Yokel Plumbing: Compression & Solvent Weld

Before we embarked on this pretty-big project, I’d done a couple of previous renovation projects. In those cases by ‘done’, I’d done some of the basic donkey work, but left the complex bits and pieces to contractors to complete…. in short I thought it simpler to get my head down and earn the money and pay a professional instead.

This time I wanted to do more myself, encourage my other half to learn some new skills too. Not because I don’t value the skills that contractors bring – and are strictly necessary for things like all gas and most electrical work – but I wanted us to be more self-sufficient. To be able to hopefully fix, but at least to diagnose problems as they came up.

First on this list for me was plumbing. While I was happy with some basic electrician tasks (replacing sockets et al on a like-for-like basis when I could replicate the work), I’d always been terrified by plumbing, because water is such a damaging substance. Get plumbing wrong and if you’re not careful, you can end up with HUGE bills for make-good work.

The bathroom during the strip-out (never ask me about removing that toilet btw, it was traumatic).

The bathroom during the strip-out (never ask me about removing that toilet btw, it was traumatic).

On this project, we were starting with a blank canvas to an extent; there wasn’t much damage that I could do to the fabric of the house that hasn’t already been done. The bathroom was a sodden, rotten mess. The kitchen much the same. It was almost entirely empty – save for my camp site in one of the upper rooms – which meant there was plenty of working room and scope for lifting floors as required (my fear of getting it wrong extended to needing to see entire runs of pipe I was working on, to check for any unexpected leaks I’d create).

Compression & Solvent Weld

There are two types of plumbing fitting that we’ve used in refurbishing the kitchen and bathroom; copper pipe and compression fittings for fresh water (for taps etc) and Solvent Weld for waste waster and erm…. products. You can be 99% sure that you’ve got both of these products in your own home somewhere.

Compression

Compression fittings are as you’d imagine, held together by brute force forcing the soft copper pipe into harder metal fittings to secure a solid joint. A more contemporary approach it to use push-fit plastic fittings which don’t require anything more complex than simply screwing together and because of the general flexibility of plastic pipe works, can be far easier to squeeze into tight spots. Given that, why did we decide to do this in old-school copper, especially given that copper is currently really expensive?

The simplest of compression fittings; washing machine taps in the outhouse (the first ones I fitted on the project)

The simplest of compression fittings; washing machine taps in the outhouse (the first ones I fitted on the project)

Even though I’d not done any plumbing on prior jobs, I’d had contractors use push-fit on both previous projects. In each case, there had been leaks in joints. Ok, nothing serious, but there is an failure rate in push-fit connectors and overall a lack of interchangeability between different manufacturers. With compression, there is none of this; follow the sort of  video instructions referenced in a recent post and you will not get leaks at joints. Secondary to this and especially in the kitchen, having exposed pipe is a far easier aesthetic choice when the pipe is made of something a potentially attractive as copper.

Solvent Weld

For drainage from sinks and basins, Solvent Weld is the default choice and as a result, our homes are full of it. Unlike compression, Solvent Weld is a form of push-fit, which is jointed using a sort-of glue, which creates a secure and permanent seal. In the UK – for obscure reasons that I still don’t understand – it comes in a couple of gauges; 32mm and 40mm. 32mm seems to be primarily used for bathrooms where the outlet will only be waste water, 40mm is used for kitchen wastes where there maybe be partial solids among the waste.

Some sub-floor solvent weld in the kitchen; you can create some interesting angles with the joints.

Some sub-floor solvent weld in the kitchen; you can create some interesting angles with the joints.

For each, connectors are simple plastic unions which come in a small range of angles allowing pipes to be cut and joined as your tasks require them. Unlike copper, Solvent Weld is a cheap material, even the unions are only a couple of quid a piece, meaning that even large jobs – such as we completed in the kitchen – don’t require much cash to undertake them. The time is as ever in the planning and preparation (neither of which I think I’ll ever truly master).

Where to start?

In the next couple of posts, I’ll look at each in a little more detail. What tools you’ll need (and which you not), some lessons learned from our work on the project thus far and most importantly, what you can and can’t take on yourself.

About Matt Hero

Thinking global, acting yokel
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