Replacing Copper Water Pipes - Important Pipe Preparation Tips

Water supply lines sometimes form cracks and leaks due to general wear and stress. The freezing and thawing of water within the lines as well as the slow degradation of the metal in the pipes can cause issues. Most water lines installed in residences are made from copper, and the pipes can be replaced fairly easily. If you feel as though you have the know-how and the skills to replace the pipes on your own, then you will need to solder the new ones in place. Soldering needs to occur at every joint or connection, so be prepared to spend some time using your soldering skills. Of course, there are many steps that need to be taken before you can solder. Read on to learn about some tips to complete these steps properly.

Work in Sections

If a longer piping section in your home needs to be replaced, then you will likely need to add a variety of connections to the piping pieces to rebuild the water line. Elbows, t-connectors, bends, and straight connectors are a few examples of the hardware you may need, and the ends of the new pipes will fit into these connectors.

Depending on the size of the fitting and your copper pipes, the fitting will overlap over the pipe one-eighth, one-quarter, or one-half an inch. This type of overlap needs to be taken into account when measuring and cutting lengths of pipe. This can be difficult, especially if multiple bends and angled pipes will be added. This is one reason why it is wise to work in sections and to dry fit pipes and connectors along the way. Once the pipes are dry fitted correctly, you can solder them in place.

Cut the Pipe

To begin the pipe fitting process, you will need to take measurements. To make your measurements, set your tape measure against the flange or wide opening of the last fitting secured. Drag the tape out to where you want the pipe to end. With this measurement in mind, add one-eighth, one-quarter, or one-half an inch to represent the overlap where the next connector is added. Measure your copper pipe afterwards and use a pipe cutting tool to cut the pipe to length. Saws and scissor-like cutting tools are not appropriate for the job, because they rarely make clean cuts and they can crimp ends and leave burrs. This can damage the metal and lead to weak connections.

A proper metal pipe cutter is your best option, and there are several varieties you can choose from. These devices use a cylindrical metal blade to scour through the pipe. Adjustable pipe cutters with a tightening knob are a good choice, so you can see the pipe as you make the cut. If you lack the hand strength to tighten the knob or if you are afraid of making angled cuts, then think about a power pipe cutter instead. This device uses a small motor to power the cutting wheel or blade. 

Prepare the Ends Properly

After you make your cuts, you may see a few slight burrs or uneven edges. These edges can be removed with a piece of fine grit sandpaper. Think about buying some 120 or 180 grit paper and begin by running it along the rough edge of the cut pipe. Afterwards, use the paper to gently roughen the exterior of the pipe on both ends. Scouring one inch on either end is best to help the solder stick in place. The use of solder flux is also needed to get the copper ready for the soldering material. 

Solder flux is used to clear away oxidation from copper piping. There are a variety of different types of flux you can purchase, but paste varieties are easier to work with. Just make sure to purchase a lead free variety and cover your hands with rubber or vinyl gloves before handling the material. This will protect your hands and keep skin oils off the copper as you spread the flux on the outside edge of the copper pipe and inside the connector piece. 

If you are unsure whether you have the skill to complete the above steps, then contact your local plumbing contractor for assistance.


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