Plumbing is an essential part of any building no matter whether it’s a commercial or domestic building. A plumbing system providing essential drinking water, water for appliances and even heating. There are some areas of a plumbing system that can be taken care of in a DIY fashion, and some that will require the help of expert plumbing professionals.
This article looks at the essentials of plumbing, such as the rules and regulations that are applied to plumbing systems, the accreditations and qualifications that plumbers and heating engineers must hold, and things to keep in mind if you are tackling a DIY plumbing task. You will also find a list of essential tools to help with plumbing tasks.
We also give you some advice on maintaining your plumbing system to prevent small leaks from becoming major problems, as well as answering some frequently asked questions. Read on to discover everything you need to know about the essentials of plumbing.
- Rules and Regulations
- Plumbing Trade Bodies
- Plumbing Accreditations and Certifications
- DIY Plumbing Essential Knowledge
- Tips on Looking After Your Plumbing System
- Essential Plumbing Tools
- What to Look For When Hiring a Plumber
- Plumbing FAQs
Rules and Regulations
To protect public health and safety, any plumbing work must comply with building codes and water regulations. These codes apply to both domestic and commercial properties and not complying with them is against the law.
In most cases, work on existing plumbing systems or installation of new systems needs to be notified and approved before it can be completed under The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations or Byelaw Scotland. The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme is working in conjunction with water suppliers and WaterSafe to make complying with notification laws as easy as possible.
Under the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations, water supplies cannot withhold consent unreasonably. Also, if consent is not given within ten working days it is deemed that consent has been given in place of an official notification from the supplier.
The types of plumbing works that need to be notified are listed below:
- The construction of any new building or structure.
- The extension or alteration of the water system in any premises (apart from a domestic dwelling)
- The material change in use for any premises.
- The installation of:
- A bidet with an upwards spray or a flexible hose.
- A bath that can hold more than 230 litres.
- A pump or booster that draws more than 12 litres per minute.
- A reverse osmosis unit.
- A water treatment unit producing wastewater discharge or using water for regeneration or cleaning.
- A reduced pressure zone (RPZ) valve (type BA) or any other mechanical device that protects against backflow in fluid categories 4 and 5.
A mechanical garden watering system.
- Any water system that is laid outside of a building and either less than 750 mm or more than 1350mm below ground level.
- Installation of a pond or swimming pool that can hold more than 10,000 litres.
For plumbing work carried out in Scotland or Northern Ireland, there are additional works that fall under the notification laws. These are:
- Installation of greywater, recycled water, reclaimed water and rainwater harvesting systems.
- Water systems intended for firefighting, including domestic sprinklers.
- A flexible shower hose or other flexible outlets for use in conjunction with a WC.
- A ‘shower-toilet’ or ‘bidet-toilet’ where a stream of water is provided from below the spillover level o the WC pan for personal cleansing.
- A pump delivery pipe drawing water from a supply pipe.
- Any system incorporating a private water supply (this applies in Scotland only).
In some of the instances listed above, plumbing work does not need to be notified if an Approved Contractor is used. You can find the full list of scenarios here.
The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations and Byelaws are in place to prevent the misuse of water, the disposal of waste, undue consumption or erroneous measurement of water, and to prevent the contamination of drinking water. The regulations come into force in any premises that is supplied by a water company and are in effect at the point where the water supply enters the property via the underground pipe that connects it to the mains water supply. Therefore, any plumbing systems, appliances and water-fittings within the property are subject to the Regulations and Byelaws.
The Regulations also cover the types of products that you can use when undertaking any plumbing work within a property. You must only use products that have been approved in line with the guidelines because these products have been tested to ensure that there are no harmful materials within them that could contaminate the water supply. Using the right products also means ensuring that you have the right transition fittings. For example, when changing from plastic to copper, cast iron to plastic, and ABS to PVC. If the right transition fittings are not used the union between the pipes can quickly erode causing leaks.
It is against the law to use unapproved products in a plumbing system, but it is not illegal to sell these products. Therefore, you should always check the products you are using before starting work on a plumbing job. The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WARS) has a directory of approved products that you can find here.
Building codes are in place to ensure the safety and accessibility of plumbing installations. Some of the main codes that plumbers will encounter are:
- Taking care to ensure that fixtures are not placed too close together. This often requires some careful planning when installing or rearranging bathrooms where there is typically not a lot of space.
- Using the correct pipe sizes for drains, vents, and supply lines.
- Using the right pipe materials – usually copper pipe for supply lines and PVC for drain lines.
- Making sure that the installation of plumbing systems does not weaken the structure of the house. If you need to cut joists to install pipes you may need to reinforce them. You should also be careful regarding the use of fire caulking around pipes and checking the placement of protective plates.
