Improvements or additions to a domestic plumbing system inevitably involve joining new pipework into old. How you do this depends largely upon whether the existing pipework is made of lead, iron or more modern materials – copper, polythene or even unplasticised PVC.

The principle of joining into existing pipework is quite straightforward. You decide where you will need your new water supply – at a bedroom basin or an outside tap. For example – and then pick a convenient point on the plumbing system to connect up your branch line’. At this point you have to cut out a small section of the old pipe and insert a tee junction into which the branch pipe will be fitted. That’s all there is to it: laying the branch pipe will simply involve routine cutting, bending and joining of new pipe, and final connection to the new tap or appliance at the other end.

Before you can begin the job, however, you have to do some reconnaissance work to identify what sort of existing pipework you have. You might be tempted to relate the plumbing to the age of the house, thinking that an old house will have an old system with lead or iron pipework. But this isn’t a reliable guide. Many old properties have been modernised and so may actually have a more up-to-date system than a house built relatively recently.

Until the 1950s the only types of pipe used in domestic plumbing were lead and iron, but then these were superseded by thin-walled copper piping. Today there are other alternatives too: stainless steel is sometimes used as an alternative to copper, and polythene and UPVC (unplasticised polyvinyl chloride) pipes can be installed for cold water supplies only.

Check the table for the type of pipe you can use. While copper is the most common one for new work, it must be joined to galvanised iron because of the severe risk of electrolytic corrosion of the iron if the galvanising is not in perfect condition.

First things first

Before cutting into a pipe run you’ll first have to turn off the water supply to the pipe and then drain it by opening any taps or drain cocks connected to it. But this need not be too inconvenient if you make up the complete branch line before you turn the water off so you are without water only while you make the final branch connection.

Connecting into copper pipe

When taking a branch from a copper pipe it’s probably easier to use a compression tee fitting rather than a capillary fitting. A compression fitting can be made even if there is some water in the pipe run – capillary joints need the pipe to be dry – and you won’t have to worry about using a blow-torch and possibly damaging other capillary joints nearby (if they are heated up, their solder will soften and the joint will leak).

It’s quite easy to work out how much pipe to cut out of the main run in order to insert a tee junction (of either compression or capillary fittings). Push a pencil or stick into the tee until it butts up against the pipe stop. Mark this length with your thumbs, then place the stick on top of the fitting so you can mark the outside to give a guide line. Next you have to cut the pipe at the place where the branch has to be made and prepare one of the cut ends. Now connect to the pipe the end of the tee that doesn’t have the guide line marked on the casing and rest the tee back against the pipe. You will now be able to see where the pipe stop comes to and you can then mark the pipe to give you the second cutting point. Remove the section of pipe with a hacksaw and prepare the pipe end.

With a compression fitting put on the other cap-nut and olive. If you gently push the pipe and tee sideways to the pipe run this will give you more room to position the body before you allow the pipe end to spring into place. When this is done the cap-nut can be pushed up to the fitting and can be tightened with your fingers. Both sides of the tee can then be tightened using your wrenches to give the cap-nuts about one-and-a-quarter turns.

Remember that you must use a second wrench to grip the body of the fitting so it slays still as the cap-nut is tightened. If it should turn, other parts of the joint which have already been assembled will be loosened or forced out of position, and leaks will result. The connection into the main pipe run is now complete and you can connect up the branch pipe.

If you are using a capillary tee fitting there are a number of points to bear in mind. It’s easiest to use one with integral rings of solder (this saves the bother of using solder wire) and after the pipe ends and the inside rims have been prepared and smeared with flux the fitting can be ‘sprung’ into place. The branch pipe should also be inserted at this stage so all the joints can be made at the same time.

When using the blow-torch, it is important to protect the surrounding area from the effects of the flame with a piece of glass fibre matting, asbestos or the back of a ceramic tile. It’s also worthwhile wrapping damp cloths round any nearby capillary joints to protect them from accidental over–heating and thus ‘sweating’.


Fitting metric to imperial pipework can be complicated by the slight differences in pipe diameters. The problem connections are: copper to copper (compression fittings).

– some metric fittings can be used directly with imperial-sized pipes (eg, 15mm fittings with 1/2in pipe and 28mm fittings with 1 in pipe).

