Basic copper pipe plumbing looks easy

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by bobbobwhite, Jan 23, 2008.

  1. bobbobwhite

    bobbobwhite New Member

    Messages:
    30
    Location:
    California
    and looks like one could learn to cut and solder pipe in no time. Is the basic soldering as easy as it looks....cut to length, sand/smooth cut end, try fit, flux, heat, solder, test. Is that it? Or is there more to it than meets the eye? I know carpentry, masonry, elec. and sheet metal but never took plumbing farther than PVC pipe for irrigation. Plumbers here go fom $75 to $100/hr and I am now retired so would like to save some green by doing the simple stuff myself. I need to install a new water pressure reducer and shutoff valve on the supply line. Looks easy, but..................

    Are there classes at HD or Lowes, etc. that teach this or should I just pay a plumber for an hour or two to do the job and learn it from him? Or is it easy enough so that I could just self learn by trial and error following the above steps? Thanks so much for a serious and savvy answer.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2008
  2. frenchie

    frenchie Jack of all trades

  3. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,450
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Its not real hard stuff but the real talent comes in knowing all the tricks of the trade. For instance you cut the main water supply into your home at 5 P.M. Saturday to install the PRV and discover the main shut off valve is not completely stopping the water. There is a constant dribble coming out of the pipe. The problem is water boils at 212 degrees F and solder melts at 395 degrees F. As long as there is water present you cannot get the pipe hot enough to sweat the copper together. Now the wife is screaming that she needs water to cook dinner, The plumber will come first call Monday or, charge 1 arm and both legs to come out... Whatcha Gonna Do?

    I know what to do... Do You?
    Thats why I make the bucks! My training and experience has taught me what I need to do to cover all phases of the job!
  4. frenchie

    frenchie Jack of all trades

    Redwood - two of the linked threads, are on that exact topic.

    It's a DIY advice forum, not a "pro's do it better" forum. We're supposedly here to give advise, not toot our own horns.

    (...and the 1st rule is you don't cut off your supply at 5pm, when everything's closed!)
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2008
  5. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,450
    Location:
    Connecticut
    I'm not tooting a horn Frenchie! The poster was referring to the money plumbers make and the work being reatively straight forward. It is the same in all the trades whether plumber, carpenter, electrician, or, car mechanic. None of this stuff is going to land a guy on Mars. Its all in knowing the tricks of the trade that allow you to finish the job and have it work right. Anyone can do this it just takes the time to learn how to do it right and do what it takes to get out of that 5 P.M. Saturday jam. The key for the DIYer is knowing his/her limitations and not turning a small job into a big one!
  6. Nate R

    Nate R New Member

    Messages:
    472
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    Does solder really melt at that low a temp? I would've thought it was higher. Not based on anything, just what I would've thought.


    I had no problem doing my first basic copper plumbing job. But I don't know the tricks or everything about it by any means. It's not hard, but there's a reason plumbers make what they do.
  7. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,450
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Yes, Lead Free Solder melts in the 375-425 Degree F Range. The different manufacturers and metal composition accounts for the variations in temp. Its the ballpart though.
  8. Ian Gills

    Ian Gills Senior Robin Hood Guy

    Messages:
    2,777
    Location:
    USA
    Unfortunately the two jobs you propose to do are some of the few I would get a pro in to do. So that is a shame.

    I work on anything as long as long as I can cut off the supply reliably before it (and I do not view a curb stop as something reliable).

    Access is the only other thing that scares me. Pros are better in tight/flammable places, and the're better at heating one joint without melting another too.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2008
  9. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,358
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Basic soldering is not really difficult. Of course there are potential problems such as water in the line. A couple of other things that can be troublesome include tight quarters to use a torch and heavy fittings. The heavy fittings will be encountered on your PRV. These require much more heating than just "normal" copper fittings. The basic rules of soldering are clean the pipe and the fitting with a brush or sandpaper just before soldering, use a good flux on pipe ends and fittings, heat the fitting,not the pipe, and allow the heated fitting to melt the solder rather that applying the torch to the solder. Then, do not allow the newly soldered joint to move until the solder has cooled. Wipe the joint with a damp rag while it is still quite warm to remove excess flux. If a joint leaks, it must be disassembled and the entire cleaning and fluxing process must be repeated.

    If you are installing a PRV, are you aware that you also need an expansion tank?
  10. Herk

    Herk Plumber

    Messages:
    547
    Location:
    S.E. Idaho
    I'm a bit amazed and amused that anyone would say soldering isn't difficult. I've yet to see an HO job that looks good or doesn't have problems. I've known plumbers who had been at it for 50 years and still couldn't solder without leaks. I've seen hacks from water softener companies who did it every day and produced work that could have been done better by chimps.

    Once, when I was much, much younger, I showed someone how to solder so that they could do the work themselves. I went back later for something else and couldn't believe the idiotic way he had run the pipes.

    Not only is it a matter of understanding the principles of soldering, it also has to do with the skill of laying out the job and knowing code and pipe sizing. It's knowing things like how to support and place a tub or shower valve. It's having some idea about standard rough-in measurements and when they shouldn't apply.

    Can you manage it? Sure. Should you? You be the judge.
  11. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,358
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    This man didn't state or imply he was doing a full plumbing layout and installation. He wants to install a new PRV and valve.
  12. Herk

    Herk Plumber

    Messages:
    547
    Location:
    S.E. Idaho
    So, in addition to the normal pitfalls of plumbing, he also has higher-than-normal pressure to deal with. Meanwhile, all the other HO's who are reading this thread are getting the impression that they could plumb their entire house in copper since everyone is touting how easy it is.
  13. fidodie

    fidodie New Member

    Messages:
    94
    Location:
    new jersey
    if you think copper is easy, try pulling 2 - 50' runs of pex from a basement supply, up an open 1st floor wall, through a joist bay, up a recently framed interior wall to a washing machine valve - crimp the top, and hook it into the basement manifold. Took about as long as it took to type that!

