care. Place flameproof sheeting between the pipe and nearby framing. Apply heat near an open faucet first, then work gradually along the pipe (arrow).

CAUTION--- Use a torch only on metal pipes, not plastic ones. Never let the pipe get too hot to touch; boiling water and steam inside a pipe can cause a dangerous explosion.

Electric heating tape.


To thaw a frozen pipe, wrap the tape in a spiral around the pipe, allowing about two turns per foot. Secure the spiral with PVC-type electrical tape, which will stay in place during temperature changes.

Most electric heating cables come with built-in thermostats and can be left plugged in permanently: When the temperature drops toward freezing, the thermostat activates the cable and warms the pipe. Cover the pipe and heating cable with nonflammable fiberglass pipe insulation as a second layer of protection against freezing.

---A hair dryer.


If you have power, use a hair dryer instead of a pro pane torch; the dryer will work more slowly, but you will avoid dealing with an open flame in close quarters. An electric heat gun can also be used to thaw pipes. As with a torch, make sure pipes never become too hot to touch.

A heating pad.


Wrapped and tied around a frozen pipe near an open faucet, an ordinary heating pad can be left in place to thaw ice slowly but effectively.

A heat lamp.

If a suspected ice blockage is behind a wall or above the ceiling, set an electric heat lamp nearby. Keep it at least 6 inches from the wall to avoid scorching paint or wallpaper. For greater flexibility in handling, you can screw the bulb into the socket of a portable work lamp.


When you leave a house empty and unheated for the winter, take steps to weatherproof the plumbing. First turn off water to the house. Cut power to the water heater. For a hot water heating system turn off power to the boiler and drain it. Next, open the radiator valves, and remove an air vent from a radiator on the top floor. Then empty the rest of the plumbing, including the water heater and any water treatment de ices, as described. For a well system, drain the storage tank and dry off the pump, unless it’s submerged in the welt.

Flush and bail out each toilet. Then pour at least a gallon of plumber's antifreeze--not the toxic automotive variety--into the tank and flush the toilet again. Doing so frost-proofs both the trap and the flushing channels.

For other fixtures, pour antifreeze down the drain very slowly so that it displaces water in the trap rather than mixing with it.


Emergency Pipe Repairs

Often the first sign of a leaking pipe is a spreading stain on a wall or ceiling or a puddle on the floor. Before trying to trace the leak, shut off the water supply to prevent further damage and to reduce pressure on the damaged section so you can repair the hole.

--Minimizing Water Damage: Where leaking pipes are concealed above the ceiling and a water stain is visible, place a waterproof drop cloth on the floor and position a basin under the wet area. Poke a hole through the ceiling or remove a section of it to let any remaining water drain out—and stand out of the way! To deal with water leaking from a ceiling light fixture, shut off the electricity, then drain the fixture by removing its cover.

If you find a leak too late to avert a flood, construct a makeshift dam from rolled-up rugs to prevent water from spreading to other rooms. For a bad flood, you may need to rent a pump with a submersible motor. If the situation is desperate, call the local fire department.

--Patching the Leak: Purchase a pipe-repair sleeve (below) to make a secure temporary patch. To make permanent repairs, replace the leaking section of pipe.

For a drainpipe, leaks are likeliest at the joints; sometimes a lead joint can be resealed as shown be low at right. Otherwise, as with a supply pipe, replace the leaking pipes and joints.


  • Screwdriver
  • Wrench
  • Hammer
  • Cold chisel

Installing a pipe-repair sleeve.


Measure the outside diameter of the leaking pipe, then at a hardware or plumbing-supply store buy a temporary pipe-repair sleeve to fit. The pipe-repair sleeve seals a leak by means of a rubber gasket. Spread apart the flanges of the sleeve and then slip the sleeve around the damaged section, making sure you turn the flanges away from the hole. Finally, tighten the sleeve with a screwdriver or a wrench.

Fixing a lead-caulked drain joint.


If water seeps from a lead-caulked drain joint, tamp down the lead inside the hub of the pipe with a hammer and cold chisel. Since the lead is soft enough to be reshaped over a weak spot, this procedure often reseals the joint.


Repairing and Replacing Pipe

A plumbing system’s pipes, no matter what kind, are unlikely to remain problem-free forever. Sooner or later—perhaps because of corrosion, a leak at an aging joint, or the bursting of a frozen pipe—some mending will probably be necessary.

Measure for the replacement pipe as explained, and begin any supply-line repair by draining the system (box, right). The methods for making repairs depend on the material of the pipes involved. You can use pipe and fit tings that match your current piping, or introduce a different material—replacing a run of copper with CPVC, For example. Some of the most common ways of mending broken pipe are described opposite and on the following pages.

--Copper Piping: Copper is connected to copper by heating the metal with a propane torch and drawing molten solder into a pipe- and-fitting joint—a process called “sweating.” The solder for supply pipes must be lead-free; other solders are acceptable for copper drains. Because the flame can be a hazard to your home’s structure and its wiring, cover the area behind the piping with a flameproof pad. Keep a fire extinguisher near by, and turn off the torch before setting it down. For complex re pairs, do as much of the assembly as possible at your workbench.

Connect copper to plastic with transition fittings; several types are available.

--Plastic Piping: Assemble rigid plastic pipe only when the air temperature is above 40°F. Different types of plastic require their own primers and cements: Never use PVC primer on a CPVC repair, for instance. The basic methods used to join PVC and CPVC are the same, however.

A third type of plastic, ABS, re quires no primer. To repair ABS pipe with PVC replacement pipe, install a rubber adapter or consecutive male and female adapters in conjunction with primer on the PVC side and a light green transition cement on both sides.


Before making repairs to the supply system, shut off the house water supply. First, close the main shutoff valve. Then, working from the top level down, open all hot- and cold- water faucets—including all tub, shower, and outdoor faucets—and flush all toilets. Open the drain faucets on the main supply line, the water heater, and any water treatment equipment you may have. To refill the system after the repair has been completed, close all the faucets, then open the main shutoff valve. Trapped air will cause faucets to sputter momentarily when you first turn them on again.