- When adding drainpipes to a plumbing system you must ensure that they slope at least a quarter of an inch per running foot.
- If you are joining PVC pipes you are required to use a purple primer so that the inspector can quickly see that the pipes have been primed. If a pipe is glued without first being primed it is likely to leak in the future.
- Building codes state that cleanouts must be installed at various points of the plumbing system so that drains can be easily cleared in the event of a clog. It is advised to install a cleanout any time you tap into a drain line unless of course there is already one installed nearby.
- Where you have installed valves, fixture controls, cleanouts and compression pipe fittings you must ensure they are easily accessible and not covered by walls or flooring. To achieve this, install an access panel.
- Always use approved clamps or straps to secure pipework. Copper pipes must be supported at least every 6 feet, black steel or galvanized pipe at least every 12 feet, PVC or ABS every 4 feet and cast-iron pipe every 5 feet.
Plumbing Trade Bodies
There are several trade bodies and organisations designed to help plumbers comply with regulations and provide help and support to those working in the industry.
The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE)
The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, also referred to as CIPHE, was founded in 1906 as a professional body for the plumbing and heating industries. Its mission is to advance and improve the industry by promoting the study of research, science, practices and principles of plumbing and heating engineering. Alongside this, the institute also aims to help and educate the public and its members.
The benefits of joining the CIPHE include:
Joining the Approved Contractor Person Scheme. This scheme allows corporate members enrolled on the Register of Plumbers to achieve government recognition. An Approved Contractor Person (ACP) can self-certify under the Water Regulations (Byelaws in Scotland) and join WaterSafe for free.
Members of CIPHE can also list themselves on the Directory Database for £60.00 per year, where people searching for plumbers can find their telephone number, fax, and email address.
CIPHE also offers its members opportunities for networking, as well as publishing a wide range of technical information such as the Plumbing Engineering Services Design guide which is internationally recognised.
Members of the CIPHE are also given access to learning portals and opportunities to advance their careers.
The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC)
The APHC is a membership organisation dedicated to helping plumbing and heating contractors to build and run their businesses successfully. The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors works with the government, unions, and various other organisations to ensure that all members are provided with a sustainable marketplace in which to work.
The benefits of joining The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors are:
Proof of reliability and competency – the APHC regularly vets all members to protect the public against rogue traders.
Training and education on the latest best practice advise and legislative requirements.
Help with running a plumbing and heating business including using the right documents to provide a level of protection for you and your business.
FairTrades – Plumbers’ Association
Created in 1983, FairTrades is a nationally recognized multi-trade association and professional body. All FairTrades members are vetted for quality and assurance by looking at their trading history, legal and financial checks, reference checks, address checks, member charter signed check.
The Gas Safe Register
The Gas Safe Register replaced the CORGI registration in 2009 and is the official list of gas engineers who are qualified to work legally on gas appliances. If any part of a plumbing installation requires a connection to a gas system, then a Gas Safe Registered engineer must be consulted for help and advice.
Plumbing Accreditations and Certifications
Becoming a plumber or a heating engineer requires many years of training and obtaining the right qualifications. The plumbing industry offers several different career paths with progression to design, consultancy, teaching and management positions.
If you are planning to work with a plumber or heating engineer, always ensure they have the right qualifications first. A full list of accepted plumbing qualifications can be found here.
DIY Plumbing Essential Knowledge
While some plumbing projects require a professional, there are some that you can complete on your own. Fixing minor plumbing issues yourself, such as dripping faucets or overflowing toilets, can save you hundreds of pounds and prevent the problems from escalating into more expensive repair works.
If you are thinking of attempting to fix a clog, leak or other minor plumbing issues, read our top tips below first. We also advise having a trusted plumber on hand, like Perfect Plumbers in case you need additional help or support.
One of the most important things to do is find the location of your shut-off valves and drain. Usually, the interior valves are found in the house underneath the kitchen sink but sometimes they can be housed outside. Before undertaking any plumbing work, you will need to turn off the water supply or at least isolate the various appliances that you will be working on.
Familiarise yourself with the parts of your toilet, especially those that frequently need replacing or repairing. Often, when a toilet is leaking it is something simple like the toilet’s flapper that needs replacing and not the pipework underneath.
Likewise, when it comes to fixing a dripping tap, it is often the faucet itself that needs to be repaired and not the pipework leading to it.
When doing any DIY work around the house, always check for pipes before hammering nails or drilling into a wall, floorboard, or ceiling. Puncturing a supply pipe or a drainpipe can be very costly to fix with a lot of work involved.
