Darxus

I did plumbing with fire

I did plumbing with fire

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2009-09-29
You really can't solder a pipe that has water in it.

I've had a weird flood problem in one room of my house for a while. It came and went, and didn't seem to correlate to anything.

It was clear that in preparation for selling, the previous owners of my house had cut off and sheetrocked over plumbing for an illegal in-laws apartment.

So I had knocked down the wall where the sink was to see if the water came from there. Nope.

I knocked down some more wall, because I noticed the water seemed to be coming from that particular corner, and found cut and capped plumbing for a second sink. Which was slowly leaking. This makes more sense when you know that before it was an illegal apartment, it was an illegal hair salon. Legally, horse riding was taught here, and goats were raised here.

I shut the water off overnight, and left a couple spigots open. I put a hole in the bottom of the pipe cap to help it drain.

Excited to try plumbing with fire for the first time, and having watched all the youtube videos, I went off to home depot and picked up the necessary tools for about $20.

Propane blowtorch couldn't get the leaking cap off no matter how long I cooked it. I'm not sure if it was attached with something other than solder, or if water in the pipe was the problem. The pipe joints in that area had stuff that looked white, not silvery. And there was this "fix-it putty" at Home Depot that I'm suspicious of.

Oh, there were lots of signs this exact problem had happened in this house before. Like the plastic grocery bag sheetrocked in the wall behind this pipe. And how short the pipe was cut. And of course how badly it was attached.

Since I couldn't get the cap to come loose, I got a mini pipe cutter to cut it. There was no way to get the mini pipe cutter around that pipe. Anywhere. The pipe was short, and the pipe right after the junction was not only right up against another pipe, but heavily soldered to it, and I couldn't separate them. Crap work.

Eventually I dremeled the cap off.

And tried in vain to solder a new one on.

I opened all the spigots, and the thing kept dripping. And I don't think the shut-off valves - two in line, were leaking. And I couldn't boil off enough water in the pipe quick enough. Once I managed to get the new cap to shoot off at me.

When I caught the plastic insulation barrier on fire I happened to not be wearing gloves. Ended up putting it out with my fingers. Only a small blister. Skin is good stuff.

I had read of the bread trick, but it didn't seem to suit the mess I was dealing with well (cram bred in the pipe to stop the water).

I tried getting some thin plastic tubing down the pipe to drain it, but it wouldn't go. (Short horizontal pipe -> junction -> long horizontal pipe.)

I ended up loosening the connection to the toilet, possibly the only non-soldered joint in the house lower than this one. Got it to drip. That was enough to make the damn pipe I was working on stop dripping. Then everything else was easy.

Boiled off the water in the end of the pipe.
Scrubbed inside of pipe cap and outside of pipe with plumbers cloth (sandpaper).
Applied flux to cap and pipe.
Put cap on pipe.
Heated until solder would melt on pipe.
Smooshed solder in all around joint.
Waited for it to cool.
Turned water back on.
Observed no leak.
Rejoiced.
  • Adventures in plumming!

    Sounds like it was both annoying and satisfying. Congrats on successful repair!
  • Huzzah! I haven't dare approach plumbing, yet. I am thinking I will go PVC or Pex when I do.
  • "You really can't solder a pipe that has water in it."

    I'm no plumber but those words strike me as wise indeed.
  • Wow, good job! The most I've done is use a saddle valve and vinyl tubing to connect the fridge to the water supply.
  • If you ever have that dripping water problem again and have no way to stop it, there is a product that's designed to work better than the bread trick for this sort of situation. It's basically like those transparent polymer beads that absorb large amounts of water, in an eggish shape and different sizes meant to match the common pipe sizes. The dripping water swells the thing up, which only makes it seal more tightly to the walls of the pipe, ideally enough to stop the drip long enough to do the soldering job. Though I forget if it actually dissolves later, or you have to be sure you can flush it out further down the line under pressure before closing the loop (you can install a faucet valve downstream if there isn't one somewhere already). Anyway, there's a thing.

    And yeah, the latent heat of vaporization of water is impressive large. And yeah, I've learned this the hard way too. ;)
    • yeah, that :) i wondered what the hell they were for, and then asked around, and wow, wondrous. apparently they work fairly well even with some pressure going. hah.

      also, soldering a faucet on the end, but leaving it open, might work, then close it when done. no worries about pressure build ups. maybe.

      #
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