CAUTION---Solvent cements are toxic and flammable. When you apply them, you must make sure the work area is well ventilated.

SAFETY TIPS---Goggles and gloves provide important protection when you are soldering copper pipe.


  • Tube cutter
  • Hacksaw
  • Plumber’s abrasive sandcloth
  • Metal file
  • Round file
  • Wire fitting brush
  • Flux brush
  • Groove-joint pliers
  • Striker
  • Propane torch
  • Flameproof pad
  • Small, sharp knife
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Fine-tooth hacksaw or mini-hacksaw
  • Pipe wrenches
  • Ratchet pipe cutter
  • Nut driver or socket wrench


  • Replacement pipe and fittings
  • Clean cloth
  • Paste flux
  • Solder
  • Miter box
  • Adapters
  • PVC or CPVC primer
  • PVC, CPVC, or ABS cement
  • Applicator brushes
  • Plumbing-sealant tape
  • Grounding clamps
  • Grounding wire
  • 2 x 4 lumber
  • Stack clamps
  • Chalk
  • Newspaper or paper towels


1. Using a cutter.


Although a hacksaw may be needed for a hard-to-reach section of broken copper pipe, use a tube cutter if possible.

• Slide the cutter onto the pipe and turn the knob until the tube cutter’s cutting wheel bites into the copper. Don’t tight en the knob all the way.

• Turn the cutter once around, retighten the knob, and continue turning and tightening. Once the piping is severed, loosen the knob, slide the cutter down the pipe, and cut through the other side of the bro ken section.

• With the cutter’s triangular blade, ream out the burr inside the standing pipe. Re move the ridge on the outside with a file. (For a hacksaw cut, remove the inner burr with a round file.)

• Use the tube cutter to cut and ream replacement pipe.

2. Preparing the cut ends.


With a piece of plumber’s abrasive sandcloth—not a file or steel wool—clean the cut pipe ends to a distance slightly greater than the depth of fittings that you will use to connect them. Rub until the surface is bright.

3. Cleaning the fittings.

Scour the inner surfaces of the sockets of each fitting with a wire fitting brush. Once the surfaces of the fit tings and pipes have been cleaned, don’t touch them: Even a fingerprint will weaken the joint.

4. Assembling and heating a joint.


• Brush a light coat of flux over the cleaned surfaces, place the fitting between the standing pipe and the replacement section, and twist it a quarter-turn.

• For a slip coupling on a vertical pipe, shown here, gently crimp the coupling with groove-joint pliers just enough to hold it in place.

• Place a flameproof pad in back of the joint.

• Light the torch with a striker. Holding the tip of the flame perpendicular to the metal and about a half-inch away, play it over the fitting and nearby pipe.

• Touch a piece of solder to the fitting until it melts on contact. Don’t heat further or the flux will burn off and the solder won’t flow properly.

5. Soldering the joint.


• Touch the solder tip to the pipe where it enters one end of the fit ting. Keep the solder at that point while the capillary action of the flux draws molten solder into the fitting to seal the connection.

• Remove the solder from the joint when a bead of metal completely seals the rim.

• Wipe away excess with a clean cloth, leaving a shiny surface.

• Apply solder to the other end of the fitting in the same way, then sweat the other joint.

===== =======

TRICKS of the TRADE -- - Dos and Don’ts of Sweated Joints


Good sweated joints are achieved by careful handling of flux and solder. Spread the coat of flux thinly and evenly. Excessive residue can cause corrosion; too little flux will create gaps in the bond between solder and copper. Don’t overheat the fitting or direct the flame into the socket: If the flux burns—indicated by a brownish black coloring—the bond will he imperfect. Never direct the flame at the solder; and be sure to remove the solder as soon as capillary action sucks it around the full circumference of the joint. If solder drips, it has been overheated or over-applied, and the capillary action will fail. Thick, irregular globs of solder at the edges of sweated joints arc a sign of a bad job.

=== ==== ===


1. Cutting the pipes.


• Cut out the broken section of copper pipe with a tube cutter or hacksaw and ream the ends of the standing pipes.

• Cut the CPVC replacement pipe with a tube cutter or hacksaw. If you use a hacksaw, place the pipe in a miter box and brace it with your thumb as you make the cut (above, left).

• Ream the ends of the replacement pipe.

• With a small, sharp knife (above, right), trim the ends’ inside edge to aid water flow and the outside edge to improve the welding action of the solvent.

2. Adding the adapters.

271b--- (Note: CONNECTING RING)

• Unfasten two copper-to-CPVC adapters (inset).

• Solder the copper ends of the fittings to the cut ends of the copper pipe.

• After the soldered joints have cooled, position the threaded CPVC portion of each fitting against the copper portion with a rubber washer placed between them.

• Slide the connecting ring over the CPVC portion of each fitting and hand-tighten it (left).

• With an adjustable wrench, tighten the fittings just beyond hand tight.

3. Priming mid cementing the joints.


Work as quickly as possible with solvent cement. It sets in less than 30 seconds.

• With an applicator or clean cloth, apply a coat of primer to the inside of the sockets of the adapters (left) and to the outside pipe surfaces that will be fitted into the adapters.

• With a second applicator, spread a coat of CPVC cement over the primed surfaces at the ends of the CPVC pipe.

• Spread a light coat of cement inside the adapter sockets.

4. Fitting the replacement pipe.


• Working rapidly, push one end of the CPVC pipe into an adapter.

• Pull the free ends toward you until enough space opens for the CPVC pipe to slip into the second adapter .

• Give the CPVC pipe a quarter-turn to evenly distribute the cement inside the sockets.

• Hold it firmly for about 10 seconds.

• Wipe away any excess cement with a dean, dry cloth. Don’t run water in the pipe until the cement has cured (about 2 hours at temperatures above 60°F).


1. Removing the steel pipe.


Once in place, a threaded pipe cannot be unscrewed as one piece. In the situation here, CPVC replaces three runs of damaged pipe.