A common plumbing DIY mistake is over-tightening fittings and connections causing damage to the pipes, broken bolts and stripped screws. When tightening a fitting always tighten by hand.
If a fitting has been tightened too much and you cannot loosen it with a pipe wrench, try using heat to help. Holding a small propane torch to the area for a couple of minutes should help to loosen the fitting. Remember never to use heat on or near gas pipes and the make sure that you have protected the surroundings using heat-resistant material.
Do not reuse supply lines. If you are replacing a toilet or faucet you might be tempted to reuse the old flexible supply lines. However, plastic can degrade over time creating leaks, so it is always best to use new supply lines.
Tips on Looking After Your Plumbing System
Maintaining and taking care of your plumbing system will make sure that it stays in good working order and prevent any small leaks from turning into expensive problems.
Preventing and Removing Clogs
Clogs in your drainage pipes are a nuisance, but if left they can become worse and require professional intervention. If you have a small clog there are steps you can take to fix the problem yourself, however, professional plumbers advise against using chemicals to try to dissolve to clog. Harsh chemicals can slowly erode cast-iron pipes and often do not get rid of the entire clog, therefore the more often these chemicals are used, the weaker the drainpipes become. Consistent blockages can also cause extra strain on your drainage system, risking leaks in the future.
To remove a blockage in a drainpipe safely, try using a plunger, drain rod or snake first. If you are unable to release the clog using these methods consult your plumber for advice.
The best cure for clogs is prevention, so always be mindful of what you are flushing through your drainage systems, either via the toilet or your sinks. Keep food scraps and cooking oils away from your sink and try to remove as much hair as possible every week or so from shower and bath plugs.
Lower the Pressure
While everybody prefers to have a high-pressure water system, it could be putting your plumbing system under unnecessary stress. Having extremely high water pressure makes your systems’ fittings, valves and faucets work much harder, reducing their lifespan and increasing the chances of a leak.
The maximum recommended pressure for a household is between 50-75 psi but no more than 80psi. You can test your pressure using a simple gauge that attaches to a hose bibb. If you find that your pressure is over the recommended 80psi you can ask your plumber to install a pressure regulator.
Protect Your Pipes From the Cold
Cold weather poses a particular problem for plumbing systems in the form of frozen pipes. Before winter arrives, take some time to protect your plumbing system by taking some simple precautions. Make sure that you disconnect and drain all hoses from outside taps during the winter, as an overnight freeze can cause the faucet to expand and burst.
If you have any exposed pipes around your house in areas that are not heated (such as garages or lofts) wrap these with towels or insulation tape to protect them.
Also, do not let the temperature within your house fall below 14 degrees to avoid any water within the pipes freezing. If you must go away for some time, make sure you adjust your heating or drain all of the water from the system before you leave. Some house insurance policies will not pay out for burst pipes if certain conditions (like the ones above) are not met, so it is wise to double-check your insurance policy for the details.
Softening the Water
If you live in a hard water area, you might want to take steps to soften the water as it comes into your plumbing system. Water with a high mineral content is known as hard water and it contains a large amount of magnesium or calcium. When this water is heated up it leaves behind magnesium and calcium build-ups also known as limescale. Limescale can build up within your pipes, restricting the flow of the water and increasing the water pressure within the system.
To soften the water in your home you can ask your plumber to install a water softener. There are two main types of water softeners, one that uses sodium to counteract the minerals found in hard water, and one that electronically breaks up the minerals with electromagnetic pulses. A water softener will cost around £50-£100 to run per year, depending on your water consumption rate. However, the benefits will always return more than the cost of the unit to run. A softener will help to reduce energy bills and cut back on repair and maintenance costs.
Check for Leaks
Not only do leaks add extra to your energy bills, if left unattended they can grow into bigger problems that cost more to fix. Make checking your plumbing system for leaks a regular part of your routine to cut down on repair costs.
To monitor your system for leaks, start by keeping an eye on your water usage. If you notice any sudden increases that you do not have a reason for, such as having visitors over to stay or watering your garden during warm weather, you have likely sprung a leak.
You can keep track of your water usage by asking your supplier to send you monthly statements or by signing up for an account online that you can monitor. Additionally, if you notice sudden low pressure when taking a shower or filling a bath, and no other water appliances are in use then this could also be a sign that there is a leak somewhere in your system.
You can also visually check for leaks by examining pipework and appliances for any telltale signs. Some of the most common places to find a leak are:
The water tank or boiler – Check the valves where water enters and leaves your water tank or boiler. Signs of a considerable leak here will be obvious, but for signs of a slower leak check the surrounding floor for damp patches or marks. You may also notice a hissing sound from the valves beneath the boiler if there are any leaks. When dealing with central heating, you will need to contact a Gas Safe Registered engineer to help you address any problems.
