Plumbing done! (We think.)

Made only a small amount of progress on the bathroom project last weekend. It’s hard to do any time-consuming jobs on the weekends when we have all the kids here. They all get a bit cranky if they don’t have enough attention from us, so we end up doing smaller jobs that we can accomplish between making meals and washing dishes and hanging out with them.

family walkign on the beach at glenn otto park

We took Ella and Will to a favorite river spot on Sunday. Winter storms have thrown a bunch of tree debris on the banks. This outing ate up most of our afternoon (after we'd spent the morning on family chore time), so we weren't able to do much project work at all that day.

In spite of that, I decided that it was the weekend for me to tackle the plumbing. I’m thinking this is a small job for a seasoned veteran, but for me it was a big deal. I had about 15 or so solder joints to make, and I have had very little practice.

I cut out all the pipes and dry fit everything on Friday night. That was fairly easy. A couple of 45 degree and 90 degree elbows and some short pieces and I had everything connecting up the way it should.

Here's the hot water side with everthing cut and dry fit. No solder yet.

Cold side. 3 elbows and a few short pieces of pipe bridged the gap just fine.

I had already done about 4 or 5 solder joints earlier in the project so I was feeling OK about doing this job. All of the joints I did held up well. My original idea was to do most of the soldering in the garage and then bring the finished pieces up to the bathroom to do the final connecting joints in the wall.

Instead, I decided to just bite the bullet and do them all in the wall like a real plumber. I’m glad I did it this way because I found as I was putting everything together that I had to be careful about what joints I did first. If I did them in the wrong order I wouldn’t be able to wiggle things together to get the last joints done. It took a bit of pondering and wiggling of pipes as I soldered joints to figure it out but I did manage to find the correct order.

Playing with fire. I did put a piece of cement board behind the copper pipes in the hopes of minimizing the wall scorching. Don't pay any attention to the burn marks on the wood. :)


Hot water side in progress. If there are any real plumbers looking at this I apologize in advanced for the horror that are my solder joints.


Here's a picture Rita took of me in the working position.

It took me an hour and a half or so to get all the joints soldered. It wasn’t too bad. The joints looked like hell but I really gooped on the solder in the hopes that there wouldn’t be any leaks. Here’s a finished picture of my handiwork.

All done. It ain't pretty, but it's functional.

Time for testing

I posted Rita in the bathroom. Ella stood by the front door. I was in the front yard at the meter with the wrench. The plan was that if things were sploding water everywhere Rita would yell to Ella who would yell to me to shut it down.

I turned on the water. No yelling.  Fantastic. I headed back into the house.

But, when I got to the bathroom, I heard:

“Um, there’s a little water coming out here.”

Craptastic. There was a leak. 

In terms of the project, there’s really no difference between a water splosion and a little dribble.  I had to fix it.

I hadn’t planned on a leak and had no idea how to fix one. Yeah, I should have researched that ahead of time. I’m sort of glad I didn’t though, because if I had I may not have had the balls to do the job.

Getting my fix

The leak was on the hot water side right where the pipe fit into the brass valve. This sucked because I’d have to replace the valve if I couldn’t fix the leak. If it was anywhere else I could just cut the pipe and solder up a new piece.

Much of the advice I saw online was to just start over. Once you run water through a bad joint it can’t ever be fixed. A mild panic set in. I read more advice online. Nobody had any real good suggestions except that I should start over. With this in mind I went up to the bathroom and banged at the leaky joint a bit in the hopes that it might come loose. I was very lucky. It popped right out.

I used sandpaper to clean up the edge really well. I slathered it in flux and fit it back into the fitting. With the torch in hand I warmed up the pipe a few inches away from where I need to make the solder joint in the hopes that I could evaporate all the water in the pipe. Apparently water in the pipe while you are trying to solder is bad news.

Taking my time I warmed up the pipe and then moved to the fitting. My research showed me that I needed to make the pipe melt the solder and not the flame. That way the solder gets drawn into the joint. I held the flame on one side and the solder on the other. Finally it melted and ran completely around the joint filling the gap. Felt dang good.

Second test went well. All dry. Hooked up the shower handle and tub spout and gave it a few tests. Everything worked just fine. I hoped that my other joints were solid enough that I wouldn’t have any further problems.

A few burn spots on the wall but everything is working fine.

But then…

Came home from school on Tuesday and found the wall wet on the right hand side. There was one solder joint on that side that I was worried about. It didn’t look that good. Turns out I was right. Thankfully the leak was small and didn’t cause any damage. Here’s a photo showing where the leak was.

The leak was on the right side right where the copper enters the valve.

I didn’t relish the thought of doing all the joints over again. I probably could have done them just fine. I didn’t like having the torch that close to the wall stud. I think I caught it on fire at one point. :) It would have meant doing another 10 solder joints or so.

I headed over to the Depot and looked at some alternatives. The best choice seemed to be Pex pipe and the slip on hardware. No tools needed and no fire. Simply a matter of cutting the plastic pipe and shoving everything together. They even have fittings that go from copper to pex. I was sold on that. Cost about 25 bucks for the materials. Doing the copper over would have been about 8 bucks. Well worth the extra money though. Took me about 10 minutes from start to finish. The joint is tight and leak proof.

Here are all the parts I needed to make the repair. The fittings are easy. Just insert pipe and it snaps in.
Here is the finished Pex connection. Not as pretty as copper but way easier.

Now I’m thinking about whether I need to remove the work I did on the other side and replace with Pex. The solder joints look good, but I don’t have the ability to pressure test like a plumber would. I’ll have to think about that one. I have a bit of time as we probably won’t get to buttoning up that wall for a week or so.

What I learned

  • Soldering takes patience.
  • Clean the pieces well.
  • Apply generous amounts of flux.
  • Don’t melt the solder with the torch.
  • Let the heat of the copper melt the solder.

I learned that fixing a mistake usually means just starting over. To be honest, if I had to do it all over again I probably would use pex instead of copper. Pex is flexible plastic pipe. No soldering. Everything snaps together. It would have been way easier to run pex than copper pipe. The only solder joint I would have had to do was the tub spout because pex is not recommended in that application.

Working unit! Have had a nice deep soak.

Next up:

We’re keeping an eye on the left side and thinking about whether or not I should replace the pipe.  In the meantime, we’ll be figuring out the dimensions for the inset shelf we want to build and closing up this wall.

But before we can do that, we really need to tackle our garage organization.

messy garage workbench

This work space just isn’t working for us any more.  We’re tired of wasting time looking for tools and materials we can’t find, or moving crap from one place to another (usually in the search for things we can’t find).  So, the big project this weekend is the garage. As we wrote about here, it’s come a long way since we first moved in, but it’s time to make the final push to get it really done.  We’ve got a couple of kid-free days, so we’ll have plenty of time to dive in.

As always, we’ll keep you posted about how it goes.

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Want to catch up on the remodel project?

Why we startedSee, we had this little mildew in the shower…

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More balls than brainsAs they’d say at Nike, sometimes you gotta just do it.

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12 steps to progressSome principles that are helping us get through this challenge

A little tile, a little lighting, a little plumbing: A little progress on a lot of things