• Near the outer ends of the damaged section, cut the pipe with a fine-tooth hacksaw or mini-hacksaw (above, left). Remove the intervening piping.

• Unthread the remaining stubs of pipe from their fittings. Hold a fitting stationary with one wrench and turn the pipe with another wrench. The jaws must face the direction in which the force is applied (above, right).

If a union is near a damaged section, cutting is unnecessary. Hold the pipe steady with one wrench, unscrew the union with a second, then unscrew the other end of pipe from its fitting.

2. Adding CPVC adapters.


• Wrap plumbing-sealant tape around the threads of two CPVC adapters (inset) and screw them into the steel fittings by hand (left).

• With an adjustable wrench, tighten the adapters just beyond hand tight.

3. Measuring and test-fitting replacement pipe.


• Push CPVC pipe into an adapter socket as far as it will go. Mark the desired length, allowing for the socket depth of the fitting that will go at the other end.

• Cut that section of pipe to length with a hacksaw in a miter box.

• Push the fitting—in this case, an elbow—on the other end. Measure and cut the next length of CPVC pipe, push it into the next fitting, and continue dry-fitting the replacement piping in this way.

• At each connection, draw a line across the fitting and adjacent pipe as a guide for reassembly and cementing.

4. Cementing the CPVC pipe.


• Disassemble the dry-fitted pipe sections.

• At a well-ventilated workbench, ream and trim all pipe ends.

• Apply primer and solvent cement to a pipe and fitting that will form an outer section of the assembly (left).

• Push the pipe into the fitting, give it a quarter-turn, and align the marks. Hold the pieces together for about 10 seconds.

• Continue cementing pipe and fittings together until all but the last pipe is in place. Leave this pipe detached.

5. Beginning the installation.


• Check to make sure that the CPVC adapters are dry. If they are not, dry them with a clean cloth.

• Apply primer to the sockets of both CPVC adapters.

• Spread solvent cement in the socket of the adapter that will receive the pipe at the completed end of the CPVC assembly. Apply primer and then a coat of cement to the end of that pipe.

• Push the pipe into the adapter socket as far as it will go. Give the pipe a quarter-turn to spread the cement.

• Line up the marks on the pipe and adapter and hold the pieces together for about 10 seconds .

6. Adding the last pipe.


• Apply primer and cement to the second adapter, the last fitting on the CPVC assembly, and both ends of the unattached pipe.

• Push one end of the pipe into the assembly fitting. Gently maneuvering the assembly (left), push the other end into the adapter socket as far as it will go.

• Give the pipe a quarter-turn to spread the cement, and hold the pieces together for about 10 seconds. Don’t run water in the pipe until the cement has cured (about 2 hours at temperatures above 60°F).

7. Installing a grounding jumper.


If the replaced section of steel pipe was part of your home’s electrical grounding system, you must install a grounding jumper to maintain continuity.

• At one end of the cut steel pipes, fit both pieces of a grounding clamp (photograph) around the circumference of the pipe. Fasten the two pieces together with screws on either end of the clamp.

• Measure and cut a length of grounding wire to extend between the clamp and the other cut steel pipe.

• Insert the wire into the small opening on top of the clamp and secure it with the corresponding screw.

• Install a clamp on the other steel pipe and secure the end of the wire in its opening (left).


1. Preparing the joint.


• Cut out the damaged pipe with a hacksaw or tube cutter.

• Hold the replacement pipe against the gap and mark it, then cut it with a tube cutter or hacksaw and miter box.

• Ream and trim the pipe ends.

• Prime the ends of the standing pipes and one socket on each of two couplings.

• Apply a liberal coat of solvent cement to the coupling sockets and on the ends of the standing pipes (left) to a distance matching the socket depth.

• Push the couplings onto the pipes, give them a quarter-turn to spread the cement, and hold the pieces together about 10 seconds.

2. Inserting the replacement pipe.


• Prime the exposed coupling sockets and ends of the replacement pipe, then apply cement.

• Working quickly, push one end of the replacement pipe into a coupling, then gently bend the pipes until the opposite end fits into the other coupling .

• Give the pipe a quarter-turn to spread the cement, and hold the pieces together for about 10 seconds.

• Wipe off any excess cement around the pipe or fittings with a clean, dry cloth. Don’t run water in the pipe until the cement has cured (about 2 hours at temperatures above 60°F).


1. Removing the broken pipe.


The easiest way to cut cast-iron pipe is with a ratchet pipe cutter, available at rental stores. Before cutting vertical drainpipe, support it with stack clamps, or brace 2-by-4s against a joint above the section to be removed (left), hammering the braces into position for a se cure fit. Make sure that no one runs water in the house during the repair.

• With chalk, mark off the area to be cut out.

• Wrap the chain around the pipe and hook it onto the body of the tool.

• Tighten the knob, turn the dial to cui and work the handle up and down until the cut ting disks bite through the pipe.

• If badly corroded pipe crumbles under a pipe cutter, rent an electric saber saw and metal-cutting blade.

2. Cutting the replacement pipe.


• Immediately after removing the damaged section, stuff newspaper or paper towels into the standing pipes (left) to block dangerous sewer gas.

• Measure the gap in the pipe and transfer that measurement, less 0.25 inch, to a cast-iron, PVC, or ABS replacement pipe.

• Lay cast-iron pipe across two level 2-by-4s, spaced to support the pipe ends, and cut it to size with a ratchet cutter or saber saw.

• Cut PVC or ABS with a hacksaw and miter box.

• With a sharp knife, ream and trim the ends of the plastic pipe.

3. Inserting the replacement section.


Hubless bands join cast iron drainpipe to replacement pipe.

• Slide a clamp onto each standing pipe and tighten the clamps to hold them temporarily in place.

• Slip the neoprene sleeves of the fit tings onto each pipe until the pipe ends bottom out inside the sleeves (left).

• Fold the lip of each sleeve back over the pipe.

• Work the replacement pipe into the gap between the sleeves until it’s properly seated.