The toilet. Toilets are in frequent use and as such can be prone to leaking, especially when their parts break down. Many common toilet leaks can be fixed easily, and you can often fix them yourself.
Showerheads, like toilets, are also prone to leaking due to frequent use and their parts breaking down. If you suspect you have a leak somewhere in your system check your showerhead as a possibility.
Appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers can move from their original settings causing pipes and valves to become loose and start to leak. Check your appliances and their fittings regularly to make sure they are not leaking.
If you feel you have a leak within your household somewhere, get in touch with us at Perfect Plumbers today. We’ll be able to help and advise on the next steps that are required to help guarantee there’s no risk to your home.
Essential Plumbing Tools
Whether you are a professional plumber or are planning some plumbing DIY work within your home, having the right tools is essential to get the job done correctly. Below are some of the main tools you will need in your toolkit:
- A tube cutter: Designed to cut through copper pipes this is a must-have tool for all plumbers. Tube cutters are also available in a microscopic version to help you deal with those hard to reach pipes.
- An adjustable wrench: A must for any tradesperson, an adjustable wrench will help you to tackle various nuts, bolts, and fastenings.
- Slip joint pliers, also known as water pump pliers. These pliers are great for jobs in tight spaces.
- A hacksaw: When pipes, nuts or bolts just will not come loose, you may have to turn to your hacksaw for help. A junior hacksaw will help in smaller spaces.
- Mole grips: These will help you to pull out nuts and bolts that have become rounded.
- An Allen key set: In some cases, you may come across a bolt that requires an Allen key to loosen it, so having a set with different sizes always comes in handy.
- Drain rods: Perfect for dislodging blockages and clogs that are hard to reach, drain rods unblock pipes quickly and easily.
- Plumbers snakes and augers. If you find a particularly tough blockage you may need the help or a handheld auger or motorized snake.
- Spirit level: Another essential for any tradesperson is the spirit level. Ideal for checking that new installations are sitting straight or to measure the angle of drainage pipes.
- A radiator key: Sometimes needed to open radiator valves and release the trapped air.
- Radiator spanners: If you come across a radiator that needs a new valve, you will need the help of your radiator spanners.
- Isle of man key: This key is a universal service cabinet unlocker – perfect for those jobs where the customer may have lost the key to open their gas meter.
- Stop tap key: You will need this tool to turn off the mains water supply.
- Tape measure: Working on a bathroom refurb or fitting a new plumbing system? Getting the measurements right is crucial so you will need your tape measure.
- A flashlight: A flashlight or headlight will help you to see in dark, enclosed places and under floorboards.
- A bucket: A bucket will also come in handy to catch any leaks or spillage.
- Safety Equipment: Safety goggles, knee pads, and safety gloves will protect you while you are working.
- Teflon tape: This tape will give you a water-tight seal on threaded pipe joints. It will also help to lubricate the connection making the threading smoother.
- A spanner set: Another key piece of equipment for all tradespeople, a spanner set with various sizes will always be useful.
- A soldering torch: There may be some jobs that require soldering so make sure you have a soldering torch, soldering wire and soldering paste to hand.
- A mains tester: Before cutting pipes, test to see if wires are live with a mains tester.
What to Look for When Hiring a Plumber
Sometimes, there may be a plumbing job in your house that requires professional expertise. In this case, you will need to hire a trustworthy and qualified plumbing professional. In this section, we outline some of the main things to consider when searching for the right plumber.
What Does the Job Consist of?
Before you start searching for a tradesperson, assess the job at hand and consider what type of help you need. If you are dealing with a leak or simple water pipes around the home, a plumber will be able to help you.
However, if you have a problem with an element of your heating system you will need to enlist the help of a properly qualified heating engineer. A heating engineer is trained to work on specific areas of your home such as boiler servicing and repairs, installing chimney or a flue, and servicing and repairing gas fires.
Checking Your Plumber’s Qualifications and Accreditations
Once you have an idea of whether you need a plumber or a heating engineer, you will then need to turn your attention to the necessary qualifications and registrations. To protect your safety always use a Gas Safe Registered engineer for any jobs involving the heating system. The Gas Safe register is the official list of heating engineers who are qualified to work safely and legally on boilers and other gas appliances.
In some cases, plumbers may also hold the necessary qualifications to work on gas boilers and appliances, giving them the added benefit of experience in both plumbing and gas work. However, just like heating engineers, plumbers holding the right qualifications must also be registered on the Gas Safe Register before they can legally carry out any work on a gas boiler or appliance.
