Sunday 30 December 2012

The Kopex Pipesight

So Mr Bond...

Very occasionally a new plumbing tool comes out and you think “Wow! Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?” Slightly more often a new tool comes out and you think “Well... Maybe...Not bad, I guess!” and then there are the tools for which the only real response is “Eh?”

I’m still not sure what category I’d put the Pipesight into. It’s role in life is to let you accurately drill holes for radiator pipework. The idea is that you fit your new radiator and attach the Pipesight to the base of the radiator valves. As if by magic, a laser light now bursts forth and illuminates the floorboards below, showing you exactly where you need to drill the holes in order to connect up your pipework.

Do you really need a laser to tell you this? Personally, I use a short piece of copper cut so that it just fits into the valve and touches the floorboard. I then draw around the base of the copper pipe and drill accordingly. It’s all very dull and very low-tech but it also has the virtues of being effect and cheap... but it’s not a laser!

And maybe that’s the point? I suspect that the people who will buy this tool will buy it just because it does have the high tech, hint of the James Bond about it. They will be the kind of people who, when confronted by Mr Bond, will scorn the idea of just shooting the bugger and will instead opt for tying him to a bench, aiming a high powered laser at his privates and then departing the scene with a clever witticism. Sadly we all know that this doesn’t work; James Bond will escape, shag the baddies missus and then, when they inevitably meet again, forgo the clever stuff and just shoot the baddie in the head.

Is there a moral in this tale? Well if there is I can’t see it. If you like the high tech stuff give the Pipesight a try, after all it is quick and easy to use and the cost isn’t going to break the bank. The laser doesn’t actually burn through the floorboard - which is a crying shame as I’d definitely buy one if it did - but the mark it gives you is going to be more accurate than drawing around a piece of pipe.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Pump your mains cold water

Boost your mains cold water with a Homeboost

One of the golden rules of plumbing is “thou shalt not pump mains cold water”. I’ll grant you that it’s not the most exciting of rules but it’s an important one... or at least it was.

So what’s happened to consign this rule to the history books? Well Salamander have just brought out the “Homeboost”, a pump specifically designed to overcome poor mains water pressure.

So how come this can work on the mains? Well the water regs never actually said you couldn’t pumps mains water, they just added enough caveats to ensure they always put people off the idea. For instance, the pump would have to ensure that it never delivered more than 12 litres of water a minute, regardless of the mains water pressure. It also had to ensure that there could be no backflow of water back into the mains. For some reason it’s taken until now for someone to design a pump that meets these criteria.

So why would I want to boost my mains water pressure? Well, if you find yourself asking that question the answer is that you almost certainly don’t need to boost your mains cold water. Most homes in the UK tend to get water entering the house at between 2-3 bar pressure. However, the water supply companies only have to guarantee water to your property boundary at 1bar, which is about 10 litres of water per minute. If the pipe taking this water from your boundary into your home is old and knackered you may well experience water pressure far below this nominal 1 bar.

Here in Lincolnshire poor water pressure can be a real problem. Whilst we do have towns and the occasional city the vast majority of Lincolnshire is composed of villages. Some of these could be described as residing in ‘The sticks’, some are most certainly in “The back of beyond” and a few are very much beyond the back of beyond, turn right, cross the ford and take the path signposted ‘Godknowswhere’. News takes its time reaching these places, water can take an absolute age, and by the time is does arrive it’s often under as much pressure as a stoned Hippy lying on a tropical beach.

Ordinarily you get around this by pumping stored water but this requires large storage tanks, which isn’t always feasible and won’t help at all if the homeowner wants a nice new shiny combi boiler. And it’s combi boilers that will probably benefit from this new pump the most.

So what are the downsides? Well it’s not a cheap pump, with an RRP of £358.80 inc VAT! Apparently it makes less noise than a boiling kettle (46dB) but do you want to hear a kettle boiling all day? And of course it’s going to be using electricity the whole time, so you’ll see an increase in those bills.