4. Completing the repair.


• Pull the folded lips of the sleeves over the replacement pipe (left).

• Loosen the clamps and slide them toward the replacement section until they are centered over the joints. Tighten them again with a nut driver or socket wrench.

• Run water through the drainpipe in order to test the repair; if a joint leaks, take it apart and reassemble the hub less band.


Unclogging Drains

When a sink empties slowly or not at all, the cause is usually debris blocking the drainpipe or trap just below. If other drains show the same symptoms, the problem is in the main drain or its branches (below).

-- A Choice of Methods: To unclog a drain, try the simplest remedy first, then proceed stepwise with the progressively more demanding procedures shown. A force-cup plunger offers the easiest way to loosen an obstruction and flush it away A more powerful alter native is a stream of water delivered by a drain flusher.

Should the obstruction resist these measures, try a trap-and-drain auger, or snake. This flexible steel coil is twisted into the pipes like a corkscrew to dislodge debris.

Some blockages may require that you open a sink trap or a cleanout in the main drain. Before doing so, turn off water to the entire house and flush all toilets. Since wastewater may be trapped above a cleanout, be ready for a dirty torrent as you remove the plug that seals the cleanout opening. If you have no success with the snake, call a plumber, who can bring an electric-powered auger that is capable of dealing with the most stubborn obstruction.

-- Chemical Solutions: Drain cleaners may work effectively against a slow- flowing drain, and routine use every few weeks helps to prevent future clogs. But resist the temptation to pour these agents through standing water into a drain that is completely clogged. Extended contact with the lye or acid in drain cleaners can dam age pipes and fixtures. Al so, if you must later open a trap or a cleanout, drain cleaner in the pipes may splash on exposed skin or furnishings.

CAUTION---Don’t use a plunger, auger, or chemical cleaner in a sink equipped with a garbage disposer. Instead, disconnect the disposer’s outlet pipe and clear obstructions as below, Step 4.



Finding the clog.

To clear a blocked pipe, pinpoint the obstruction by observation and deduction, then work from the drain—or cleanout, if available—immediately above.

For example, if the second-floor sink in the diagram at right is stopped but the toilet is clear, the clog is in the sink trap or the branch drain between the two fixtures. When all second-floor fixtures drain properly but all top-floor fixtures are stopped up, the clog is in the stack between floors. If all the drains back up, the problem is in the main drain. Most houses have only one cleanout plug for the main drain. It’s near the foot of the stack in old houses; newer systems have an exterior cleanout within 5 feet of the foundation.


  • Mop, rags, and sponges
  • Plastic bag
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Electrical tape
  • Plumbing-sealant tape
  • Penetrating oil


  • Force-cup plunger
  • Trap-and-drain auger
  • Adjustable pipe wrench
  • Bucket
  • Bottle brush

SAFETY TIPS--- Wear rubber gloves and safety goggles when using drain cleaners or working through a cleanout in a stack or main drain.


1. Starting with a plunger.

• Remove the sink strainer. In a double sink, bail out one side—the side with the garbage disposer, if there is one—and plug the drain with a rag in a plastic bag. In a washbasin, remove the pop-up drain plug; most lift out or can be turned and then lifted. Make sure there is enough water in the sink to cover the base of the plunger cup.

• Spread petroleum jelly on the cup’s rim. Lower the plunger at an angle and compress the cup to push out air. Then seat it over the drain. Without breaking the seal, pump the plunger up and down 10 times, then quickly pull it away. If the drain stays clogged after several attempts, try an auger (below).

2. Using an auger.

• Push the tip of the auger into the drain until you feel it meet the obstruction, then slide the handle within a few inches of the drain opening and tighten the thumbscrew.

• Crank the handle clockwise with both hands while advancing the auger into the drain. Continue cranking and pushing the auger, repositioning the handle as necessary, until the auger breaks through the obstruction or won’t go any farther.

• Withdraw the auger by cranking it slowly and pulling gently.

3. Removing the trap.


• Bail out the sink and place a bucket under the trap. Wrap the jaws of a pipe wrench with electrical tape, then loosen the slip nuts holding the trap to the tailpiece and drainpipe. Lower the trap slowly, allowing water to run into the bucket.

• If you find an obstruction in the trap, remove it, then clean the trap and the drainpipe with a bottle brush and detergent solution. Wrap the threads at both ends of the trap with plumbing-sealant tape, then replace the trap and tighten the slip nuts.

• If the trap was not blocked, clear the branch drain (below).

= = = = TRICKS OF THE TRADE = = = =

A Hydraulic Flusher


Concentrated water pressure can clear drains with a drain flusher. Connect it to a faucet or hose and insert it into a drain. When water is turned on, the flusher expands and directs a jet of water down the drain. Because of potential damage to corroding metal pipes, don’t use a flusher in older houses.

= = = =

4. Cleaning beyond the trap.


With the trap removed, crank the auger into the drainpipe. The blockage may be in the vertical pipe behind the fixture or in a horizontal pipe—a branch drain—that connects with the main drain-vent stack serving the entire house. If the auger goes in freely through the branch drain until it hits the main stack, the blockage is probably in the main drainage system. In that case, identify the most likely location of the blockage, open the drain just above it, and use the auger to clear the pipe.


1. Opening the mum cleanout.


Look for an outdoor cleanout at ground level within 5 feet of the foundation. The cleanout plug may be screwed in to a Y fitting (left) or into the top of a vertical pipe that descends to a deeply buried main drain. Unscrew the clean- out plug with a pipe wrench. If the plug does not turn, apply penetrating oil around the perimeter, then try again. Depending on the extent of corrosion, the oil may take several days to free the plug. To gain more leverage, slip a section of pipe over the wrench handle to increase its effective length.

2. Working through the cleanout.

Standing water in the cleanout or drainpipe indicates that an obstruction lies between the cleanout and the sewer. Work an auger toward the sewer to clear the blockage. If this does not work, recap the cleanout and notify a plumber.

