copper plumbing

When I replaced my water heater, I also replaced the piping coming into the house. It had been galvanized steel, which was very rusty at some parts, and I replaced it with copper. Still, the rest of the house had galvinized. This made for constant cloggings of shower heads, faucets, valves, etc. with small bits of rust/mineralization. The water flow to my shower was so low I had trouble maintaining the .75 gallons per minute my water heater needs to stay running. The heat would often turn off when I tried to turn up the cold water to reduce the tempurature, causing it get very cold. When a valve broke and could not be removed with all my might, I had to run a line from the sink piping to the shower to still get my hot water. The water also always seemed dirty, and tasted undesirable, so I never trusted drinking it. I did cook with it though.

I decided a while back I wanted to replace all the pipe at some point. Since I intended to redo the belly of my house before winter (fast approaching) I decided to take care of it at the same time. A few weeks ago (I believe) I started, with the help of my dad. It was very slow going then, since I could only get him out once a week. I’m the only one who could go under the house, so I had to do most of the work for the bathroom fixtures. The other stuff simply was along the side. My dad actually ended up doing most of the work for this. The underneath part was very rough though. It is not tall enough to sit up under there, though luckily much more roomy than under a car. It’s very dirty and there is stuff impeding movement all over the place. Just to get in, I must manuever myself over an electrical conduit and under a sanitary pipe and then a steel beam. The belly board has been ripped out by previous owners and by me during this project, leaving fiberglass insulation all over. Movement in certain areas will knock fiberglass into the air, making for a very itchy and coughy experience. I had to shower after every time working on it. I got a plastic rain suit to keep fiberglass off me, but it got on my neck and wrists with no problem, and the pants eventually were torn to shreds from moving around down there. The project was very slow going, and almost every time I got much less done than expected.

We first rerouted the pipe coming into the house to make most of it within the belly (at least it will be once we replace the belly). We got that working quickly and easily. Then we planned to do the hot lines only, to leave cold water available as long as possible. Some of the line, notably to the kitchen, we would go an entirely different route than the old line. The bathroom lines took a more simplified route, but it still ran into the old line a lot. I had to cut out the old line, as I had no luck getting it out by wrench and had no reason to try very hard with that anyway. I used an angle grinder. Sparks flew like crazy down in that small inclosed space, and I couldn’t help but getting hit by some of them. They also caused a few small short-lived flames in the insulation and bellyboard. With most of the cuts, water would come out when I broke throught the wall, sometimes lots of it. I’d let it drain and then continue. It was a very wet job. I could’t cut all the way through the pipe, as the wheel wasn’t wide enough, but I came pretty close. There was perhaps half the top wall left, and I was able to flex it until it broke. Unfortunately, the old pipes running to the bathroom sink and toilet were too tightly packed amongst themselves, a sanitary line, and a wooden beam to be able to be cut out, so I had to move the lines slightly over. Because of the location of beams and sanitary lines, this led me to need to drill holes through some beams as well as the new holes through the floor. The holes through the beams were difficult, and one required us to get a smaller drill to fit in between nearby obstacles, as well as cut out more old pipe. The hot water was at a lower elevation than the cold so they could cross over going over to the kitchen, so I had to cut a partial hole in the bottom of a beam rather than through it. The first one was done with a chisel, which took forever and a lot of energy. That tired me out, and it was a very tight fit even after that. Later we got a rasp bit for the drill to do the job much much faster and easily. The rasp also helped widen holes to allow for the proper positioning of pipes. This was especially important for one hole that was drilled at an angle because the drill would not fit any other way.

At one point, I wanted to cut part of the hot line to get it out of the way to run a line to the shower. It was right next to the cold line. I realized very quickly, when lots of water started spraying on me, that I had cut the wrong line. Luckily my dad was outside and turned off the water. I was now without any running water and changed plans of which line I would complete first. I intended to complete the line just to the bathroom sink and toilet (they came up through the floor with the same line anyway) so that my house could at least be liveable, but that didn’t happen for a while. I slept at my parents house then, in addition to showering there, which gave me more incentive to complete the cold water line. I had a bucket of water that allowed me to flush the toilet only thrice. I had diarea the one day, making this hard to do.

Soldering is very difficult in tight quarters. There was the plastic vapar barriers above and below the insulation, the subfloor, the wood beams, and the insulation that for whatever reason would burn somewhat even though it was fiberglass. We started off using heat sheilds, but I eventually gave up on them. It was too hard to keep them in place, especially when working by myself, and the heat would often just transfer through anyway. I found that if I carefully shot the flame at a certain angle so that it mostly curved around the pipe, I could minimize or eliminate the burning. In tight spots, though, it was impossible to eliminate the burning, and my house would get somewhat smokey after each of these. Fires of the wood would mostly got out once the flame was removed. They’d still smoke a bit and sometimes would glow, so I sprayed them thoroughly with a spray bottle. The plastic vapor barriers, however, wouldn’t always stop burning. I tried to cut them out of the way, but sometimes they still caught. If they were hot enough, the fire would somewhat quickly spread as it burned a hole in the barrier, dropping droplets of flaming plastic along the way.

