If, like us, you are a complete beginner then figuring out what materials to use that this can be an annoying obstacle. I was learning about these materials in English and then we (mostly Andreea) had to track them down in Romanian – so it was not just a technical barrier but a language barrier too. What follows are our choices based on the materials that are available here and within our budget limitations. We ended up going with the parts and materials typically used. There are other to choose from … but for all the right and wrong reasons we went with the typical stuff.
Above and underground we used 32mm HDPE pipes (in Romanian PEID). This is a robust black pipe of which we purchased a 200 meter roll. The fact that comes in a roll can be misleading as it is not very flexible – it can go around large corners but it definitely not flexible enough for you to bend to your will.
It was very difficult to lay in the long trench in the ground – as the roll is large and heavy. The workers who helped took the entire roll to one end and rolled it out – very difficult. In retrospect I think that (a) the rolled pipe should have been placed on the ground at one end of its path; (b) one person should have rotated the roll while (c) another person pulled the free end out and away from the roll and towards the other end of the path. I think this would have resulted in much less of a struggle. But I haven’t yet had an opportunity to try this 🙂
Easy to use T and corner joints and adapters are available – they are twisted open and closed by hand – you won’t need any tools to hook these up. There are also adapters to make the transition from HDPE to standard metal (aluminum / bronze) plumbing parts. The T and corner joints themselves come in different variations (male, female) which include the adapter connections. Please note that these joints and adapters are not too expensive but not too cheap either. You will need more of them then you think and they can add up to a substantial cost.
The pipe can be cut fairly easily with a hacksaw.
PEX tubes are a very popular indoor piping system. PEX is a kind of plastic tube. Pex-Al-Pex is a three layer pipe made up of a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of PEX. They can be used for both hot and cold water supply and are fairly easy to work with. There are numerous brands of these pipes and we chose (based on a recommendation from a professional plumber) to use 20mm “Henco” pipes which are better and easier (more flexible) to work with.
The connectors and adapters are fairly simple to use. The pipes need to be cut straight and clean (either with a specialized cutter or with careful attention using a standard utility knife). Then the end needs to be expanded slightly (either with a specialized tool or with an ad-hoc tool that fits tightly inside the pipe) and after that it is all you need is a wrench to lock it tight. The pipes are flexible and easy to work with.
To the best of my knowledge there are “systems” of PEX tubing which are assembled with pressure joints – this includes joints and adapters into which the pipe is inserted and pressed using a special tool. This is excellent for do-it-yourself work because it creates a perfect seal every time (no leak worries). We still haven’t come across such a system here in Romania. Though, from searching for the images above, it seems that Henco also has a pressure-fitted system – so we will definitely look into that in the future.
We used 40 mm PVC pipes for collecting and evacuating the water from the house. We have a fairly simple system where all the elements are close together and are collected to one exit point. PVC is pretty cheap and very easy to work with.
The pipe comes in lengths of 1, 2 or 4 meters. One end of the pipe is designed for connecting pipes – it has a slightly wider diameter and holds a plastic washer to achieve a good seal. Two important things to remember about PVC pipe are (1) that the up-stream pipe always goes into the down-stream pipe and (2) since they are usually gravity operated they should be set a 2 degree angle – which is about a 2.5cm drop for every meter of length.
If, for example, you need a half meter pipe you can of course cut it from a longer pipe, however the left over pipe-section will no longer have the connecting/sealing end. However you can work around this – a trick a local plumber taught me. You heat the end of the pipe for a few seconds until is softens and then insert into it another pipe which creates the shape of an adapter end:
Metal Adapters and Valves
The plumbing works included metal joints and accessories. There are quite a few of these and you will discover your way around them and how to use them. I don’t yet know enough about the variety to give a guided tour but there are a few things I can point out.
There are aluminum parts and bronze ones. The bronze ones seem much better in resisting corrosion – the aluminum ones are not very impressive. Yet some parts seem to be available only in aluminum and others only in copper – I don’t know why that is. I am also not sure what are the consequences of coupling them together (which we had to do).
Connecting them takes some effort – you need at least two decent monkey/pipe wrenches and you will need to learn how to work with them. I’m still a beginner. You will need some lining material (silicon based thread or hemp strings). The most mysterious, to me, aspect about connecting them is when you want to achieve specific orientation. On the one hand they should be tightened all the way to get a good seal yet sometimes that will end up in awkward positions that don’t work out for the connections you want to make. My only solution was to use a good amount of lining material and tighten them as much as possible but not beyond the position in which I wanted them to be (I found that going past the preferred end position and then backing up a bit is a recipe for a leak).
You are going to need valves – probably more then you think – and this, like the HDPE joints and adapters, is going to pile up to a substantial cost. Basically you need valves to give you control of the system when something goes wrong and maintenance is required. The end result of good planning seems to be that both ends of a pipe are typically controlled by a valve enabling you to isolate the section of pipe between the two valves. This is especially important in long pipes that may contain a large amount of water.
Valves come with different male/female fittings which you can use as you see fit. The long-handled valves are easier to operate HOWEVER they can be more cumbersome to install, especially in more complex assemblies. Remember that as you connect the pieces you will need to rotate them – so they need to be arranged in such a way that you CAN rotate them. Also, if you purchase a vale with asymmetrical fittings (one side male and the other female) then that limits you in how you can connect it – so you may find yourself with a valve oriented the wrong way. This may sound stupidly obvious … but I put myself into a few tight corners by choosing the wrong kind of valve. So I’ve said what I have to say 🙂