An absence of standing water reveals that the obstruction is in the main drain under the house, or in the lower stack. Grease the threads of the cleanout plug and recap the pipe. Find the lowest drain opening or cleanout in the house and clear the blockage with an auger.


Increasing the Flow of Water

When the kitchen sink takes too long to fill, or the force of a shower is inadequate, the cause may be nothing more than a clogged faucet aerator or shower head. If water flow is weak at several fixtures, however, the problem lies in the supply system.

-- Low Pressure at the Source: First make sure that the main shut off valve is fully open, then check the water pressure. Most municipal systems pro vide water at a pressure of at least 50 pounds per square inch. For a lower reading, ask your neighbors whether their pressure is satisfactory. If so, there may be a leak in the pipe between the city main and your house. When the municipal system itself has low pressure, a pump and pressure tank hooked to the main supply line may be the best solution.

In a home served by a well, the source of the problem may be a low setting on the pump’s pressure switch. You can increase pressure by adjusting the switch.

-- Blockages in the Plumbing: Where water pressure to the house is adequate, compare the main shut off valve with the diagrams on the next page. If it’s a globe valve, a type that restricts water flow, replace it.

With the flow-rate chart at right, you can determine what areas of the house may have pipes or valves that have become clogged over time with mineral deposits. Clean or re place clogged valves. As a last resort, consider installing new pipes.


  • Penetrating oil
  • Plumbing-sealant tape
  • Solder
  • Flux
  • CPVC primer and cement


  • Pressure gauge
  • Graduated bucket
  • Stopwatch
  • Pipe wrench
  • Small open-ended wrenches
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Wire brush
  • Propane torch
  • Flameproof pad
  • Pliers (two pairs)

- - --

SAFETY TIPS---When soldering copper pipe joints or heating and loosening old ones, wear gloves and safety goggles.


Measuring water pressure.


If you have a well, simply read the gauge at the pump. Check municipal pressure as follows:

• Open the main shutoff valve fully and turn off all faucets and appliances.

• Screw a pressure gauge, which is available from hardware stores and lawn sprinkler suppliers, to the faucet of a basement laundry tub or an out door sillcock (inset).

• Turn on the faucet or sillcock all the way and read the gauge. Take readings at different times of the day, since municipal pres sure varies according to volume of use.

Taking a flow-rate test.


This chart lists flow rates at various points in a residential plumbing system. To check the flow rate at a fixture, remove any aerator or other flow-restricting device such as a low-flow shower head. Turn the faucet full on and measure the time needed to fill a graduated bucket or other container. Divide gallons by minutes and record the result. Concentrate your efforts to improve flow at points where rates fall short of the figures in the chart.



Three common valves.

Globe valves (above, left) can be identified by a bulge at the base. They contain a rubber disk that presses against a seat in order to block the flow of water. Although useful as shut offs to fixtures and branch lines, they contain partitions that impede the flow of water, making globe valves unsuitable as main shutoffs. A gate valve (above, center) has a gate that raises or lowers as the handle is turned. This unrestrictive design often serves as a main shutoff. Ball valves (above, right) fully open or close with a quarter-turn of the handle, which is an advantage if a line must be closed quickly. Like gate valves, ball valves provide an unrestricted flow and are therefore appropriate for main shutoff valves.

When installing a main shutoff, obtain a valve equipped with a waste, a small drain that can be opened to empty the supply line for plumbing repairs.


Fixture -- Gallons per minute

  • Laundry tub -- 5
  • Kitchen sink -- 4.5
  • Bathroom basin -- 2
  • Bathtub -- 5
  • Shower -- 5
  • Sillcock -- 5

Servicing a clogged valve.


Ball valves are unlikely to need cleaning; the ball scrapes off deposits as it turns. Clean a globe or gate valve as shown here:

• Close the main shutoff valve and drain the supply system.

• Grip the valve body with a pipe wrench to relieve strain on pipes and loosen the bonnet with an adjustable wrench (above, left). Remove the bonnet and valve stem.

• Scour the valve interior with a wire brush designed for cleaning copper fittings (above, right). Bend the shaft of the brush to reach deep inside the valve body.

• Reassemble the valve, then shut off the faucets that were opened to drain the system and turn on the water.


1. Removing the old valve.


• Close the main shutoff and drain the system. If the valve you are re placing is the main shutoff, turn off the water either at the well pump or at the curb valve.

• For copper supply pipe, shown here, open nearby valves on the line to protect their internal components from heat, and grip the adjacent pipe with a rag. Heat one of the soldered joints with a propane torch (above), then pull the pipe out of the valve body, taking care not to bend the pipe. If necessary, turn off the torch and use pliers to pull apart the heated joint before it cools (inset). Repeat for the other joint.

In the case of CPVC pipe, cut the pipe on each side of the valve. For threaded steel pipe, cut the pipe on one side of the valve; use wrenches to unthread the two cut sections to expose the nearest pipe unions (page 272).

2. Attaching the new valve.

--Copper pipe: Solder the valve in place. Open the valve or remove the stem before soldering to protect the washer (above). When the work cools, insert the stem and turn on the water. Steel pipe: Adapt the procedure noted previously: Attach adapters to the unions and valve inlets and extend CPVC from the inlets to the unions. After the CPVC cement cures, open the valve and turn on the water.

--CPVC pipe: Add threaded adapters to the valve inlets. Cement a short spacer to one adapter; slide a coupling over the spacer. Cement the other adapter to the cut supply line, then join the spacer to the supply line with the coupling. Wait for the cement to cure, open the valve, and turn on the water.


Resetting a pressure switch.


Inadequate flow from a well may result from a low pressure setting. If the pump and pressure tank are rated for a pres sure higher than the pressure gauge indicates, try raising the pressure switch setting 5 pounds per square inch. Maxi mum ratings are usually printed on the components; if they are not, get the figures from the distributor or manufacturer.

• Turn off power to the pump.

• Remove the cover from the pressure switch, which is located near the pressure gauge.