That said it’s probably still cheaper than the alternatives, which were either large storage tanks and whole-house pumps – more expensive, just as noisy and still using electricity – or digging up your water supply pipe and replacing it with a bigger diameter pipe and hoping that that sorted the problem, which can be very expensive and often doesn’t really work.

To be honest if I had low water pressure my only concern would be Salamander themselves. We always found them to make great pumps at a great price but, in our experience, they have a terrible customer support team  - we had one customer told she’d have to accompany the Salamander engineer to the ATM so she could pay him, as he wasn’t leaving without payment! Which was bad enough but the bloody pump he’d been called out to look at was faulty. Sadly he was either too incompetent to work this out for himself or under a lot of corporate pressure to earn his keep.... Either way, we ended up with a very upset customer and so we avoid Salamander these days - although we might be tempted to give this pump a try.

Sunday 18 November 2012

La-Co Cool Gel

To my mind “proper” plumbing uses copper tube. I’ve nothing against plastic pipework - it’s terrific stuff for quickly laying the backbone of CH systems - but it’s best hidden from view where the white, floppy, pipework and the large, knobbly, fittings can’t offend the eye.

Of course there are a few rather large problems with the alternative, copper tubing. Most of these revolve around the fact that it’s best soldered, which in turn requires a modicum of skill and risks burning down your home. Reducing your home to smouldering rubble is known within the plumbing trade as “a bad thing”... and so the heat mat was invented.

In the bad old days I suspect that heat mats were made of asbestos and lasted a life time – partly because they killed you early. These days they may be safer but they have the life expectancy of a Mayfly with a chesty cough, mainly because they can’t cope with direct heat. 
This is a real same because more often than not the time you really need a heat mat is when you have no choice but to aim your blowtorch directly at a flammable surface.

However there is an alternative to the heat mat, which is a spray on gel called “La-Co Cool Gel” which I’m fairly certain I failed to mention in the book - It’s only writing this up now  that I’ve realised it’s not called LL Cool Gel. Which is a shame as that is what I always ask for.

Cool Gel is known as a heat barrier spray and from what I can make out it’s basically water made firm by holding it in gel form.. and it’s superb! I wouldn’t spray into on carpets and the like – although it would probably work - but, aside from that it can be used everywhere else you might want to use a heat mat.

It’s also very handy if you have to heat up a pipe that is very close to a valve. The valves themselves often contain rubber washers which melt or deform when heated. To prevent this just spray the pipe with the cool gel between the valve and where you’re heating. The heat now travels as far at the gel where it is miraculously stopped in its tracks, preserving the valve whilst you solder your joint.

Alas, it’s not cheap but it is well worth the investment as it’s still considerably cheaper than a new home.

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Bristan Easyfit

Bristan Easyfit Taps
Fitting taps is not technically difficult but the locations you have to wriggle into and under can turn what should be a simple job into a bit of a nightmare. 

As I mentioned in the Home plumbing manual, throwing away the copper pipes that come with most taps and fitting flexible tap connectors can make things much easier but it's still the kind of job that most plumbers try to avoid because it's such a pain. However, help may be on its way in the form of the new range of Bristan Easyfit taps.

Basically the tap now comes in two parts. You fit the base, which comes with flexible connectors and isolation valves, and then, when you've finished the tiling and applied your sealant lines, you fit the tap onto this base!

We had a play around with this last year up at Bristan’s offices. Yes, there were a few issues at the time but the fact that they'd made a point of asking installers to try them out and give them feedback is in itself a wonderfully sane approach to plumbing design - although sadly not one that seems to have caught on much within the industry.

Of course the main benefit of a two part tap comes later on when you need to update it or just give it a good clean. Instead of having to burrow under the basin or bath for a sweaty and frustrating half hour you can just isolate the water supply and then remove the tap body from the top and fit the new one into place. What could be simpler?

Yes, you’d have to replace the old Bristan tap with a new Bristan tap, but I can think of many more traumatic things in life.

