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RIGID COPPER PIPE AND FLEXIBLE COPPER tubing are not inexpensive, but the quality and application of the products may be worth the price to a homeowner. Both products can be used for hot and cold water supply; drain, waste, and vent systems; and for heating and cooling applications. With adaptors, the pipes can be connected to existing copper, plastic, and galvanized-steel pipe runs.
Copper when compared to galvanized-steel pipe is lightweight, readily available, easy-to-fabricate, strong, noncorrosive, and resistant to very high temperatures. If you have hot water (hydronic) heating, you can make repairs with copper pipe.
CAUTION: Copper pipe sometimes is assembled with solder, which requires high heat from a propane torch (as detailed below). Be extremely careful with the torch; plan your project so the flame and heat is kept away from flammable building materials. It is strongly recommended that a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher be handy when working with the propane torch. Heed all warnings provided by manufacturers on torch use.

Copper pipe is available in 10- and 20-feet lengths and in three weights: Type M is thin wall; Type L has a medium-thick wall; Type K has a thick wall. Unless otherwise specified by local code, Type M is sufficiently strong for the water supply system in your home.

Pipe Size. Copper pipe is always 1/8 inch larger than the nominal size. Example: 1/2-inch
pipe measures 5/8-inch outside diameter. The actual inside diameter varies with the thickness of the pipe wall. The thicker the wall, the smaller the inside diameter of the pipe.
In the 10- and 20-feet lengths, Types K, L, and M are available in "drawn temper," which is the rigid form of pipe. In the plumbing trades, this usually is referred to as "hard" tubing because it's rigid. The three types of tubing are also made in annealed (soft) temper in almost all the same sizes as the hard tubing and in the same lengths. However, the soft tubing comes packaged in rolls rather than in straight lengths as hard pipe.
For your shopping information, rigid or hard copper pipe usually is termed "pipe" in home centers and building material outlets. If you want flexible copper tubing, ask for it as "flexible."
Proper Pipe Use. Hard temper Type M or soft temper Type L is recommended for underground water services, although local codes may call for the thick-walled Type K. Type M usually is recommended for the water supply system in your home, as mentioned above.
Another class of copper pipe, called DWV (drain, waste, vent) is available only as rigid pipe in larger sizes. As the name implies, this pipe is used for drain, waste, and vent lines in the drainage system in your home.
Pipes in sizes of 3/8, 1/2, 3/4, and 1 inch are suitable for home water supply systems. The 11/4, 11/2, 3, and 4 inch sizes are for DWV.
Still another class of copper tubing, designated ACR, is for air conditioning and refrigeration field service. ACR is designated by the actual outside diameter, as opposed to other types of copper pipe. It is available in uncharged lengths of 20 ft. in draw (hard) temper and 50 ft. in soft temper.
Copper pipe and tubing can be joined in three different ways: with solder (sweating); with compression nuts; and with flare fittings.

The process involves two-stages: preparing the pipe, and the actual soldering technique.
To prepare the pipe:
• With a tube cutter, cut the pipe to length (Fig. 1). Remember the builder's axiom: Measure twice, cut once! You can also use a backsaw and miter box to cut the material, but a tube cutter is recommended because it cuts the pipe perfectly
square so it fits tightly against a tiny "shoulder" inside the pipe fittings. A backsaw alsu produces metal residue on the pipe after the cut that must be removed with a cone or triangular reamer.
• Remove any burrs from the cut. The tube cutter has a built-in reamer for this job, although the tube cutter usually leaves a clean cut. "Dry fit" the fitting onto the pipe. The end of the pipe must fit squarely against the shoulder in the fitting (Fig. 2).
• Make all necessary cuts in the complete pipe run and assemble the run "dry." Make any adjustments at this time.
• With emery paper or steel wool, shine the end of each pipe at the point where it will go into the fitting so the copper is as bright as a new penny. Do not touch the shined metal with your fingers. Your fingers leave grease on the pipe that tends to prevent the solder from sticking properly (Fig. 3).

About Wire Solder. The National Standard Plumbing Code requires that solder and flux contain not more than 0.2 percent lead. Solder containing 50 percent lead and 50 percent tin (called solid-core 50:50 solder) was the standard for many years. Health concerns regarding lead in water has resulted in an alteration of the formula. Your municipality may have outlawed solder containing any lead. An alternative is silver phosphorous solder.
The soldering (also called sweating) method described here is the traditional one of fluxing and soldering as separate steps. Fluxing is necessary to prevent the formation of oxidation as heat is applied to the pipe. Flux is an irritant, so wear eye goggles and gloves.
Some solder products already contain flux so applying it to the ends of pipe as a separate step may not be necessary. When you buy solder, read the manufacturer's instructions carefully.