• With an open-ended wrench, turn the nut atop the taller of the adjustment springs two full turns clockwise.

• Replace the cover and restore power.

• Observe the pump through one operating cycle to see that the pressure does not exceed the desired level.




Spliced into the supply line, a pump-and-pressure-tank arrangement like the one shown here solves the problem of chronically low pressure in a municipal water system. The pump delivers water from the supply line to a T that connects to the tank inlet. The tank stores the water under pressure. When you turn on a faucet or other fixture, water rushes from the tank through the inlet T and into the house system. The resulting drop in tank pressure trips a switch that activates the pump, which operates until pressure is restored. Gate valves in the system can be closed to bypass the pump and tank for maintenance or repair. Check valves, which allow water to flow in only one direction, guard against water flowing backward into the municipal system.

= = = = = =


Silencing Noisy Pipes

Pipes can vibrate loudly—and annoyingly—if anchored too loosely to the house framing. More often, how ever, shrieking or banging sounds coming from your plumbing are a result of water-pressure problems.

---Silencing Screeches: In houses close to a water tower or pumping station, abnormally high water pres sure is common. It causes bubbling in the pipes, which produces squeals or groans and, over time, can erode valve seats, break apart joints, and make faucets leak. To confirm that the pressure is too high, measure it close to where the supply line enters the house. A reading higher than 60 pounds per square inch calls for a pressure-reducing valve near the main shutoff (below).

--- Cures for Banging Pipes: A phenomenon called water hammer is responsible for the percussive sounds that are often heard when a valve closes abruptly. This sudden halt to the flow of water causes a momentary pressure pulse that produces a loud bang when the rush of water collides forcibly with the closed valve.

Excessive water pressure can cause water hammer, but if pres sure is normal, you can correct the problem with a shock absorber or an air chamber installed close to the fixture in question (opposite). Shock absorbers cost more but require no maintenance; air chambers must occasionally be drained.


  • Propane torch
  • Pipe wrench
  • Flameproof pad
  • Solder
  • Supply pipe, fittings
  • Flux
  • Drain cock
  • CPVC primer and cement
  • Threaded adapters
  • Shutoff valve
  • Plumbing-sealant tape

SAFETY TIP---Wear gloves and safety goggles when soldering copper pipe joints.


A pressure-reducing valve.


Added to the main supply line (left), this de vice automatically lowers to a preset level the pressure of water entering the house. Water on the house side of the valve (inset, light blue) presses against a spring-loaded diaphragm to regulate pressure. When the pres sure exceeds the value set with an adjustment screw atop the device, the diaphragm bulges upward to lift a plunger toward the valve seat, partially closing the valve and reducing pres sure. To install such a valve:

• Close the main shutoff and drain the system.

• In a horizontal section of the main supply line, measure and cut a gap large enough to accommodate the valve and adapters suited to the type of pipe; for a steel pipe, cut at the desired point and unthread the cut sections.

• Secure the valve in place as described, positioning it so that the arrow on the body points in the direction of water flow.

• Turn on the water.


A shock absorber.


Placed near a valve that causes water hammer (above), a shock absorber prevents this annoyance with a bubble of gas that cushions the pressure pulse caused by closing a valve (inset). The bubble is isolated from the water in the pipe carrying the pulse by a rubber bellows surrounded by hydraulic fluid. To install a shock absorber:

• Close the main shutoff valve and drain the system.

• Fit a T to a horizontal section of the pipe supplying the valve.

• In the top of the T, place a short pipe and threaded adapter that accommodates the shock absorber. Use plumbing-sealant tape to make the threads watertight, then screw on the shock absorber and tighten it with a pipe wrench.

• Connect the fixture to the bottom of the T.

• Turn on the water.

Making on air chamber.


In this alternative to a shock absorber, a column of air cushions pressure pulses that cause water hammer. To assemble an air chamber:

• Close the main shutoff and drain the system.

• Install a T as for a shock absorber.

• To the upper opening of the T, add a valve and a faucet to serve as a drain as shown above.

• Top off this assembly with an air chamber consisting of a pipe having at least twice the diameter of the supply pipe, capped at one end. (For best results, make the air chamber about 2 feet long.) Connect the air chamber to the supply line with a reducer.

• Turn on the water.

Over time, the chamber may partially fill with water, reducing its effectiveness. Empty it by closing the shutoff and opening the drain cock.



Ways to Save Water

A typical household consumes up to 150 gallons of water a day. That amount can be cut a third or more by conserving water (checklist, right) and by modifying plumbing fixtures to reduce the amount of water they discharge.

---Indoor Fixtures: Installing a water-saving aerator makes a kitchen faucet more efficient. In a shower head, a flow restricter (below) reduces the stream from 5 gallons a minute to as little as 2 gallons a minute while delivering an adequate spray. Lowering the volume of water in an old-style large toilet tank can cut the amount of each flush in half.

Water and fuel are saved by insulating exposed hot-water pipes so that the water does not lose heat as fast as it would in uninsulated pipes. Kitchen hot-water dispensers and refrigerated drinking water also eliminate losses that occur while waiting for the water to become hot or cold.

---Regular Maintenance: An obviously dripping faucet or running toilet is easy to locate, but water often seeps through worn fixtures without obvious signals. Check faucets, spigots, and toilets for leaks throughout the house at least twice a year, and repair them with the techniques shown in section 5.

---Outdoor Conservation: Make the most of water applied to lawns and gardens, especially in hot, dry weather. A sprinkler timer prevents wasteful overwatering. Some timers must be set for each watering; others, like the one shown at the bottom of the opposite page, are programmable for longer periods.

Spreading a layer of mulch on garden beds and cutting grass high reduces evaporation, as does watering in the evening.

---Water Recycling: A gray-water reclamation system like the one illustrated filters water drained from sinks, tubs, showers, and washing machines. The water can be used to irrigate gardens and lawns or, in some states, to flush toilets.

= = = = Water-Saving Tips= = = = =


Soak dirty dishes and pans instead of rinsing them with running water.

