Copper Press Fittings: The Modern Remedy for Age-Old Plumbing Problems
For most people, one of the least understood aspects of designing modern, habitable spaces is plumbing. Discretely concealed inside the walls and crawl spaces of homes and offices, and buried in yards and under sidewalks; plumbing systems are responsible for safely placing at our disposal the single most essential source of human health and well-being: clean, drinkable water.
And make no mistake: as residents of the driest continent on the planet, just how effectively these blue water delivery systems are installed and maintained – together with their grey and black water counterparts – is more important today than it’s ever been.
It’s no coincidence therefore that for the better part of the last century, copper pipes have been the mainstay of residential, commercial and industrial plumbing systems. Known for their durability and flexibility, as well their resistance to corrosion and temperature extremes, copper pipes continue to be used to transport both potable and sewage water. Properly inspected and maintained copper systems are, in fact, reasonably expected to last between 50-100 years.
Despite being far more durable than any other plumbing material, copper plumbing still has its weaknesses. Turbulence from water velocity and highly acidic water can take its toll on even the best-engineered systems; and it’s no surprise that when problems do occur, the root cause is most commonly traceable to the weakest part of every copper system. Inadequately soldered, or failing pipe fittings. The solution to this problem lies in copper press fittings.
The Pipefitting Pitfalls of Solder
Traditionally, plumbers and other craftsmen have depended on soldering or brazing to connect copper pipes. And although it may sound simple, it’s a process that resides somewhere between tradecraft and art form that’ll work well for decades … except for when it simply stops working well enough. There have always been 2 inherent downsides to soldering copper pipe:
Soldering Flux is Highly Acidic
Flux, applied to the ends of pipes to act as a chemical flowing agent for molten solder is highly acidic. It’s a necessary component for connecting copper pipes, but applying too much (or over-applying it) will not only lead to eventual pitting and pinhole leaks, but can potentially compromise the quality of potable water. Inversely, applying too little flux will result in a weakly soldered joint that’ll be prone to partial or complete from the very beginning.
Heat Creates Its Own Problems
Soldering requires using a torched flame that’s hot enough to melt solder, but not hot enough to burn away the flux. Knowing how to gauge the precise temperature for working solder isn’t a skill that’s mastered easily or quickly; and burning away the flux prevents solder from flowing completely into the joint between the pipes, resulting again in a weak and easily compromised joint.
The reality is that although soldered connections may seem wholly effective, nothing could be further from the truth; and because pipe fittings tend to be enclosed behind walls or obscured by insulation, even a single, undetectable pinhole leak in an otherwise well-constructed plumbing system can potentially – and slowly – release thousands of litres of water from one continuously pressurized pipe.
If you’re a homeowner and this happens (…and you’re lucky), you may hear water dripping behind a wall or notice your water bill’s taken an unexpected turn toward the costlier side. If, however, it takes longer to detect the leak – significantly longer – you may find yourself having to remove entire walls to repair extensive water damage along with professional mould removal; or worse, in need of catastrophic foundation repair.
This is where copper press fittings come to the forefront.
The Pinnacle of Pipe Fittings
Just like their name implies, press fittings are slid over sections of slightly chamfered pipe, and then press-fitted into position. Suitable for use with almost any portable or hot water system and free from the uncertainties of solder, these fittings use recessed O-rings that are permanently crimped in place using portable, widely available jawed pressing tools to ensure a perfect seal.
The result is that any combination of copper press bends, tees, couplings and valves can be used to repair or install pipes ranging from ½“ to 4” in seconds, as opposed to incalculable minutes with soldering.
For tradesmen and general contractors who’re in the business of designing and installing new plumbing systems, as well as homeowners looking to renovate their household plumbing, the advantages of these types of fittings couldn’t be clearer.
Time and Cost Savings
Press fit copper fittings don’t demand the specialized skill that’s required for soldered fittings, and can be installed in only a fraction of the time. Wherever the pressing tool can reach, a perfect, leak-proof joint can be sealed. For professional installers, the savings in time, effort and materials such as solder, flux and propane make press fittings an undeniable benefit.
Solid, Consistent Seals. Every Time
The press fitted O-rings provide a seal that’s free from blow-through, yet isn’t brittle. As pipes can (and sometimes do) get jostled, an improperly soldered joint can easily develop the kind of hairline fracture that’ll lead to a much bigger problem. Not only isn’t this a concern with pressed fittings, but the auto-cycling pressing tools used with press fittings ensure that the pressure on all seals are as consistent as they are reliable.
No Headaches Over Heat
Without the need for a torch to melt solder, no heat permits are required for working with open flames, nor are there any risks of releasing dangerous solder fumes. Eliminating heat from the equation is also a welcomed advantage when there’s a need to repair pipes that are still wet or in continuous service. Not only does water dissipate the heat the solder needs to melt properly, but the possibility of creating steam within the pipe itself could result in further joint failures elsewhere in the system.
Pressed Fittings for All Occasions
Fortunately, because so many types of pipes have been used in plumbing systems around the country, the range of mating options with copper pipe press fittings, adaptors and couplings are no less diverse.
This is especially important when considering large residential and commercial systems where any number of different sizes and standards of pipes may have been previously used in hasty installs and repairs. The speed and reliability at which a copper pipe press connection can be made not only aides the installer, but in cases where shutting down an entire plumbing system to make a repair simply isn’t preferable, that option can now be taken off the table.
Regardless of whether press fit copper pipe fittings are needed to make major repairs to an existing run of PEX pipes in a residential complex, or a homeowner just wants to install a press fit ball valve in line with their water heater, there’s a fitting suitable for every occasion.
In short, copper press fittings are the go-to connectors that yield professional, leak-proof results, every time.
Although press fittings and pressing tools may cost a little extra, the benefits are immediately recognizable. For professionals, jobs they would have otherwise passed over for fear of the amount of time that could be lost, can now be taken on with ease. And DIY’ers can confidently tackle projects at home that they would have been apprehensive to approach because of their uncertainly about soldering and potential fire hazards.
The choice is simple. When it comes to the longevity of any plumbing system, press fittings go a long way to helping them proudly reach that 100-year mark.