• Examine the ends of the pipes and fittings to be joined. There can be no drops of water in the pipe ends. Water will turn to steam when heated and cause pinholes in the solder and result in leaks. A trick is to roll fresh white bread into a loose ball and push it into the pipe. Do not pack it tightly. The bread will absorb any moisture and be flushed away when the water is turned back on. Remove any aerators from faucets to flush the bread out.
• For solder without flux, now apply a complete, light coat of flux to the pipe ends and the fittings being joined (Fig. 4).
• Slide the fitting onto the pipe and make sure the pipe is tightly set against the shoulder in the fitting. If there is no shoulder, the pipe goes in the fitting about 1/2 inch (Fig. 5).
• Using a propane torch, heat the area around the joint as you hold the tip of the solder in the joint (Fig. 6). Do not apply flame to the solder and do not move it around the joint-hold the solder in one place. As the pipe gets hot, the solder will melt and run freely around and into the joint.
• Let the joint cool for a few minutes. Don't apply cold water. After the solder hardens, you should test the joint. If it leaks, try a little more solder, but you'll probably have to cut the joint and start over.
Soldering Safety. Always wear gloves in case your hand comes in contact with the hot pipe or solder. Eye protection is also required.
If you are soldering near a joist, wallboard, or some other flammable material, tack a cookie sheet over the surface to deflect heat and flame. Always have a fire extinguisher or bucket of water close by-just in case (Fig. 7).
About Paste Solder. Solder generally is used in wire form, but paste-type solders also are available. They consist of finely ground solder in a suspension of paste flux. If you use this product (do not use acid-core solder with copper pipe), there are some rules to follow:
• Wire solder should be applied in addition to the paste. The wire helps fill voids and aids in displacing the flux, and if it is not used, you may have a poor joint resulting from a lack of continuous solder bond.
• The paste solder must be thoroughly mixed if it has been standing in the container for more than a short time. The heavy solder has a tendency to settle to the bottom of the can, and taking material from the upper portion of the container will result in a mixture that is mostly flux and little solder.
• Do not depend on the flux to clean the end of the pipe. Use steel wool before flux.
• Remove any excess flux. Only enough flux should be used to lightly coat the areas to be joined with solder. Use a flux brush or the end of a piece of wire solder to apply flux to the copper pipe.

Fixing Any Problems. If, when the water is turned on, you have leaky joints, turn off the water and drain the pipe as best as you can. Then heat the leaking joint at the fitting and pull it apart after the solder has melted.
Use pliers for this and wear heavy gloves. The pipe will be very hot. Now, heat the pipe and wipe away any solder with a cloth. Again wear gloves and be careful. The pipe should be hot but not cherry red; just enough heat to melt the solder. After wiping, the pipe should have a thin coating of solder on it. Do the same with the inside of the fitting. Be careful. The fitting also should have a thin coating of solder on it. This is called "tinning."
Apply new flux to the pipe and fitting, and slip the pipe and fitting together. Heat the fitting with the torch and touch the joint with solder until you see the tiny bead appear at the joint. The pipe should be perfectly joined.
If you are soldering valves (faucets) to copper
pipe, disassemble the valves. The heat can damage washers in the valves.
A regular propane torch will handle pipe and tubing up to about 1 to 11/4 inches in diameter. Over this size, use a Mapp gas torch or an oxyacetylene torch, which you can either buy or rent. These tools supply the necessary heat for the larger sizes of pipes.
The easiest way for most do-it-yourselfers to assemble copper tubing (and some smaller sizes of rigid copper pipe) is with compression nuts. The nuts consist of rings that go onto the pipe like a ring on your finger after the nut has been slipped onto the pipe. There are two nuts and two little compression rings to each joint. When the nuts and rings are in position, you simply screw the nuts together. The compression provided by the threads pulls the joint together, forming a watertight seal. You then tighten the nuts with adjustable wrenches to complete the union. Before assembly, measure the pipe (twice) and cut it square (Fig. 8).


Copper tubing also can be assembled by flaring the end of it in a flaring tool and attaching it with flare fittings. The tool, via pressure from a turned-down "wedge," flares the end of the pipe to match the fitting it joins.
Cut the tubing to size. Make a square cut. Remove any burrs.
• Position and lock the pipe in the flaring tool a tad low in the block-after you slip on the flare nut connector.
• Turn down the flaring tool so it starts the flare at the end of the tubing.
• Reposition the tubing so the top edge of it is flush with the surrounding surface of the flaring block.
• Turn down the flaring tool to complete the flare. The flare has to be perfectly formed in order to produce a watertight connection. If you attempt to make the flare all at once, you can "bell" the flare. Once you get more accomplished with the block, you can flare tubing in one operation. Until then take tiny steps for better flaring results (Fig. 9).

Copper pipe and tubing can be connected to plastic pipe. Because plastic is inert and does not react with any metal, no problems occur when mixing plastic and copper in a water supply or drain system. You also can buy adaptors to join steel and copper pipe.
For plastic, the fittings are attached to the plastic with plastic pipe solvent cement after the fitting has been cleaned with plastic pipe primer.
One end of the plastic fitting is threaded and it is locked into a threaded fitting that has been soldered to the copper pipe.
Valves and other plastic fittings that have compression nuts at the ends can also be used on copper pipe. Just cut out a section of the pipe to allow insertion of the fitting, and then put it on line and tighten the nuts. You may have to retighten the nuts about three times over several days in order to prevent leaks and still not stress and break the plastic fittings (Fig. 10).

Prices subject to change.
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Updated: 02/2018   copyright 2012 U-Repair.com