Anyone who’s into plumbing or home improvement has heard of SharkBite fittings. With all the buzz about this easy, beginner-friendly option, you may be questioning the reliability of these fittings, especially against copper ones. If you’re looking for answers, you’ve come to the right place.
Generally, soldering copper pipe is the better, more reliable option, especially for a professional. However, push-to-connect SharkBite fittings do have their place and have a good reputation, as long as they are installed properly.
With all the opposing information online, it can be difficult to understand the nuances between both products and their uses. This article will help you decide whether soldering your copper pipe or using a SharkBite fitting is the best choice for you.
SharkBite or Solder: Which Should You Choose?
Soldering may be considered the best option, but SharkBite fittings are a fantastic option for many people. So how do you choose? Whether you should solder your pipe or use a push-to-connect fitting will depend on many factors, including:
· Your level of experience
· Location of the repair
· Your budget
Here, I’ll dive deeper into why these factors may affect what type of fitting you should use.
Your level of experience, or the experience level of who will be replacing your fittings, is an important aspect to consider when choosing between SharkBite fittings or soldering your pipe, as soldering has a learning curve and is a job that is easy to do incorrectly.
An experienced plumber will have worked with copper pipe for much of his or her career and will be able to put a high-quality solder on your pipe. It is possible to purchase the tools and materials and solder yourself, but this often leads to low-quality, patchy jobs that leak immediately or within a few months.
If a non-professional will be repairing your pipe, it is a wise choice to choose a SharkBite fitting because they are beginner-friendly and do not have a steep learning curve.
Location of the Repair
Where the fitting will be located is important to consider. While SharkBites are rated for use in inaccessible places, most plumbers recommend if you’re using these fittings to only use them where easily accessible, such as under a sink or for a water heater connection.
The failure rate for push-to-connect fittings is higher than that of the pipe being soldered. This makes many plumbers weary of using these in non-accessible places, like behind walls or underground, for example.
On the other hand, it may be better to use push-to-connect fittings in tight and hard-to-reach locations. If there is not enough room around the fitting to get a good solder or if it is difficult to reach, it is likely that you will not be able to achieve a good solder. As you know, this will cause a leak in a short amount of time, if not immediately.
The amount of money you are willing to spend is another consideration you should make when deciding between soldering your pipe and using a SharkBite fitting.
SharkBite fittings are known for their high price; after all, convenience always comes at a cost. These will run you eight to ten dollars per fitting for a standard half-inch pipe, whereas a basic copper fitting will run one to five dollars for the same size. This cost difference will add up quickly if you have several fittings to replace.
If you already own the tools and supplies you need to solder the fitting, this would be the most cost-effective route. If not, you’ll need to buy several items to complete the job, which will much outweigh the cost of the SharkBite fitting, especially if you only have one repair.
If you hire a professional, they will be able to give a quote for both options. Surprisingly, it may be more cost-effective to go with the push-to-connect fitting with a professional installation because there will be a smaller labor cost since these types of fittings are quicker and easier to install.
How Does a SharkBite Fitting Work?
These push-to-connect fittings work by grabbing the pipe, whether copper, PEX, or CPVC, with metal “teeth” on the inside of the fitting to lock it in place. There is a rubber O-ring inside the fitting that creates a watertight seal. A properly installed SharkBite fitting is warranted to last 25 years when paired with SharkBite pipe.
These fittings are reusable, which is a unique feature. However, use caution when reusing these fittings. The metal teeth that lock the pipe in place create divots in the pipe, so if you are using the same pipe, you will need to cut it down so that the surface of the pipe is smooth.
Another unique feature of these fittings is that once it is installed, it is rotatable. This is especially helpful when in tight or hard-to-reach spaces. The soldered copper pipe does not rotate; it is completely locked in place. Therefore, it must be installed to fit perfectly.
Keep in mind that SharkBite fittings have only been on the market since 2004, so these are a fairly new product, especially considering that copper pipe has been used for plumbing for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and still has an excellent reputation.
