For the beginner handyman, plumbing is one of the few non-life-threatening do-it-yourself activities. The worst that can happen is that at the end of it you will either be all wet or covered with sewage — just another day at the office. So here are a few simple tips that can help you learn from the mistakes of others.
Water runs downhill, so before you start any project, put a high-volume pump at the lowest spot in your basement, and make sure it has a float switch so it turns on automatically. Run a large output hose from the pump through the nearest basement window and aim it at the neighbor’s house that is lower than yours. Now you’re ready to start plumbing.
Step One: Turn off the water. Step One: Make sure your wife has finished using the bathroom; then turn off the water.
Drain the system by turning on all the taps, flushing all the toilets, opening the drain on the water heater and drinking cocktails until the fridge icemaker is empty.
Most supply-side plumbing uses copper pipe, which can be soldered easily. If you have galvanized steel pipe in your house, you probably have lead deposits in your brain and should not be operating a propane torch.
Clean and lightly sand all pipe ends and fittings — and while you’re at it, give yourself a manicure.
Apply flux to the cleaned joints. (Caution: Flux is a difficult word to say and should be pronounced carefully when asking your wife where it is.)
Heat the joint with a propane torch until the solder melts and flows into it. If you’re soldering over your head, start by spraying your face with Pam. Keep adding solder until it flows evenly around the entire joint. Don’t use too much; there have been cases of excess solder pouring from the joint and fusing the plumber’s steel-toed boot to the bathtub drain. Don’t let that happen to you.
Allow the joint to cool. If you can place the palm of your hand on the joint without screaming, it’s cool enough. Before you turn the water back on, wrap the joint you fixed, and anything else that you touched, with duct tape. Professional plumbers know that duct tape only works on dry pipes.
Referring back to the concept of water flowing downhill, you’ll want to be standing much higher than the joint you fixed while you turn the water back on. This may require a complex series of belts, chains, pulleys and sprockets, particularly if you fixed the attic toilet and the main water valve is in the basement. Another option is to send your son down to turn the water on.
When you turn the water on, you may hear hissing or spraying sounds. That’s because you forgot to turn all the taps off after you drained the system. What an idiot.
I hope it all works out great, but if it doesn’t, you can always yell for more flux.
This article is used by permission of the author, excerpted from his book How to Do Everything, From the Man Who Should Know, Anchor Canada, a Division of Random House Canada Limited, 2010.