Turn on the dishwasher only when it’s full; select a water-saving cycle.

Minimize use of the garbage disposer; compost vegetable waste instead.


Take a short shower instead of a bath, since filling a tub requires more water; turn water off while soaping and shampooing, on again for rinsing.

Run water intermittently while washing your hands and face, brushing your teeth, or shaving.

Flush the toilet only for human waste.

Adjust the flush mechanism to a lower water level.


Wash full loads whenever it’s possible.

Lower fill level for small loads.

Presoak heavily soiled clothes.

--Lawn and garden:

Select plant varieties that need little water.

Consider watering with a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler, and turn it on in the evening to minimize evaporation.

Cover swimming pools to save 50 gallons of water on a sunny day.

= = = = =


  • Wire brush
  • Pipe wrench


  • Plumbing-sealant tape
  • Water dam
  • Food coloring

- - - -

A shower-head flow restricter.



• Remove the shower head from the shower arm.

• Unscrew the collar from the shower-head assembly and insert a flow restricter as illustrated. Reassemble the shower head.

• Clean the shower-arm threads with a wire brush, wrap them with plumbing-sealant tape, then reinstall the shower head.

Reducing toilet-tank volume.


Place a water-filled plastic bottle in the tank (above, left), or install a self-sealing water dam, a plastic sheet that retains some of the tank water during a flush (above, right). Don’t allow either addition to interfere with the flushing mechanism.

A lawn-watering timer.


The battery-powered device shown at left contains an electrically operated valve controlled by a timer that can be programmed for a weekly cycle of lawn watering. Install such a device as follows:

• Wrap the threads of the sillcock and the timer with plumbing-sealant tape.

• Screw the timer to the s and the sprinkler hose to the timer.

• Program the timer with the instructions provided, then open the sillcock.

TRICKS OF THE TRADE - - - -Detecting Toilet Leaks


Often invisible and inaudible, a tank- ball or flapper-ball leak can be a big water waster. To check your toilet for such a leak, pour food coloring into the tank and wait 20 minutes. If water in the bowl becomes tinted, replace the old tank ball or flapper ball.


Improving Water Quality

Whether it comes from a municipal water company or a private well, your household water may contain impurities. Fortunately, a wide range of water-treatment equipment is available to homeowners, and each device may be used with others to cure almost any combination of conditions.

---Testing the Water: The first column of the chart on the opposite page describes the signs of possible water-supply problems. If any of these indicators are present, your water should be tested. You may be able to conduct the investigation yourself with a home test kit. Some conditions, however, require profession al analysis. Your local board of health can provide a list of water- testing laboratories.

If you suspect that there is lead in your water, have a commercial laboratory run a test. A problem with lead is likeliest in older homes, which may have copper plumbing joined by lead-containing solder or—especially in large cities—may be linked to the water main by lead entry piping.

Since there is no sure way for a homeowner to detect the presence of bacteria, a laboratory test should be made for any new well. An existing well should be tested every 6 months if contamination is known to occur in the area. Your local board of health will do a bacterial analysis at no charge. The extension service of the county or state department of agriculture also may offer free tests.

---Hard Water: Calcium and magnesium are responsible for the wide spread condition known as hard water; these minerals reduce the efficacy of soap, corrode appliances, and can even block pipes. Treat the problem by installing a water softener—a device that can also remove other impurities. A few regular maintenance procedures will keep a softener running smoothly.

---A Range of Filters: Many styles of filters are available to treat water, and they can be used either alone or in conjunction with a water softener. Install the filter in the line ahead of a water softener to screen out sediment. Replenish neutralizing, oxidizing, and carbon filters according to the manufacturer’s instructions—as often as every 3 days or as infrequently as every 3 years, depending on the type of filter.

---Other Water-Treatment Units: A reverse-osmosis purifier forces water through a thin membrane to re move unwanted materials. Some reverse-osmosis units are designed to serve the entire house system. More commonly, these devices have a smaller capacity, and are attached under a sink to provide drinking and cooking water from a single tap. The membrane must be replaced periodically.

Chemical feeders inject a small amount of chemical solution into the water to counteract pollutants. Supply the feeder with chemicals on a regular basis.


  • Broom
  • Wet/dry vacuum
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Oven baster
  • Screwdriver
  • Socket wrench
  • Pliers
  • Strap wrench
  • Pipe cutter
  • Propane torch
  • Flameproof pad


  • Supply pipe and fittings
  • Gate valves
  • Plumbing-sealant tape
  • Solder
  • Flux

SAFETY TIPS---Gloves and safety goggles provide protection when soldering pipe.

Common Water Problems and Their Remedies





  1. Low sudsing power of water. Soap deposits on fixtures and clothes. White scale in pipes and water heaters.
  2. Rusty deposits in sinks, tubs, and washing machines and on washed fabrics. Water left standing turns reddish.
  3. Green or blue stains in fixtures served by copper pipes.
  4. Red stains below faucets in fixtures served by steel pipes.
  5. Water has a “rotten egg” smell, blackish tinge, tarnishes silver.
  6. Water has a yellow or brownish tinge or an unpleasant taste or odor.
  7. Water has an alkaline or soda taste.
  8. Water has a chlorine odor.
  9. Water has a cloudy or dirty appearance; seats, valves, and moving parts in appliances wear out quickly.
  10. Intestinal disorders and disease result from drinking the water.
  11. Poisoning or disease results from drinking the water.