Proper Installation of a SharkBite Fitting
There are several steps you need to take when installing a SharkBite fitting, but it is a simple process. Here, I will list the steps in order so it is clear and easy to understand.
Note: Before you get started, make sure your water is turned off.
· Cut the pipe perpendicular
· Sand the pipe smooth inside and out
· Ensure there is no corrosion or left-over solder
· Clean the pipe
· Measure and mark for the fitting
· Install the SharkBite
· Check for leaks
Cut the Pipe Perpendicular
A clean, straight cut is crucial for the O-ring within the fitting to seal properly. To cut your copper pipe, it is best to use a copper pipe cutter to ensure a straight line. In a tight space, this may not be possible. In this case, it is recommended to use a cutter wheel. These are a bit pricier, but a must-have for tight spaces.
Sand the Pipe
Cutting the pipe can leave the edges jagged on the end or on the inside. This, too, can affect the seal quality of the fitting. To sand the pipe, you can buy a special tool, but basic fine-grit sandpaper will work just fine. Just be sure not to sand too hard or too much to avoid scratches on the surface of the pipe.
Check for Corrosion and Left-Over Solder
Anything on the surface of the pipe can affect the fit of the fitting and O-ring seal. Older pipes can have green corrosion build-up or old solder that needs to be removed.
To remove corrosion, make a solution of vinegar, baking soda, and salt in equal parts. Apply this to the pipe and wait ten minutes before wiping it away. If needed, this can be done multiple times. If the corrosion is very thick, you may want to replace the pipe completely.
For left-over solder, you can use fine-grit sandpaper. Again, remember not to sand too hard or too much to avoid damaging the pipe.
Clean the pipe
After removing any jagged areas and surface flaws, you need to clean the pipe of any sanding debris. This can be done with a simple lint-free rag and a spray of water.
Measure and Mark the Pipe
The SharkBite fitting needs to be inserted at a certain depth depending on the size of your pipe. The SharkBite Safe Seal Tool is designed exactly for this purpose. Simply insert your pipe into the corresponding hole size on the tool and mark the end.
You may also see the insertion depth chart on the SharkBite website and manually measure the depth you need.
Install the SharkBite
The actual install may be the easiest step in the installation process; simply insert the pipe into the fitting until you reach the mark you made earlier.
Check for leaks
With your fitting fully installed, you can now turn your water back on. If you are installing the fitting in an inaccessible place, turn the water on before closing off the area. This is called a pressure test. This is to ensure that the fitting can withstand the pressure of the water in the pipe and not leak.
After your pressure test is complete, your plumbing work is complete.
If you encounter a leak, the O-ring seal has not sealed properly and is letting water through. To fix this, remove the fitting and reinstall it. If it is still leaking, replace the fitting altogether.
How Does Soldering Work?
Soldering works by fusing two pieces of pipe together using heat and a filler metal called solder. Solder has a lower melting point than that of copper, so when heat is applied, the solder melts, but the copper doesn’t. As the solder cools, it bonds to the copper, essentially one pipe. This process is sometimes called “sweating” the pipe.
Properly installed and well-maintained copper pipe will last at least 50 years and up to 70 years. This is much longer than SharkBite fittings, even when installed well and using their recommended piping.
Proper Soldering Technique
To properly solder your pipe, you will need to have several pieces of equipment. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
· Blow torch (built-in striker)
· Lead-free solder
· Fire cloth or other fireproof material
· Spray bottle of water
· Fire extinguisher
You will first need a blowtorch. Many people have one on hand already, but if you don’t, it will only cost you fifteen to thirty dollars. Look for a blow torch with a built-in striker, otherwise, you’ll have to buy one separately.
There are two types of gas for blow torches: propane and MAPP gas. Propane is the most common and less expensive option. MAPP gas, while more expensive, gets hotter than propane, therefore making the melting process quicker. If you are inexperienced at soldering, propane will be the better option. You want to be able to take your time while getting used to the process.
