Pipe fittings: what are they used for?

Whether you’re aiming to build your own sprinkler system, or simply looking to fiddle around under the kitchen sink, you’re going to run into pipe fittings. Understanding what they do and what they’re used for can help ensure your DIY household plumbing jobs are done properly, safely and efficiently.

Pipe fittings: what are they used for?

What is the purpose of pipe fittings?

Pipe fittings are necessary to join pipes together or to change the direction of a pipe. They allow pipes to fit around corners, beams, underground or up a wall.

  • Fittings can close or seal a pipe during renovations.
  • Pipe fittings can regulate or maintain the flow of liquid.

Good to know!
Pipe fittings are manufactured in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with specialized fittings available to suit any job, such as a reduction coupler.

Types of pipe fittings

Plumbing fittings come in a variety of materials suitable for the transport of solids and/or fluids. Common types include:

Brass pipe fittings

  • Strong and durable construction for long-term use
  • Resist corrosion from water, heat, acids and peaty soils

Copper pipe fittings

  • Superior corrosion-resistance and antibacterial qualities
  • Used for both hot and cold water supply
  • More expensive than other types of fittings

Plastics (PVC/CPVC, PEX) pipe fittings

  • Non-corrosive, rust-resistant and made with chemically resistant solutions
  • Easy to install
  • Plastic or PVC pipe fittings leave less of an environmental impact than other types of fittings

Ductile (malleable) iron pipe fittings

  • Durable, low-maintenance material is corrosion-resistant
  • Inexpensive, recyclable material is environmentally friendly
  • Galvanized versions of these fittings are resistant to external corrosion

Good to know!
Lead pipe fittings were phased out after the Second World War due to concerns over toxicity in the metal. If you are repairing plumbing in a modern home, you won’t have to worry about lead pipes. However, if you live in an older home and lead pipes are a concern, a qualified plumber can help you determine the best course of action and if replacement is necessary.

Pipe fitting connections

The connection between pipes should remain constant and tight. The type of material, size and shape will determine the type of connection required. Common connections include:

Threaded connections

  • Threaded ends screw together to connect or join pipes
  • Categorized as exterior (male) threads or interior (female) threads

Slip fit, crimp or cramp connections

  • Sleeves, rings or clamps that fit over the pipes when connected

Barbed fittings

  • Slide easily into flexible tubing
  • Tubing relaxes behind the barb to create a seal
  • Will contain pressure up to 30 psi

Cam fittings

  • Quick-disconnecting fittings that are used with pipes and hoses
  • Capable of withstanding high-pressure applications

Compression fittings

  • An outer threaded compression nut and inner threaded compression ring join pieces of pipe together
  • Used mainly for high-pressure applications

Selecting pipe fittings

When selecting plumbing fittings, here are some things you’ll want to consider:

Material

  • The fitting must be compatible with the pipes and the fluid it will carry.
  • For best results, use pipe fittings constructed from the same materials as the pipes they will connect.

Temperature and pressure

  • Proper plumbing operation relies on appropriate temperature and pressure conditions.
  • Ensure your fittings are able to perform at their maximum temperature and maximum pressure ratings.

Tubing

  • Barbed fittings work best in flexible tubing.
  • Compression fittings are suited to rigid tubing.

Good to know!
Avoid unwanted problems, such as leaks, added costs and water restrictions by selecting the right pipe fittings for the job. When in doubt, consult a professional plumber.

While you may be tempted to leap into your DIY plumbing projects with pipes and plungers blazing, taking the time to understand the fundamentals can save you time (and money) in the end.

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