Many of us chose to take on minor problems with the running of our homes ourselves, getting the toolkit out and consulting some DIY manuals or taking to the internet. Where the issues we encounter don’t require the assistance of professionals, there is money to be saved and a sense of achievement to be gained by tackling it personally.
However, without fully understanding the potential dangers of the work we are proposing, or the varying nature of the equipment we’re using, our DIY adventure could quickly become a disaster.
Making alterations or repairs to pipework is no exception, and some of the most common mistakes made when unblocking a drain or replacing a damaged u-bend relate to a lack of knowledge of the different types of material that can make up the pipes in our home.
Depending on when your property was built or when your plumbing was installed, your home’s drainage system could contain pipework made from a few different materials.
Here are a few of the standard ones, and some things to consider when working with them…
Plastic became the modern pipe material of choice in the mid-1970s due to the introduction of stronger, more robust yet relatively inexpensive types, such as ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride).
Plastic pipes offer more flexibility when it comes to altering size and length, as they can be cut using a hacksaw, and the compound materials that make up ABS, PVC and CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) make them resistant to any risk of chemical corrosion.
No welding is required, as the joints can simply be glued together using PVC joint glue, and plastic piping is less vulnerable to heavy blockages as the interior of the pipes are smooth and non-porous.
Before the introduction of durable plastics, exterior drain pipework was largely cast iron. Undeniably robust in its makeup, cast iron is nonetheless susceptible to rust, and it might make sense to replace any affected areas with PVC or ABS piping.
Due to their relative unwieldiness, cast iron pipes are now largely reserved for big municipal drains where they must be adequately lined to avoid corrosion. Relining must then be a regular method of maintenance.
Note: Removing a damaged or rusted cast iron pipe requires the use of specialised pipe cutters, and this should be performed by a professional at all times.
Another slightly outdated pipe material, copper was used widely in the past due to its combination of resilience and rust resistance, but has since fallen out of fashion because of its comparative costliness.
Copper piping also has the unfortunate habit of bursting if it freezes – something that doesn’t affect iron or plastic versions – meaning it has to be well insulated if used in cold climates.
However, with a long and proven track record, copper still represents a workable material for pipework, and possibly the safest too – it has far greater resistance to fire and can withstand greater pressure than plastic or cast iron pipes.