    I felt like i was cheating the first time i used pex. (yes, i protected against chafe and watched my bend radii)

    even easier if the house is balloon framed!

    I agree it is knowing the tricks, AND where to ask ;)

    Please make sure you pressure check your supply side work! be careful at all times (you can burn down the house with a torch, get purple primer in your eye and there is no cure, and 60PSI of air pressure can send a test plug through plywood - there are 100s of gotchas) you need to check the drain too, but mostly you just get wet doing that.

    the inspector in our town is a great source of 'what to do' (and what not to, and when to get a pro), this forum is a great source of 'how to do it' -

    here is mixing good with bad....i had one of those leak problems where a valve wouldn't close. I wadded up some bread, and shoved it in the pipe, finished my work, and opened the valve...great, i heard it push through. well it was the kitchen faucet, and not anticipating i opened it, but hadn't taken off the aerator - took me another hour to get all the bread out of the screen......

    if you think it could be a career, best of luck! it is a trade that will never go out of style. kinda wish i went that way myself. My pro has a really cool truck :)

    pat
  14. Rancher

    Rancher Guest

    So since we're on the topic of home owner soldering...

    I always use tinning flux, sometimes tinning the fitting before slipping them together, never leaks.

    But I see most of the pro's here use sandpaper to clean the connection first, what about those battery post type cleaners made for copper pipe, is there a reason you don't use that tool?

    Rancher
  15. frenchie

    frenchie Jack of all trades

    You mean the brushes? Cross-contamination. If it gets dirt or grease or whatever on it from one pipe, or from something in your toolbox, or whatever... you'll be dirtying every other pipe you do with it.

    Emery cloth, you just tear a fresh piece off the roll.
  16. guycol

    guycol New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Plumber's rates

    Redwood.
    Just to let you know my brother's an engineer after 6 years of workshop training and degree. Plumbers have no where near that education.
    There is no way my brother can demand $100 per hour for the responsibilities he has to undertake.
    He's lucky to get 35 bucks per hour and taxed fully on that (no cash in hand)
    that's why so many are turning to D.I.Y jobs.
    No disrespect intended to the plumbing trade but realism is setting the pace and the high charges are part cause of our poor economy.
    Too many individual operators with little overhead trying to get rich quick greedy ideas.
    This site is unsurpassed in the help of the individuals thanks to Terry Love.
    All those who contribute to this blog are a credit to those retired, on less income and both student engineers and plumbers.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2008
  17. TMB9862

    TMB9862 New Member

    Messages:
    206
    It annoys me when people complain about $125/hr and start going off about price gouging and how Hank the handyman will do it for $15/hr. You have to buy a truck, tools, stock, insurance, pay employees, taxes, etc. Of that $125/hr the plumber in a one or two man operation is probably taking home $50, maybe $60 then paying income tax on it.
    Yes, we have a very high cost of living here and salaries tend to be higher than many other areas of the country.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2008
  18. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,126
    Location:
    New England
    The engineer, if doing consulting work where he had to provide his own retirement, health, and taxes would likely be making much more than that $125/hour - probably at least twice that. I know where I work, that's the way it works and I doubt we're much different than others in the field.
  19. frenchie

    frenchie Jack of all trades


    An engineer making 35$ an hour?

    You're kidding me, right?

    My engineers charge $150...


    Is he working for somebody else? Because, FYI, the plumber who charges you 100$/hr, as a business, is only making about $40, as an individual: the rest is overhead. It isn't greed that leads to high charges, it's operating costs.

    BTW, Plumbers have to serve a ten-year apprenticeship here, before they can write the exam.
  20. Herk

    Herk Plumber

    Messages:
    547
    Location:
    S.E. Idaho
    This is exactly why plumbers have to resort to "get rich quick greedy ideas."

    How you quantify what a plumber charges with what your engineer brother makes is the problem because they are completely unrelated. An engineer working for a company needs an office, health insurance, FICA, retirement benefits, and some sort of infrastructure to work in. He does not own many thousands of dollars' worth of breakable tools, does not carry liability insurance for damage to others' property, does not wear out trucks quickly nor pay huge sums every month for truck fuel. Somebody has to pay his expenses, and that somebody who pays him $35 per hour has to figure at least three times that to keep him working.

    In a one-man shop, the service plumber works on books, running the business, answers the phone, schedules the work, and CANNOT actually collect for an average of more than three billable hours in a given working day. He may work five hours in one day, then spend the next day collecting for the work he did.

    Many of those greedy bastiches are earning no more than five or ten thousand dollars a year while wrecking their bodies and exposing themselves to hazardous chemicals, asbestos, chlorine gas, acids, lifting weights they shouldn't try to lift alone, and finding that after fifty years of plumbing they have nothing to show for it but debt.

    Kudos to the plumbers who have managed to stay above that and charge what they're worth, irrespective of what the consumer is willing to part with because he's got a Hummer and a Jaguar in the driveway and thought that plumbing lasts forever and didn't budget for it.

    Anybody can build an outhouse; not everybody can be a plumber.

    I would guess that of the average percentage of the hourly rate charged by plumbers less than 1/5 is personal income. Now, compare that with your engineer brother. Figure that hourly rate by three billable hours. In a larger shop, there are usually at least two other people for each technician who goes out in the van. They need paychecks, too.
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