– with other sizes you need to buy special adaptors or larger olives to replace those inside the fittings, so to connect a 15mm branch into existing %in pipe you’ll need a tee 22 x 22 x 15mm with special olives for the 22mm ends of the tee.

Copper to copper (capillary fittings).

– metric capillary fittings with integral solder rings are not compatible with imperial pipes, but straight adaptors are available to connect the two sizes of pipe.

– use these to join in short lengths of metric pipe, the other ends Of which are connected to opposite ends of the metric tee.

– with end-feed type fittings, extra solder can be added to make a good joint with imperial-sized pipe.

Copper to stainless steel – as for copper to copper connections, but usually compression fittings only.

Stainless steel to copper – as above for copper to stainless steel.

Stainless steel to stainless steel – as for copper to copper.

Connecting into lead pipe

Inserting a tee junction into lead pipe involves joining the run of the tee into two ‘wiped’ soldered joints. Join short lengths of new copper pipe into opposite ends of a compression tee. Measure the length of this assembly, and cut out 25mm (1 in) less of lead pipe. Join the assembly in with wiped soldered joints – a job that takes a lot of practice, and one you may prefer to leave to a professional plumber until you have acquired the skill. You then connect the branch pipe to the third leg of the tee.

Connecting into iron

Existing iron pipework will be at least 25 years old, and likely to be showing signs of corrosion. Extending such a system is not advisable you would have difficulty con-necting into it, and any extension would have to be in stainless steel. The best course is to replace the piping completely with new copper piping.

Connecting into polythene pipe

If you have to fit a branch into a polythene pipe it’s not a difficult job, especially if you use the same material. Polythene pipes are joined by compression fittings similar to those used for copper. Polythene hasn’t yet been metricated in the UK and each nominal pipe size has a larger outside diameter than its copper equivalent. So you’ll have to use either special gunmetal fittings for polythene pipe (still made to imperial sizes) or else an ordinary metric brass fitting a size larger than the pipe – 22mm for 1/2in polythene.

You also need to slip a special metal liner inside the end of the pipe before assembling each joint to prevent the pipe from collapsing as the cap-nuts are tightened. In addition, polythene rings are used instead of metal olives in brass fittings. Apart from these points, however, inserting a tee in a length of polythene pipework follows the same sequence as inserting one into copper.

Connecting into UPVC pipe

As with polythene it’s an easy job to cut in a solvent weld tee – a simple collar fitting over the ends of the pipe and the branch. After you’ve cut the pipe run with a hacksaw you have to roughen the outsides of the cut ends and the insides of the tee sockets with abrasive paper and then clean the surfaces with a spirit cleaner and degreaser. Solvent weld cement is smeared on the pipe ends and the insides of the sockets, and the pipe ends are then ‘sprung’ into the sockets.

You have to work quickly as the solvent begins the welding action as soon as the pipes meet. Wipe surplus cement off immediately, and hold the joint securely for 15 seconds. After this you can fit your branch pipe to the outlet of the tee.


Try to join into existing pipework at a point where you have room to manoeuvre. If space is very tight.

– use a junior hacksaw instead of a full-sized one, or

– use a sawing wire for cutting pipes in corners


Your branch line may be the same diameter as the main pipe, or smaller (it should never be larger). Tees are described as having all ends equal (eg, 15 x 15 x 15mm), or as having the branch reduced (eg, 22 x 22 x 15mm).


All pipework needs supporting at intervals along its length with pipe clips (usually plastic or metal). Fit them at.

– 1.2m (4ft) intervals on horizontal pipe runs

– 1.5m (5ft) intervals on vertical pipe runs.


– hold the body of a compression fitting securely with one wrench or spanner while doing up the cap-nut with another.

– wrap nearby capillary fittings in damp cloths when soldering in new ones

– make up the entire branch line before cutting in the branch tee

– have cloths handy for mopping up when cutting into existing pipework

– if you’re using compression fittings on a vertical pipe run, stop the lower cap-nut and olive from slipping down the pipe by clipping a clothes peg or bulldog clip to it

– keep a replacement cartridge for your blow-torch in your tool kit so you don’t run out of gas in the middle of a job.

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