Fittings are integral to the successful operation of any water supply pipe network and ensuring the most appropriate fitting is installed ensures reliable, leak-free joints will be maintained. However, while careful consideration is given to the fittings used in new installations, the products utilised in repair and replacement projects are often not given the same consideration.
Repairs in small diameter water pipes, used between the meter and the property, are commonplace, with many different causes of damage resulting in repairs being needed. Construction work is one of the biggest causes of pipe damage, as is more difficult to detect smaller diameter pipe when new construction work is being undertaken. Any new building project, which requires digging into the ground, will utilise specialist monitoring equipment to ensure no large bore water mains pipes are disturbed. However, this cannot identify pipes below 63mm diameter, increasing the chance of hitting a small diameter pipe.
It is also possible for pipes to sustain damage almost immediately after installation, with stones, that can be present in backfill material, having the potential to damage pipe, while growing tree roots can push against pipe causing it to break. Extreme weather conditions can also cause damage, with freezing conditions likely to cause bursts, while drought can cause ground movement, which will have a greater effect on surface pipes, compared to the large bore pipes that have greater protection.
If the damage is caused on the customer’s side of the meter then it will be the task of a plumber to repair the pipe, but Philmac is warning that there cannot be a ‘one solution fits all’ approach. The most appropriate repair solution will depend on the type of damage, the pipe material and age of the system, with each repair needing to be considered on an individual basis.
With lots of ‘quick fix’ solutions promoted for repairing damaged pipe, such as external tape wrap, it is important to acknowledge that many of these will be short-term fixes. While they may initially be a cost effective and quick resolution, they could result in further costs in the long term as the pipe begins to leak again.
If the pipe has sustained limited damage and suffered a split, a specialist repair kit including a metal clamp that goes around the split would be effective and relative quick to fit, with minimal disruption to the customer. However, this would not be suitable if the section of damaged pipe needed removing and two ends of pipe joining together.
For severely damaged pipe that cannot be repaired, the damaged section would need cutting away, and the two exposed ends of pipe joining together, which is when a compression fitting would be the ideal solution, to provide a reliable and robust repair that should last the life of the pipe system.
With both metal and plastic options available, it needs to be noted that while metal versions are more compact, so can be easy to fit in confined spaces, they will corrode over time, affecting the performance of the fitting. In comparison, Polyethylene (PE) compression fittings are corrosion resistant, ensuring the performance of the fitting will remain throughout its lifetime, while the quick and simple installation process offers valuable time savings on-site.
However, while this a straightforward process with standard PE surface water pipe, which is typically used within new installations to connect water from the mains utility distribution pipe to the internal water supply pipe, problems can occur when older pipe is damaged. If aging water supply pipe, which can often be in lead or copper materials, becomes damaged, there is a common misconception that it will need to be replaced with new PE pipe in order to be able to repair the pipe.
Most manufacturers offer a compression fitting that can connect PE to another pipe material, which will require a section of the aging network to be replaced in PE pipe. However, if the pipe system is still performing to expectation, it would be quicker and more cost effective to simply repair the section of damaged pipe. This is possible with a fitting that connect dissimilar pipe materials, such as the Philmac UTC, which has the ability to connect virtually any combination of pipe material including PE, PVC, copper, stainless steel, ABS, galvanised iron and lead.
While damage to a surface water pipe may seem like a simple problem to fix with an ‘off the shelf’ repair solution, it is important that more consideration is given to the specific application, pipe material and future needs of the system. Every leak cannot be treated in the same way and it is important that a reliable and robust solution is put in place that will remain effective over the lifetime of the pipe system.