If you'll remember back a few weeks ago we were planning to install a leak detection system in our home. Not only would this system detect the presence of water in unexpected areas, but it will also remotely trigger the main water shutoff valve to turn off if it detects water, hopefully reducing the chances of a catastrophic leak and the resulting upheaval that could theoretically be thrust upon our lives.

The system is called the "WaterCop," and it consists of a brass fitting with an integrated and remote controlled 1/4 turn shutoff valve and several remote water sensors. When it came to our particular installation, the process was actually quite simple and only took about an hour and a half.

The size of the valve and connection type varies based on the size and connection you choose. In our case, we chose a 3/4" threaded fitting for the valve, but larger sizes are available, as well as soldered and compression fittings, to accommodate the various installs and comfort level of the installer.

Personally, I prefer the threaded fitting over soldered or compression, but it's just a personal preference. I actually hate sweating fittings near valves. I've had my fair share of valve failures due to too much heat near the ball. This is most likely due to my novice standing as a plumber, but if I can work around the issue through materials selection, why not?

If you remember the quick tutorial we did a few weeks ago showing how to sweat a copper fitting, we were connecting a male threaded fitting to the end of a length of pipe for this very WaterCop install project, not just randomly soldering stuff for fun. Like how it all eventually makes sense?

Due to various obstructions on the basement ceiling, the location of our primary water supply pipe, and the need to install this device near the main water shutoff, we only had a small area where we'd be able to locate the install. It would need to go just a few inches downstream of the main shutoff valve, and just upstream from where our cold water supply branches off to everything else in the house. It would be tight, but I could make it work.

I got everything started be making up the two threaded fittings we'd need for either side of the valve. This allowed me to establish a rough set of dimensions where I'd need to remove existing pipe and splice in the new.

My plan was somewhat simple and I hoped it would work without much difficulty. I wanted to make a cut in the line on the downstream side of the valve, then heat the existing elbow to remove that fitting from the line. I'd then clean up the end of the old pipe and splice in the new.

I'm not sure why, but I loathe shutting off the water to the house when I'm working. It feels too permanent and critical, and if I mess something up we're transported into the 19th century until I can fix it. "Can I use the sink?" "Can I flush the toilet?" "Can I take a shower?" The questions start almost the instant I begin making that first pull on the valve handle and head perilously toward point of no return. 

My hope is to prepare as much as possible to minimize the shutdown time to an "acceptable" length (more than a few minutes but less than months is usually the range I shoot for, much to my lovely wife's dismay). To cut down on "down time", I organized all of my tools that I'd need for the task on the nearby router table. 

My arsenal of plumbing goods exceeds this photo and consisted of pipe cutters, a deburing tool, pipe dope, brush fitting cleaners, outside pipe cleaners, emory paper, solder, flux, a fire extinguisher, my torch and propane, white bread, wrenches, etc! It was like I was preparing for house surgery and the basement was my shady OR.

Once I was totally prepared I shut down the water, opened a sink faucet upstairs, and then opened the faucet in the basement laundry tub, essentially breaking any significant vacuum and allowing the water to drain out of the supply lines. This is a crucial step as we don't want water somehow getting into joint while soldering.

As much as shutting the water off feels substantial, the true point of no return came when I started cutting the old pipe with my tubing cutter. It was a tight space, so I had to use my mini cutter. It's a bit of a pain over one with more leverage, but absolutely necessary in restricted space situations.

Once the water line was cut, I positioned my metal backing and heat blanket in a manner that would protect the area behind the elbow. I knew I'd need to heat it quite a bit, and I really didn't want to risk fire or heat damage to the wires that run just behind the elbow. It was also important to have this nearby, just in case.

This is one of those situations where you can heat the old fitting to the point where the old solder turns liquid again, effectively breaking the otherwise permanent bond between fitting and pipe. As I heated with the torch I keep hold on the pipe or fitting with a wrench, trying to wiggle it free every few seconds.

After enough time passed and the fitting came to the right temperature I was able to slip it off of the supply, leaving a shiny silver end of the pipe. A quick wipe with a rag before the solder cooled removed much of the excess solder that would otherwise stand in the way of a new fitting.

Following the normal cleaning process, I cleaned up the end if the old pipe and got it prepared for the new elbow fitting. I felt inside of the pipe and realized that the people who installed it hadn't deburred the pipe before placing the elbow, so I took care of that little issue. (I know there are plenty of other places where it probably isn't right either, but I have to put that out of mind.)

I also had to sand the old solder down a little more with a little emory paper because of the solder buildup that was left in place, but it wasn't too bad.

At this point I turned my attention to getting the valve ready for install. Using the threaded fittings and elbow I made up I connected the two pipes to the valve using a good amount of thread sealant. My brand of preference is Pro-Dope. It's worked really well throughout the years for all of my situations, but it's just a personal preference.