All in all they are well worth having a look at - in fact to have a look click here: tapfittingchampionships

------- update -----

Over the last few yeas we've come across a number of customers who have had problems with these taps, mainly because the grub screw that holds the tap in place fails, the tap blows off and a deluge ensues. I have to assume that Bristan are sorting this out - more than 1 grub screw and some sort of locking mechanism would seem sensible - but I don't know for sure. With this in mind you might just want to check the grub screw every 6 months or so and just give it a little tweak to keep it in place.

Monday 16 July 2012


Within the Haynes Home Plumbing manual I discussed at some length the pro’s and con’s of the various push-fit piping systems. 

Personally I avoid plastic pipework where I can for no other reason than I think copper looks better and is cheaper to work with – the pipes are about the same price but copper fittings are no where near the price of their plastic counterparts. That said, for the DIYer plastic piping is a Godsend.

At the time of writing Wavin had two products on offer; their old traditional Hep20 product, which could be recognised by its uninspiring battleship grey colour and the fact that you couldn’t get the fitting off with any ease once you’d managed to get it on, and their new product, which they were calling “In4Sure”.

Well a few weeks ago I popped into the local plumbing merchants to find them putting all the old grey hep20 fittings into bags for return to Wavin. It seems that two things have happened, firstly that the old grey system has been recalled and secondly that the chaps at Wavin are keen Startrek fans - In4Sure is now being heralded as the “The Next Generation hep20”. You can still find it called In4Sure but I suspect this name will be quietly dropped over the coming years to make way for “Hep20 Voyager”, and “Hep20 deep space 9”.

To be honest this is a well overdue move. The old hep20 wasn’t a patch on most of its rivals, whereas In4Sure contains a number of sound innovations that bounce it right back up there.

In terms of use nothing has changed from what I said in the book, although there are a few things that bear repetition: the pipework is nominally the same size as the competitor products (mainly Speed-fit) but it has a slightly smaller inside diameter, which means that a speed-fit pipe strengthener (or insert) can only be used if you’ve brought a hammer along for the job. In other words you can mix and match the fittings and pipes but always try to use a hep20 pipe insert for hep20 pipework and a speed-fit insert for its pipework. The other benefit of Hep20 is that the pipe itself seems far more flexible than that of its competitors, which can be very useful if you are trying to thread it through joists.

Monday 2 July 2012


Put the kibosh on it.
In the Haynes Home Plumbing Manual I talked about dealing with burst pipes and suggested a clamp repair kit as a fairly useful piece of kit to keep in the home (p39). Well Rothenberger have recently brought out a neat little adaptation to this called the "Kibosh".

The principle remains the same - you open it up, place it over the leak and then clamp it shut. Of course it's only a temporary fix but it gives you time to draw breath and decide how to effect a permanent repair.

The design means that it should be relatively easy to get it onto most pipework and it's small and neat enough to rest unnoticed in kitchen drawers for years at a time without cluttering up the place.

The current Kibosh is only designed to repair 15mm pipework, which means that for the next few months  only your 22mm pipework will be prone to spontaneous bursting - for such is the law of Sod. However, different sizes will be out soon.

The 15mm version costs about £12 - when I asked at PTS they said that was the RRP so you ought to be able to beat them down a bit - but to fully cover yourself you're going to need a version for every pipe size in your home, which could make it an expensive business.

Another thing that worried me when I first saw it was that it was so small. If a pipe bursts because it froze, the ice usually causes the pipe to swell up a bit for at least 5cm on either side of the actual fracture. Can the Kibosh cope with this? Well, frankly I haven't a clue but I'd be surprised if they hadn't already considered this.

To be honest it looks a really well thought through design that's well worth buying for that rainy, floody, day.

Word of warning though - don't wait until you have a flood before reading how to use the Kibosh, have a practice first.

You can find more details at: Kibosh pipe repair

Friday 8 June 2012

Green Deal training

We've just got some prices through for the training courses to be an Assessor for the Green Deal. Are you sitting down?

