Exposed copper pipes provide water to the hose bib at the wood deck. These pipes had frozen and split open the last two winters, despite the fact the water shutoff valve inside the house was closed. The problem is the shutoff valve inside the house had a slow leak that filled the pipes where it would later freeze. Freezing water expands and the pipe splits lengthwise like a banana. This wasn’t catastrophic in my case because the inside shutoff valve was already closed in anticipation of winter weather.
The hose bib and copper pipe are shown in the next two images to give you a better idea of the problem:
The next photo illustrates the copper water pipe exiting the house and going up through the wood deck to the hose bib. Notice the brass elbow with a drain valve. I installed the elbow and drain the previous winter in an attempt to remedy the freezing and bursting problem. I thought by shutting off the supply valve inside the house and opening the drain at the elbow, the pipes wouldn’t freeze anymore. The pipes still froze because the shutoff valve inside the house had a slow leak that would eventually refill the pipe, freeze and burst.
Frozen Pipe Preventative Solutions
The possible solutions to the freezing pipe problem are:
- Insulate the exposed pipe – this would only delay the freezing process.
- Wrap the pipe in Heat Tape – heat tape is like an electric blanket for pipes. For this location, it would be very difficult getting it back to an electrical outlet. I also wanted a permanent low maintenance fix, not just something to mask the symptoms. Heat tape works well, but what would happen when the electricity is out? Ice storms happen, the power lines are down, freezing temperatures, the pipe freezes and bursts!
- Replace the inside shutoff valve and fix the root cause. This is what I decided to do.
SharkeBite® Copper Pipe Fittings
Replacing the inside shutoff valve presented a major challenge because it was in a confined space inside the drywall of the finished basement. (The leaky valve in question is on the lower right with the red handle.)
The normal procedure to replace the valve is to remelt the solder joints with a propane torch and separate the pipe
joints. This would present a fire hazard and be difficult in such a confined space right next to the wooden wall studs. As you can also see from the photo above, the bottom solder joint is mostly inaccessible because of the “contractor grade” rough opening in the drywall – remember, everything is built by the lowest bidder! . The contractor attempted to cover up this ugly job with a wood frame and plywood cover.
I went to Home Depot expecting to get a new ball valve and flameproof material to protect the wall cavity from the torch. The helpful Home Depot employee in the Plumbing Dept. asked me if I needed help and I explained my situation. The Home Depot employee asked if I’d heard of the SharkeBite® Connection System by Cash Acme, Inc. It uses an easy push-fit connection system. No soldering, no glue or clamps! The SharkeBite® video tutorial is here.
I was skeptical but gave it a try because it could turn this hard job into an easy one.
I bought the following SharkBite 1/2 inch ball valve. Notice the orange disconnect tool on the left. SharkBite connections are easily disassembled by pressing the disconnect tool against the joint, releasing the pipe.
SharkBite® Ball Valve Installation
The rough drywall opening needed to be enlarged and done in a better way. I purchased a 6 in by 9 in SNAP-EASE Access Panel from Home Depot and recut the drywall opening to fit.
A drywall jab saw, square, tape measure and level are needed to layout and cut the opening for the new access panel.
The dimensions of the access panel are drawn in pencil with the aid of a tape measure, square and level. The drywall opening is cut with a jab saw. I used a jab saw instead the Rotozip tool because the Rotozip blows a lot air to cool the motor and would make a dusty mess bouncing off the corner wall.
The frame for the access panel is dry fitted. Later it will be set with caulk. Notice the new opening is positioned to allow access to the bottom joint of the ball valve.
The water must be drained before cutting out the old ball valve. This was done buy shutting off the valve on the top left with the round handle that is “upstream” of the ball valve. The hose bib on the basement deck level was opened and along with the hose bib on the upper wood deck. This allowed the water to fully drain from the pipes. I then checked by removing the drain cap on the valve body as shown here with a towel in place to catch any drips.
The bottom joint of the old ball valve is cut using a rotary pipe cutter. This takes less than a minute. Just clamp it on the pipe and spin it around while retightening the clamp every two or three revolutions.
Here’s the pipe cut at the bottom side of the ball valve.
Measure and Fit the SharkBite Ball Valve
Measure twice (or three times), cut once.
Before cutting the top pipe connection to the old ball valve, it is extremely important to measure and make the cut in exactly the right place. If I cut out too much pipe, then I’d have the extra work and trouble of splicing in a new section of pipe.
To get the right dimensions, I took a spare section of 1/2 inch copper water pipe and dry fitted the SharkBite ball valve, marked the depth when the pipe was fully seated, and transferred that measurement to the pipe inside the wall.
When fully seated, the depth of the copper pipe is marked as shown.
The cool thing about the SharkBite connection is it’s easily separated with the provided orange disconnect tool. I visually compared where the pipe bottoms out inside the ball valve… it’s at the bottom of the shiny bell housing. Click on the photo to see a close-up.
The new ball valve is aligned with where the bottom pipe will be fully seated, and the location of the top cut marked as shown. Click on the photo for a closeup.
The top pipe connection was cut with the rotary cutter and the old ball valve removed. Here’s the pipe cutter and old ball valve.
The copper pipe ends must be clean, even and free of all burs, gouges, scratches for a leak free connection. The ends of the pipe were polished to smooth shiny finish with sand paper. This took only a couple of minutes.
The SharkBite ball valve is pressed into place on the lower pipe. I was very fortunate the upper pipe is connected to a horizontal segment that allowed about 2 inches of vertical play.
The top connection is made by pressing the copper pipe into the ball valve until fully seated. I tried to pull the connection apart and it didn’t budge. Note that the SharkBite fittings will freely rotate, this is normal and can be helpful for difficult assemblies.
The water was turned on and the new valve checked for leaks. As of this writing, it’s been 10 days and water tight.
The drywall was patched, the frame for the access panel caulked in place and the cover installed as shown below. The final task is to paint the access panel to match the wall color.
The weatherman predicted freezing weather this weekend, so I shut off the water at the new SharkBite ball valve and opened the drain cap at the brass elbow outside so the pipe won’t freeze and burst this winter. When warmer weather returns in the spring, I’ll turn on the water again.
I’ll be using the SharkBite connectors for the basement bathroom plumbing as I hook up the shower valve and sink. The SharkBite connectors are more expensive, but this is minor for the simplicity and time saved!
Copyright © 2013 HandymanHowTo.com Reproduction strictly prohibited.