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A great way to save money is to install pool plumbing fittings yourself - as long as you do it right! An incorrect installation will cost you more money in the long run, and could potentially damage your pool. That doesn’t mean that you have to go out and hire an expert, but it does mean that you should spend a bit of time doing your homework before you get started.
Different types of fittings
Whether you are installing a heater, filter, pump, chlorinator, or salt water system, chances are that you will have to replace or modify your existing plumbing. This requires some basic know-how, starting with what the three different types of fittings are, and how to install them.
1. Barbed fittings
Barbed fittings are slightly antiquated, but may still be found in older systems. As you might expect, they are ‘barbed’ so you simply have to push the male into the female and it will be held in place by the barbs.
If you currently have barbed fittings you may want to consider upgrading them. If you choose to replace your old barbed fittings with newer ones, then be aware that you’ll also need some Teflon tape to finalize the installation. To ensure a tight fit you should use a hose clamp to tighten the connection after wrapping Teflon tape around the end of the fitting. For an even tighter fit some professional contractors heat the pipe before tightening the clamp.
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2. Threaded fittings
Threaded fittings are probably the most straightforward option for novices and are also easier to adjust or uninstall. As the name suggests they are threaded, just like a screw, so you simply apply the thread sealant then twist the two components together to create a tight seal.
Be careful not to twist the threads too tightly, or you’ll risk cracking the pipes or the fixture, but twist too loosely and the seal won’t be water tight and will leak or disconnect altogether under water pressure.
Use thread sealant that is suitable for PVC piping, and DO NOT use permanent epoxy. Using permanent epoxy or glue will make the seal permanent and you’ll have to use a saw to cut out and replace the entire component.
Once the two components are twisted together finish the job by wrapping the Teflon tape around the fixture. Wrap in the direction that you would turn the fixture to screw it tighter (i.e. clockwise), wrapping counter clockwise could inadvertently loosen the fixture.
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Tip: Do not use epoxy. If you want a permanent seal, then you are better off using slip fittings.
3. Slip fittings (they’re permanent)
Slip fittings require the most work, and may be difficult for a novice unless you have other plumbing (or related) experience. However, it is also the most versatile and effective method for connecting your plumbing. Remember, a slip fitting gives a permanent seal.
The first step is to sand the ends of the pipes together, then wipe them clear of debris and dry them. Any debris on the pipes may prevent the glue from bonding properly and create an incomplete seal. Next, apply the primer to the end of each pipe and to the inside of the fitting.
Finally, apply glue to the outside of each pipe and to the inside of the fitting, push the two pieces into the fitting and twist the fitting about 90 degrees (i.e. ¼ of a full turn) to ensure that the glue is spread evenly.
Hold the pieces together long enough for the glue or epoxy to bond. Make sure that you use specialty glue designed for use on PVC pipes in pools. Certain glues or epoxies may fail as a result of exposure to chlorine, salt or other chemicals.
Once the glue is dry you can turn your system on. There should not be any leaks, but if there is you will either have to cut out and replace the fixture, or simply use Teflon tape (once the water is turned off and the surface is dry).
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Pipe sizing and flow
In addition to the type of pool fittings that are best suited to your needs there are some other basic things that you need to consider.
Older pools generally use 1.5” piping, whereas it is more common these days to use 2” piping. The 2” plumbing allows for more water to flow quicker, and reduces the likelihood of blockages disrupting the water flow. A 2” pipe should be just a bit smaller than a pop can, and will be well labelled at any pool supply retailer.
Many pool owners decide on upgrading the size of their piping in order to increase the volume of water that their heater, filter, pump, chlorinator, or salt water system can cycle.
The most crucial piping is right around the pump intake. If your pump only has a 1.5” intake then there is no point in upgrading your other piping to 2” because the pump won’t be able to take in that much water. Similarly, installing 2” piping on the outflowing side will be a waste of time if the intake is only 1.5”. For optimal results you should upgrade all of your piping to 2” (assuming that your pump is compatible).
Deciding to make the leap to wider pipes, of course, also mean that you’ll have to ensure that your fittings are the correct size.
Choosing your fittings
Wider piping isn’t the only way to maximize your water flow efficiency. There are other important choices that you need to make in order to achieve more efficient flow, and a longer life span for your pool plumbing. Chief among these is choosing your fittings.
We’ve already gone over the three different types of fittings, but there is more to it than that. You should try to avoid using 90-degree elbow fittings as much as possible. They slow the flow, create more friction, and are harder on your pump. A more gradual change in direction is preferable.
Do you have a plan for your plumbing?
Take time to plan your plumbing. Try to find the most direct route possible, a long route with twists and turns will require more energy, create more heat in your pump, and could reduce the lifespan of your entire plumbing system. Use as few fittings as you can get away with, and space them out. Your plan should aim for maximum efficiency.