  • Two day course £1490
  • Five day course £2450

The exam is multiple choice and to make sure you really know what you're up to they give you unlimited, instantaneous, attempts.

This is the thing I hate about these grant things - vastly over inflated training fees and a training structure designed to ensure that a monkey could pass.

Result? Poor assessing, very rich training companies!

Tuesday 5 June 2012

The Green Deal

The Green Deal
This autumn (provisionally October 2012) sees the arrival of the long awaited ‘Green Deal’, a mechanism whereby we are all going to be encouraged to insulate our homes to the max - Which is of course a great idea.

By all accounts UK homes are amongst the worst insulated buildings in Europe. I guess this is hardly surprising; for all our moaning we have astonishingly benign weather and until recently were surrounded by seas filled with oil and natural gas. Alas, all good things come to an end, and as our own stocks of fossil fuel have dwindled away the price of heating our homes has gently rocketed through the ceiling, so much so that these days only a fool would fail to insulate.

So what exactly is this ‘Green Deal’? Well, to the government at least, it is a work of wonder. Why? Because, to the mandarins of Whitehall, the perfect grant will offer as much encouragement as possible whilst, ideally, spending little or no money.

With the Green Deal the government actually gets to spend nothing, because it’s not really a grant at all - you don’t actually get any money from anyone. Not a penny!

So what the hell is it? Well, I guess you could call it the “Green Bank Loan”.

How it works is as follows: 
  • Firstly, somebody either knocks on your door, or you – eager to embrace green ideals – ring a partner company in the Green Deal.

  • An Assessor, who has been trained for days in the black art of energy efficiency, will now appear on your doorstep and conduct a survey of your home.

  • The survey complete, they will then make a series of recommendations, all of which are covered by one single caveat, or ‘golden-rule’ – the cost of the energy efficiency measures they recommend must generate more savings than they actually cost.

  • Astonished and amazed by these potential saving you say yes to the proposed measures and before you can say ‘carbon footprint’ the work begins.

So who pays for all this work? Well, you do – or at least the person who pays the utility bill for that home does. The idea is that the cost of the new insulation will be added onto your utility bill but – and here’s the clever bit – because that bill has gone down as a result of all this new insulation the overall cost should remain the same, or actually be slightly less.

Because the work was designed to improve that particular home the cost of paying for the work stays with that home i.e. if you sell up the new owner will get a utility bill with the remaining cost of the insulation still built into the bill.

To be honest I think it sounds like a great idea. Yes, I can see all sorts of potential pitfalls, not least of which is this energy saving v cost equation and the number of different parties involved – the assessor, the insulation seller, the installer, the energy company, the bank covering the loan. With that many people involved it could all go pear-shaped in no time at all - and I assume that’s why it’s taken so long to get everything rolling.

That said, if you have an old home with solid external walls, this could be a real boon as it would cover the cost of getting external wall insulation fitted without the hassle of arranging a bank loan.

All we have to do now is wait until the Autumn!

Monday 30 April 2012

This blog is designed to accompany the Haynes Home Plumbing Manual written by Andy Blackwell.

It would be great if no one found any errors or omissions in the manual. It would also be great if I suddenly shot up to 6ft 4 and sprouted long, flowing, locks. Sadly, these two widely disparate events share one common theme – they are both very, very, unlikely to happen - to say the least. So, when an error is spotted I’ll list it here.

The manual also included a fairly extensive chapter on alternative fuels and green technologies, an area that develops at an astonishing pace. As I hear of new grants and developments I’ll be posting them here as an accompaniment to the book.

Whilst the rest of the plumbing sector might not be quite as frantic as the green/alternative fuel arena it’s certainly not static – in fact some would suggest that it just can’t stand still at the moment - so I will be continuing the blogs I wrote for and maintaining a running commentary on general plumbing news and interesting tools and developments. Rather than clog up this blog I’ll be posting this general plumbing news to Plumbforyourlife.