As you can see, I tend to go for excess because I can wipe it down when I'm done. I'd rather too much than too little.

The key here is to make sure the threaded fittings are tight and allow the valve's orientation to end up in the right place for our install. It's a bit of a dance that requires a good amount of effort to make sure everything is properly lined up and water tight. I used two wrenches to get everything where I needed it. I'd also be omitting an important detail if I failed to mention that I had to connect the elbow piece twice after I connected it ultimately pointing in the wrong direction.

Just before I started soldering I put one more element in place in an attempt to ensure a leak free install, bread. No, I'm totally serious. The number one enemy of soldered plumbing fittings is water. If water somehow makes its way near or into your joint while you are soldering, you'll likely end up with a pinhole leak or completely failed joint. This bread move is a trick I learned from my old plumber boss, and it works quite well. Using a piece of white bread (just the middle, not the crust)...

...you shove a little ball of it in the pipe on either end.

As you can see form the photo, I had already applied some flux to the pipe. I should have waited until after I put the bread in as I ended up getting bread stuck in the flux. I had to wipe it off and apply it again. I also went ahead and put flux on all of the other fittings and pieces that needed it.

Once everything was connected and the bread was in place all that was left was to make the final soldered connections. I'd need to solder the inlet side of the elbow as well as both sides of the slip coupling, but only three areas wouldn't bee too difficult.

The key here was the coupler I was using. It doesn't have that little stop dimple in the middle to prevent the pipe from going all of the way through. 

This allowed me to slide the fitting all of the way onto the new piece before getting it into place and sliding it back onto the old pipe. This prevented me from putting too much stress on the old pipes by trying to bend them into the fittings.

With everything in place I made my final prep before I began soldering. Since I already applied my thread sealant I wanted to protect it from the heat of the pipes as much as possible. I grabbed two rags and dipped them in cold water. 

I then wrapped them around the two threaded connections. This would protected the two threaded fittings and pipe dope by keeping some of the severe heat away while soldering.

Once I was ready I started soldering and was done about a minute or two later. As I wiped the joint to the sounds of hissing and sizzling I repeated my superstitious phrase, "no drips, no runs, no errors."

I took a step back to look at the finished pipe and hoped all had gone as expected. We were fast approaching the moment of truth in the project. The point where we would determine if we had minutes left before completion, or hours. 

I gave the pipe a few minutes to cool as I went around the house and turned off all of the faucets I had left open. As I turned on the water at the main valve, we both kept our fingers crossed.

And there it was, no leaks, no hissing, a new shutoff valve was installed!

Hooking up the actual WaterCop device was simple. It just slid into the mounting holes of the new brass valve and a little silver mounter collar snapped into place.

Once the device was installed we just had to plug it into the nearby outlet installed in the ceiling many years ago. When we plugged it in the device began working immediately. After we had tested it before we left it on the "open" position, so this is where it stayed when we restored power.

To test the valve I pressed the red button on the device and it rotated the valve into the "closed" position. The red light illuminated as expected the the device worked wonderfully. I tested the water at the kitchen sink and there was no pressure. Perfect!

I then made a little video to show you just how the WaterCop works with the sensors. This is just a quick and crude video but is shows you just how the WaterCop works with the remote sensors.

We still need to place the various sensors in their permanent locations, and also test to be sure the signal can make it through our thick plaster walls and wood floors. Worst case we'll need to install a signal booster on the main floor to relay any signals. We'll probably end up putting sensors behind the toilets and under sinks, as well as on floor prone areas in the basement, such as around the washing machine and water heater.

This has been a project on our To Do list for quite some time, so it feels very good to have it installed in our home. Hopefully we'll never have to actually use it, but we know it's there in the event we need it. I want to do a custom program that might allow me to control the position of the device from an iPhone, and also something that will alert me on the phone if the sensor gets tripped, but that's far down the road.

Did any of you use the wekend to accomplish something that you've wanted to knock out for a while, or did you just spend the weekend at the bar in celebration of St. Paddy's Day? Don't worry, we did a little of both.

 Note: We weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products when we see them, and hope that learning from our mistakes can help save you time, money and frustration.

Comments 4

Comments

Beth Wilt
3/18/2013 at 1:40 PM
Plus, you have the ghost to inform you.
3/18/2013 at 5:34 PM
Do you leave the bread in there?
Alex
3/18/2013
Yep, you just leave it in there. The idea is that the bread dissolves when you turn the water on, that's why you use white bread. Wonder bread is the best, but we wanted to eat most of the loaf, so we used the HealthyWhite :-) If you use wheat or something more dense you run the risk of clogging up your fixtures...not that I ever did that to anything and rendered our sink sprayer completely useless.

P.S. So very glad that you're posting again. We're looking forward to seeing the front shape up, though I think Newark probably has bigger things to worry about than your peeling paint.
Laurie
3/19/2013 at 1:08 PM
Me too! Love your blog. Missed it!
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