Updated: Nov 24
Ed is a do-it-yourselfer who is happy to share some of his ideas and experiences in this monthly column.
Gee, it’s kind of sad to admit, but sometimes function is just plain and simply more important than fashion! A friend of mine asked me to address the issue in an old basement sink fixture, which was streaked with rust stains from leaking, rusting, galvanized pipes. He wanted to do it in the easiest way that would make it function, without regards to anything fancy or pretty. (That also means keeping the cost low!)
Here’s a picture of what it looked like before doing anything there:
You can see that the supply pipes come in from the top, behind a home-made “medicine cabinet” of sorts. There would be no way to get to or remove things without taking the cabinet down, and probably taking the sink from the wall. Here’s the medicine cabinet removed:
I discovered there were NO water line shutoffs ahead of this sink, so I had to turn off the whole house supply at the meter. Once I opened up the faucets and let the water flow out, I cut the copper supply pipes (copper was upstream of the galvanized) and slid on two push-fit ball valves. The ones I used were Sharkbite brand, but there are others of similar design (Gatorbite, for example). I used what the local store carried. If you’ve never used fittings like these before, you’ll become a convert immediately! It couldn’t be any easier to install fittings than these — no glue, no solder, and removable/reusable! They even rotate while engaged, and can be used while the pipes are wet. PLUS, they allow you to connect different material types (copper-to-CPVC, copper-to-PEX, PEX-to-CPVC, etc.) as long as the diameter is the same. The only downside is that push fittings cost a lot more than the equivalent fittings in solder-on or glue-on. In this case, I planned to connect the copper to a PEX supply line.
Also, if you’ve never used PEX, once you do you’ll likely not use anything else. It is easily cut, flexible, durable, non-corrosive, and inexpensive. Plus, no S.O.B. will rip it out of your house and take it to the recycler for drug money. Back on track, though… Here’s a picture of the 2 ball valves slipped onto the old supply lines. By the way, ball valves are far superior to gate valves so that’s all I use.
Literally, within seconds, I had the main water supply turned back on, so the rest of the house had functional bathrooms, sinks, etc.
I had a bit of difficulty finding replacement faucets locally that come “through the wall” or in this case, through the back of the sink. A set had to be special ordered and delivered to our local home improvement store. Ones closest in appearance to what was there were rather expensive, so we chose a reasonably-priced set that had a much higher spout “arch”. We knew we’d have some clearance issues, but figured we’d “make them work”, or eventually replace that cabinet with something newer and better. (You remember the title of this article, don’t you?) Here’s what was purchased:
And, here’s how the sink looked after disconnecting the old faucets:
When the old supply lines were cut, it was obvious that the fittings behind the sink were not what they “should have” been. Normally the supply lines for an installation such as this are anchored in place to the wall in a 90-degree elbow that has “drop ears” to secure it in place. Then, a pipe nipple of the appropriate length is threaded into the firmly-held elbow and the faucets attached from the front. In this case, everything was loose, so the supply lines and rear fittings must have been attached to the sink before the sink was hung on the wall, then the copper fed to it (originally, the whole system would have been galvanized piping).
Thus, the sink had to come off the wall so that I could get wrenches in place to hold everything while doing the undoing. It just lifted off the wall bracket, but I had to wiggle it past some other obstacles, like the attached home-made drainboard and shelving.
I removed the wall hanger bracket and slipped the old pipes out for disposal.
Since the new faucet was designed to connect onto ½” IPS (iron pipe size), I had purchased fittings to convert ½” PEX in a 90-degree turn into the ½” IPS. The fittings had the “drop ears” to allow anchorage to the wall, which I expected to do. However, we decided to do as the previous installer had done, and connect things loosely, with the sink removed from the wall. Then the sink could be lifted onto the hanger and bracing, and the PEX easily bent into place to get to the shutoffs. Here’s the type of fitting I used, with a short pipe nipple threaded in. Note the “drop ears” that would be used if the installation was done as it really normally would be:
By the way, while the sink was down, my friend started to clean around the area where the new faucets would go. Just to save time, he only did the immediate area, and planned to clean everything else once installation was done and rinsing water was available.
The new faucet was designed to fit on 7″ – 9″ supply line centers. The parts visible in the picture below have an offset in them, and can be rotated to change those distances. Our need was for an 8″ center-to-center spacing. These parts were threaded onto the fittings in the photo above, but some spacers were needed (large washers) as the pipe nipples I had on hand were longer than the ½” through-the-front required by the faucet. The large washers also kept the smaller elbow from being pulled through the holes in the sink. It should go without saying that a good coat of a quality Teflon-based pipe thread compound should be liberally smeared over the threads before tightening things down. You can also use Teflon tape, but I prefer the gooey stuff. It still seems to work if you have to “back off” a fitting to align things. The tape works great if things line up, but I don’t like backing anything off that was taped because it increases the risk of a leak.
PEX connects easily onto the fittings using clinch-type rings and special pliers. The pliers are mostly goof-proof, as you can’t release them from the clinch until the clinch has been properly compressed. Pliers and clinch fittings are available most anywhere. There are other methods of making the connection, and some require much more expensive tools, but this is what I use and I’m very satisfied with things. The only real issue is that you need to place the clinch ring onto the fitting at the proper location so that when tightened, it seals against the ribs on the fitting. (Read the directions on the packaging!) I like to use red PEX for the hot side, and blue PEX for the cold side.
With the faucet set connected from the front (it threaded onto the fittings previously installed) and stub pieces of PEX already attached, all we’d have to do was lift the sink into place and push the PEX into the shutoff valves.
The sink lifted onto the wall bracket and the final water line connections done. I removed the strainer and flushed things through for a couple of minutes before replacing it:
Remember that I told you the high arch of the spout would cause some issues? Since this was not a big deal on an old cabinet that will be replaced, we simply cut away at the bottom of the cabinet to allow clearance for the spout.
Maybe sometime I’ll do an article on “plumbin’ pretty”!
I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!