It is also worth checking to see if your chosen plumber or heating engineer is registered with a professional trade body. Not only does this demonstrate their professionalism and competence, but it also helps to give you peace of mind, knowing that you are working with a qualified and experienced plumbing professional.
Read the Reviews
Once you have established that your plumber is adequately qualified, you will need to check out reviews from previous customers. A plumber that provides good customer service will be clear and open about all aspects of the job with good communication, so you know what to expect at each stage.
Before you settle on a plumber, it is wise to shop around and ask for quotes from others. This will give you a good benchmark for the cost of the job and give you peace of mind that you are being fairly charged. When a plumber gives you a quote you should look out for the following information.
Firstly, the plumber should confirm the job at hand with your requirements in mind. Then, they should explain how they will complete the job keeping to the requirements, along with the goods and services they will supply. The plumber should also be upfront about all of the costs involved and outline their payment terms (how and when they expect to be paid) Finally your plumber should provide you with a contract that clearly outlines all of the above information along with their terms and conditions.
Hiring a Plumber in an Emergency
For some plumbing jobs, you may need a plumber immediately which can incur extra charges. In the event of an emergency call out, your plumber may charge you a call-out fee on top of the cost of the materials and labour for completing the job. Additionally, you may also be charged for travel and parking costs.
I have found a leak, what should I do?
Discovering a leak in your home can be worrying, however, don’t panic! First, establish where the leak is coming from and how serious it is. If you have a serious leak, turn off your water supply using the stop tap and turn on your cold taps to drain the system. Then turn off the heating and if you are worried that the leak is near electrics turn those off too.
Use a towel or bucket to catch any of the water that is leaking. Call your plumber with as much information as you can so that they can diagnose the problem and fix it as quickly as possible.
My pipes are noisy, why is this?
Noisy pipes are common and can be caused by a variety of reasons. Some possibilities include faulty ball valves, air trapped in the pipes causing them to vibrate, loose fittings, or loose pipes that can move around and hit surrounding fittings.
If you’re unsure or you’re worried about what the noise is, call a plumber to investigate and make sure all is okay. Here at Perfect Plumbers, we’ll be more than happy to take a look and help investigate whether the problem is urgent or not and help put things right if required.
What should I do if my toilet is clogged?
A clogged toilet is a common plumbing problem and many blockages can be fixed easily. The first port of call is the trusted plunger, this should help to remove most toilet blockages. If not, try a drain rod or snake for more stubborn blockages. If you notice that your toilet is becoming frequently blocked it could be a sign of bigger problems and you may need to consult your plumber for further advice.
What should I do if I have no hot water?
If you find you have no hot water, this indicates a problem with the water heater. Check the settings on the thermostat to see if they have been changed. If not, you will need to call a registered heating engineer to provide an inspection.
How often should I clean my drains?
Cleaning your drains regularly will stop grease, soaps and other materials from building up and causing blockages. Avoid using harsh chemicals to clean your drains as they can wear downpipes and fittings over time, shortening the life span of your system.
I have a dripping faucet, what should I do?
Not only is a leaking tap irritating, but it can also add extra costs to your water and energy bills. Usually, a dripping faucet can be fixed with a simple part replacement such as the gasket, seal, or O-ring. In some cases, though, the faucet may need to be replaced entirely.
How can I reduce my water waste?
Around one-third of the water we use daily is wasted, adding extra to our bills and putting more pressure on the environment. To reduce water waste around the home, consider the following actions:
Fix leaks and faults as soon as you notice them.Turn off the taps when not directly in use – for example, when brushing your teeth.
- Where possible, take showers instead of baths. If, however, you do need to take a bath try to reduce the amount you fill it by one inch.
- When having a shower, make it as short as possible.
- Use water-saving products around the home such as aerated or low-flow showerheads.
- Use eco-friendly appliances and ensure that when using a washing machine or dishwasher that you are filling the appliance with each use.
Why are my radiators not heating up properly?
If you notice that your radiators are not heating up properly, or there are cold spots at the top with warm spots at the bottom they probably need bleeding.
It is easy enough to do this yourself following these steps:
- Turn off your heating and let the radiators cool completely.
- Place a cloth under the radiator to catch any water.
- Using a radiator key in the valve at the top of the radiator, slowly turn anticlockwise until you hear the hissing sound of air escaping.
- Once the water begins to flow out, tighten the valve again by turning clockwise to close.
How do I avoid frozen pipes?
Protect your pipes during the winter months by insulating any exposed pipes in non-heated areas with insulation tape or simply covering them with towels or cloths. Keep your heating running low throughout the winter too, do not let it drop below 14 degrees.