There are many types of solder on the market, and they all have different uses. For soldering copper pipes, look for a lead-free option. Lead is not permitted for plumbing use because of its toxic effects on the body. Oatey is a reliable brand for lead-free solder and has high-quality products.
This is used as a flow agent for the solder and helps it stick to the copper properly. Just like solder, there are many different types of flux. Be sure to get one that is safe for plumbing use. Oatey also makes a lead-free flux that reviewers claim to be the best.
Fire Cloth, Water Bottle, and Fire Extinguisher
Fire cloth is used to protect whatever is behind your piping. The blow torch can catch wood and other building materials on fire, so protecting behind the pipe is an important safety measure.
For this, you can pin fire cloth behind the pipe. This is a fireproof material that protects your workspace perfectly. You can also DIY a protective barrier by using a cookie sheet or a #10 can with the top and bottom removed and unrolled.
A spray bottle of water is a good thing to keep on hand in case something starts smoldering. It is a quick way to wet the surface to put out the flame and make sure it doesn’t continue to burn. It is also a good idea to pre-wet any surfaces before starting to lower the risk of a fire.
Having a fire extinguisher nearby is a given whenever you are working with fire. If something does catch fire, you need to be able to put it out quickly and efficiently.
You’ll need to follow good practices to achieve a high-quality solder joint. Here, I’ll list the steps you need to follow.
· Cut, sand, and clean pipe
· Sand and clean fitting
· Apply flux to pipe and fitting and assemble
· Start heating the assembled pipe and fitting
· Wipe off excess flux and solder
Prepare Pipe and Fitting
You will prepare the pipe for soldering the same way you would for a SharkBite fitting described earlier. Cut the pipe as straight as possible, sand any jagged edges away, and clean the dust off. Ensure the pipe is free of any corrosion or left-over solder.
To prepare the fitting, lightly sand the inside, just enough to rough it up. This will help the solder to stick. Wipe the dust away before applying flux.
Apply Flux to Pipe and Fitting and Assemble
Use a small paintbrush to apply flux to the outside of the pipe and the inside of the fitting. Use just enough to cover the surface, otherwise, you’ll waste flux because it will just drip out the end.
Insert the pipe into the fitting and place it at the exact angle you will need the finished product to be; once you start soldering, rotating it can cause the joint not to adhere correctly, which will lead to leaking.
Start Heating the Pipe and Fitting
Turn on your blow torch and begin heating the joint. Always start from the top and work your way down. If you start at the top, it will be difficult to get the solder to properly adhere to the bottom portion of the joint.
As you heat the joint, test periodically to see if it will “accept” or suck in the solder. The heating process creates a vacuum-like process, so the solder goes in between the pipe and fitting.
Once the joint is hot enough to accept the solder, add it to the entire circumference of the joint. You will only need a half-inch of solder for each half-inch joint. Now, let the joint cool.
Wipe off Excess Flux
Once the joint is cool, you can use a rag and wipe away any left-over flux. This is important because excess flux can eat away at the copper over time.
I found a very explanatory and helpful video that goes through the process step-by-step. I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Soldering vs. SharkBite: Pros and Cons
Here, I have put together a pros and cons list so that you have a helpful tool that lays out the facts of each method clearly.
|Considered more reliable by experts||Time-consuming|
|Less expensive if you have the equipment||Steeper learning curve|
|Beginner-friendly and easy to use||Not as reliable as copper fittings|
|Rotatable after installation||Cost-prohibitive|
|Reusable||Do not last as long|
As you can see, there are many factors that you should consider before deciding to solder your pipe or to use a SharkBite fitting. They each have pros and cons that need to be measured against your situation and use. SharkBite fittings are a reliable, quick, and beginner-friendly option, while soldering has been trusted for countless years.
By reading this article, you are on your way to a leak-free home, no matter which option you choose.