  1. Hard water (contains calcium and magnesium)
  2. Iron compounds
  3. Corrosion of pipes by acidic water
  4. Hydrogen sulfide
  5. Tannins, algae, humic acid, or other organic substances
  6. Sodium salts
  7. Excessive chlorine
  8. Suspended particles of silt, mud, or sand
  9. Coliform bacteria from improperly disposed sewage nearby
  10. Lead, herbicides, pesticides, chlorine
  11. Nitrates, chlorides, sulfates, lead, chlorine


  1. A water softener.
  2. If the problem is minor, a water softener. Otherwise, an oxidizing filter.
  3. If the problem is minor, a neutralizing filter. Otherwise, a chemical feeder with an alkaline solution.
  4. If the problem is minor, an oxidizing filter. Otherwise, a chemical feeder with a chlorine solution, followed by a sand filter.
  5. If the problem is minor, a carbon filter. Otherwise, a chemical feeder with a chlorine or alum solution, followed by a sand filter or, for potable water only, a reverse-osmosis unit.
  6. A water softener or oxidizing filter.
  7. A carbon filter or reverse-osmosis unit.
  8. A sediment or sand filter.
  9. Correct improper sewage disposal and add a chemical feeder with a chlorine solution, followed by a carbon filter.
  10. A carbon filter.
  11. A reverse-osmosis unit.

= = = = = =


With various home test kits, you can easily test water for hardness, pH (the degree of acidity or alkalinity), the presence of minerals or organic sub- stances, and several other conditions. In some tests, paper strips are dipped in water and change color when certain elements are present. Other tests use chemicals dropped into a water sample; again, a change of color indicates impurities.


- - - - - - -


Anatomy of a water softener.


A water softener passes hard water over resin beads in a central tank; the resin contains salt or potassium, which is exchanged for the calcium and magnesium impurities in the water during its transit. Periodically, the beads must be chemically revived and the impurities removed. This is accomplished by a process called backwashing: Brine, formed by mixing water with a supply of salt or potassium outside the resin tank, is washed over the beads, recharging them and also carrying away the accumulated calcium and magnesium. An electrically powered control unit regulates the backwash cycle with either a timer or a meter that keeps track of water use. A bypass valve, used during maintenance tasks, al lows water to flow to the household without passing through the softener.

Inspecting the salt or potassium.


Check on the salt or potassium supply once a week.

• Remove the lid of the cabinet and look inside.

• If a hard crust has formed on the salt or potassium supply, break it into pieces with a broom handle.

Accumulated dirt in the cabinet means the salt or potassium contains impurities. Correct the situation as follows:

• Wait until the supply is low. Unplug the softener, lift the lid, and empty the cabinet with a wet/dry vacuum.

• Clean the cabinet with an abrasive bathroom cleanser. Rinse thoroughly.

• Vacuum out the remaining water. To prevent corrosion, rinse out the vacuum before putting it away.

• Replace the salt or potassium with a pure product.

Clearing the brine line.


Every 6 months, check the brine line for blockages.

• Unplug the softener, turn the bypass valve to divert the water supply, and set the control-unit dial to the backwash position to relieve pressure on the brine line. On a unit without an integral bypass valve, close the inlet valve and open the nearest water faucet.

• Loosen the compression nut connecting the brine line to the control unit and pull the line free (left).

• If there is an obstruction in the line or the inlet, use an oven baster to flush it out with warm water.

• Reattach the brine line.

Cleaning the injector.


The injector regulates the flow of brine to the resin tank. Clean it after inspecting the brine line, or at any other time.

• With the softener unplugged and in the bypass mode, remove the screws holding the injector cover to the control unit (above) and pull the cover off.

• Turn the injector counterclockwise by hand or with a socket wrench and then pull it from its housing.

• Remove the small filter screen from the injector (above, right).

• Clean a clogged screen in warm, soapy water; replace a broken one. Remove any obstruction in the injector by blowing gently. Don’t use a sharp object to remove a blockage.

• Replace the screen, screw the injector back into its housing, replace the injector cover, and tighten the screws.

• Turn the bypass valve to restore the water sup ply, reset the control-unit dial for normal operation, and plug in the softener. On a unit without an integral bypass valve, close the open water faucet and open the inlet valve.


1. Disconnecting the control unit.


• Unplug the softener, put it in bypass mode, and set the control-unit dial in the backwash position to relieve pressure on the brine line. On a unit without an integral bypass valve, close the inlet valve and open the nearest water faucet.

• Remove the brine line.

• Loosen the screws on the clamps that hold the bypass valve to the control unit (left), then pull the valve from the unit. On a unit without an integral bypass valve, unscrew the fittings joining the inlet and outlet pipes to the control unit and pull out the pipes.

• With a pair of pliers, compress the prongs of the hose clamp on the drain line, and pull the line free.

• Push the pipes back to provide space to remove the control unit.

2. Replacing the control unit.


• Tighten a strap wrench around the neck of the control unit and turn in a counterclockwise direction until the control unit is free.

• Set a new control unit on top of the cabinet and turn it clockwise by hand, then tighten it with the strap wrench.

• Replace the bypass valve or the inlet and outlet pipes, and reconnect the brine line and the drain line.

• Turn the bypass valve to restore the water supply, reset the control-unit dial for normal operation, and plug in the softener. On a unit without an integral bypass valve, close the open water faucet and open the inlet valve.


A horizontal line installation.


• Turn off the water at the main shutoff valve and drain the supply pipe.

• Using plumbing-sealant tape, thread a gate valve with exterior threads onto each side of the filter cap and tighten them until each valve is in an upright position.

• Measure and cut out a section of the supply pipe long enough to accommodate the filter and valves.

• Slide a compression nut and compression ring over each cut pipe end, fit the valves over the pipe ends, and tighten the nut and ring onto each valve.

A vertical line installation.


• Turn off the water at the main shut off valve and drain the supply pipe.

• Cut out a 4-inch section of the pipe and attach elbows to each cut end.

• Create a loop, installing the filter in the lower leg of the loop with gate valves, as shown at left.

• Attach the loop to the elbows on the supply pipe.

Creating a bypass loop.

• Turn off the water at the main shutoff valve and drain the supply pipe.

• Create a bypass loop, using compression fittings, gate valves, and elbows.

• Attach the filter to the loop with two threaded adapters wrapped with plumbing-sealant tape.

• Cut out a section of the supply line long enough to accommodate the bypass loop, insert a T fitting at each end of the pipe, and install a gate valve between the two T fittings.

• Attach the loop to the T fittings on the supply pipe.

Friday, March 14, 2014 16:37 PST