The Basic Plumbing Tool Set

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If you are starting from scratch with no tools at all, don’t despair. You probably need fewer tools for plumbing than for any other kind of do-it-yourself work. Carpentry; auto mechanics, and gardening all require considerably more tools than plumbing does. And plumbing tools are, on the average, less expensive.

The entire basic tool set we recommend for emergency and minor repairs can be bought for less than $300. Even if you select very high-quality wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers, you can probably get them all for around $175, Even if you are planning on doing only occasional emergency repairs, we recommend that you buy good tools. Get the best you can afford; or even better, get tools that cost a little more than you think you can afford. It will really pay off in the long run, both in the cost of replacement tools and in the frustration that broken tools and skinned knuckles can bring.

The only tools and materials you really need to have on hand are those needed for emergency or minor re pairs that crop up from time to time. The tools for additions or modifications can be selected and purchased or rented when you decide to do the job. Many plumbing tools—like screwdrivers, hammers, and pliers—are used for so many other things around the house that you should have them in your tool box anyway

Emergencies do happen, and even if you don’t think you are capable of doing anything yourself, we’ll guarantee the tools will come in handy eventually. A guest or neighbor can often do wonders to prevent extensive damage if the proper tools are handy when an emergency occurs.

Here is the basic tool set that we recommend to every homeowner, whether or not he or she plans to do plumbing repairs.

  • Plunger. This tool is also called a plumber’s helper, plumber’s friend, or force cup. When it's worked up and down in the drain of a sink or toilet, the alternate pressure and suction can often dislodge clogs. There are two types. One has a funnel-shaped extension on the bottom, and the other is plain. It is desirable to have both types, but if you must make a choice, buy the one with a funnel- shaped extension. It works much better in toilets than the one without the extension. The extension can be retracted up into the cup if it isn't needed or gets in the way.
  • Drain and trap auger. Also called a snake, this tool is used to dislodge clogs in traps and drains, The most common size is about 10 to 12 feet long and made of ¼-inch, tightly twisted steel wire with a corkscrew-like head called a gimlet. This type is very useful for clogs in sink traps and branch drain lines. A longer snake, 25 feet long with a 1/2-inch diameter cable, is useful for large clogs in main drains. You can usually rent a larger snake, with an electric motor or hand-crank and gears, at a plumbing sup ply or tool rental establishment.
  • Closet auger. This 4- to 5-foot auger with a curved, tubular handle is similar to a snake and works the same way. However, it's specially designed to unclog toilets without damaging the surface of the bowl. If you insert the curved end of the handle into the drain hole of the toilet before feeding the auger into the drain, the auger never rubs on the visible vitreous china surface.
  • Pipe wrenches. Older plumbers may call these Stillson wrenches. They are tooth-jawed, adjustable wrenches designed to grip pipe. You will need two of them: one 12 to 14 inches long and another 18 inches long. If you are working on ½-inch or ¾-inch pipe, hold the pipe with the larger one and do the turning with the smaller one. Do it the opposite way on 1- or 1½-inch pipe. That way you’ll make the connections snug without the probability of tightening them too much and damaging the threads. If you use these wrenches on chrome-plated or brass pipes that are exposed, protect the finish with tape or rags.
  • Smooth-Jaw adjustable wrenches. By this we mean monkey or crescent wrenches to use on nuts, bolts, and square or hexagonal fittings. For most plumbing purposes, you’ll need wrenches at least 10 to 12 inches long. The jaws of smaller ones won’t open far enough to hold pipe fittings.
  • Screwdrivers. You’ll need two or three sizes of both slot and phillips screwdrivers.
  • Pliers. We recommend a regular pair of slip-jaw pliers and a larger pair of pump or channel-lock pliers.
  • Flashlight. A lot of plumbing is done in the deepest, darkest recesses of your house, and emergencies tend to happen at night. Always have a flashlight and extra batteries handy. You won’t be sorry.
  • Trouble light. This is a light bulb, protected by a wire cage, on the end of a long extension cord. It has a hook so you can hang it near where you are working. It is much better than a flashlight when you are working for an extended period in a dark place.
  • Valve seat tool. Although we really can’t call this a “basic” tool, if you live in an older house with lots of compression faucets, one of these will come in handy fairly often. It is used to smooth and repair worn or damaged valve seats on faucets. There are several types available, as shown in the drawings. We recommend the one with the reversible double cone guide as being the easiest to use, as well as the least likely to gouge the seat or leave burrs. The size of the seat varies with different faucets. You should probably have 3 or 4 different-sized cutters to be sure you have the proper one when the time comes.
  • Valve seat wrench. As long as you have a seat grinding tool, you might as well have a seat wrench, too. This is an inexpensive piece of bent metal with a hexagonal tool on one end and a square tool on the other. It is used to remove arid replace valve seats that are beyond resurfacing.
  • Wire brush. A wire brush is useful to clean old pipe threads so you can use them again. It is good to have around for the clean-up part of other plumbing repairs and many other odd jobs around the house.
  • Measuring tape. Another tool that's indispensable when doing plumbing repairs and installations and very useful for many other household jobs is a self-retracting steel tape measure like carpenters use. Get one at least 12 feet long. A 25-foot one is even better.

ill.6 Plumbing Tools: Valve seat tools, Valve seat wrench, Pipe wrenches, Crescent wrench, Monkey wrench, Screwdrivers, Pump pliers, Measuring tape

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Plumbing Codes and Permits

The plumbing system in your house probably con forms to the building code in effect today. When you need to make emergency repairs you do not need a permit. As long as your repairs restore the plumbing to its original condition or better, you have no problem.

All states counties and municipalities have adopted building codes to protect the health and safety of their residents. The codes also prevent unscrupulous builders and contractors from using interior methods and materials in constructing remodeling and repairing your house. The details of codes vary from place to place. Materials, design, and methods of construction may vary due to local geography, experience, or tradition. Some localities are slow to adopt new materials or methods into their codes. Some places, for example, still do not allow plastic pipe to be used for water supply lines.

Building codes are usually administered and en forced by the building inspector of the state, county, or city in which you live Even if no one can see what you are doing to the plumbing in your own basement you must abide by all the rules and regulations of the code just like the contractor who is building a new house. You are subject to all the same restrictions— and penalties—as the contractor if you don’t get a permit when one is required or if your work isn't up to the code.

It’s not difficult to comply with the codes. It’s just a matter of planning ahead and using the right materials and tools for the job. Whether or not your plumbing works the way it’s supposed to and meets the code depends not so much on who does it and how many degrees or licenses he or she has, but on how the work is done.

This guide should not be used as if it were a plumbing code. Even though the way we show things might vary only in minor ways from some codes, you should refer to your local code before making any changes or additions to your plumbing. The descriptions and drawings here should give you the basic knowledge necessary to understand and abide by the local code.

Permits are usually required whenever you make any changes or additions to your plumbing system Repair or replacement of fixtures or appliances within the existing system if it does not alter the system in any way does not generally require a permit If you are in doubt ask at your local building inspectors office Whether or not a permit is required building inspectors and their staffs are usually very cooperative and helpful.

Friday, December 9, 2011 9:24 PST