Repair & Maintenance

Alternatives to soldering plumbing connections

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collection of plumbing connectors
When it comes to solder-free plumbing, it pays to have connections
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Don't sweat plumbing projects with alternatives to soldering plumbing connection

Using a soldering iron to seal plumbing connections is one of those skills that dads and granddads like to brag that they have but rarely show it off. That's because many houses use PVC piping - which doesn't require soldering - instead of copper and most people don't install or repair their own plumbing systems anymore.

Those who do know that there are some excellent alternatives to soldering plumbing connections that are just as leak-proof, don't involve hot irons and are easier to install in tight places, which seems like where you always need to install plumbing elbows and connections.

The primary purpose of soldering in plumbing is to seal connections between lengths of copper tubing. This usually occurs when the tubing needs to change directions, at a T-split, when one pipe isn't long enough or when an existing pipe cracks or leaks.

Fix a leak

The one most commonly performed by do-it-yourself plumbers is the leak fix, so let's look at that first. The primary way to "fix" a pipe that's leaking due to a crack or corrosion is to replace that section with new pipe.

After turning off the water and draining the pipes by opening the lowest faucet in the house, the defective section is removed using a pipe cutting tool or a hacksaw. Once the ends are smooth, they can be connected using a coupler that has male or female ends to "couple" with the other ends. These are the connections that used to be soldered but today can be made in alternative ways. Compression couplers use a small inner sleeve that fits around the pipe and is compressed by a tightening nut to seal the joint, usually with some joint compound to help.

An easier and more modern technique is to use a push-fit coupler. These connectors have inner teeth to grip the pipes together and O-rings to seal them. The connections are made with push-fit sliding outer connection rings that seal tightly yet are easy to loosen and remove if needed using quick-release disconnect tongs.

If your do-it-yourself project includes connecting pipes and bends or splits, there are push-fit elbows, T-joints and adapters with the same easy on/easy off solder-free leak-proof connections

Glues and adhesives

Another alternate for joining copper pipes or fixing leaks without soldering is a copper bonding glue or adhesive. These glues and epoxies are relatively easy to use and provide seals that are leak-proof for both hot and cold pipes and in harsh conditions.

Copper bonding adhesives require time to set, usually 20 minutes or more, so they may not be suitable for a quick fix. Because they come in small tubes, copper glues and epoxies can be costly for large projects and are better  suited for small repairs.

With the excellent easy-to-use, leak-free alternatives to soldering pipes available on the market today, it's a wonder that fathers and grandfathers still brag about lighting up a blowtorch and putting the fire department on alert. Do yourself and your neighbors a favor and lead them to the solder-free section of their favorite hardware store.

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