Every time I worked I ran into some noticeable problem. I often ran into routing problems. The most noteable (or at least most memorable currently) of these was running the hot water line to the bathroom. I ran the long length to the sink (it seems much longer down there than inside the house) down through the same channel the old pipes were ran in, so it was very easy. Getting over to this run and allowing the shower to be hooked up as well, however, was not easy. The height the line was at was just above a sanitary line, touching it as it ran to the sink. I had chiseled a half hole throught a beam before to allow it to pass that. The sanitary line coming fromt the shower to the main run, unfortunately, was tilted, so I could not go over it. I ended up making two other partial holes through the beam to find a place I could come through with enough room between everything, and I even had some of the pieces for each of the routes.

Later on, I ran into problems with bad solder joints. I’d have to drain the lines and then unsolder, clean really well, then try to get the stuff back together and solder again. This became a crazy, long two night problem for the hot water line. This last Sunday, I had gotten the cold line to the kitchen working during the day with the help of my dad, and had also gotten the hot line cut and nearly ready to solder. I was thus done with the cold line and nearly done with the hot. I figured I could get it done that night in a few hours. I had to cut a few more pieces and then I prepared the whole thing and got it all in place to solder all at once. Most of the joints soldered very well, but I was a little worried about the one under the sink. It was the most surrounded by flamable material, as the one part of the elbow was actually resting on a wooden beam when the pipe was pulled down by gravity. I tried to solder it holding the pipe up with one hand and the torch in the other, then quickly taking the solder and trying to get it up there to sweat. It was very hard to manuever around to see both sides, and ended up being a sloppy job. I was a little worried about it but figured it was worth a try. I turned on the hot water, hoping it would work. Unfortunately, the union just below the heater was leaking like a sieve. I spent perhaps 40 minutes messing around with it, taping it with lots of teflon tape (and wasting a lot of tape in the process) to come to the conclusion that something must be wrong with it. Also, to my chagrin, the elbow beneath the sink started leaking. By that time it was rather late and I had to work the next morning, so I just went to my parents house to take a shower and sleep. Tuesday, I came back to the project, again at night. I was determined to finish. I bought a new union (8 bloody dollars) and installed that to replace the seemingly malfunctioning one. I drained the water from the lower union I had put in for that purpose, but unfortunately the pipes were at such angles as to not allow all the water to drain out. I put lots of heat into the elbow only to find it not getting hot enough to unsolder. I was getting rather angry and hitting the pipes rather hard to try to get the sweats apart. This of course dented the pipes fairly well, but luckily didn’t knock the important parts out of round or rupture the lines. I went into the bathroom, put my lips on the top of the valve there, and blew out the water. I spent quite a while doing this to make sure the water got out, and sure enough, I was able to unsweat the elbow. I made the mistake of only unsweating the one side of the elbow that had been leaking. I cleaned it up as best as I could in place and resweat it. It seemed much better. The pipe in the other sweat had been twisted during my removal attempts, and so had obviously been somewhat unsweat, but there was still solder in it. I figured that it should be fine and applied a bit more solder to be sure (perhaps that was a mistake). I ran the water. My union was mostly fine, though the connection to the water heater was leaking a bit. Unfortunately, the other sweat of that elbow was leaking a lot. I drained the water, blew through the pipes again, and tried to unsweat the elbow again. This time I hadn’t blew out enough water, so I had to go back, twice I believe. I finally got enough out to be able to unsweat, and more water that was rather hot came out of the pipe. This time I took the whole elbow off and cleaned it very well. The sweat looked good, and in testing held up. Through this whole procedure, I had burned the subfloor and other stuff pretty good, making my house visibly smoky. I went back in and retightened the connection to the water heater, then turned the water on. The union and connection at the heater seemed fine, but there was a noticable stream of water flowing through the hole in the floor beneath them. It was actually shooting up from beneath: the elbow there couldn’t take the pressure. I once again drained the water. Luckily, it was much easier with this one, as a union was pretty close by. Still, the floor was soaked with water from the leaks before, and it was dripping down. There was also a drip coming inside the pipe from the water heater. This made the unsweating and sweating process take noticably longer, though it still worked just fine. By this time I had determined that it was a bad idea to try to un and then re sweat only the broken side, so I took the elbow off, cleaned everything real good, and put it back together. It sweat nicely as well. When I turned the water on again, there was no real leak, though perhaps a slight drip from the union. Finally, after countless hours, I had my plumbing all done. It was of course, at this point, 0230 and I had to work that morning. I took a long hot shower and was in bed by 0430. I was rather tired the next day.