Put down your acetylene torches, and invest in the new press tools for joining copper tubing.

One of the most exciting advances in copper tubing is being introduced to the United States - press fit fittings.

I first saw the copper press fit system at an ISH Show. As I was speaking with a president of one of the companies about his products, I asked him why he hadn't introduced the copper press fit joining system to the United States.

He gave me a look and said, "You guys have screwy pipe sizes in America. We use metric-size copper tubes. It would cost millions to change over to those sizes." My hopes of seeing this system in the near future were dimmed.

You may be wondering what drew me to this joining system, and why I was in such awe. The press fit copper fittings look like normal copper fittings. The only difference is the little hump located in the socket of each joint. When you look inside the fitting, you will notice an o-ring inside that area. The location of the hump in the socket differentiates between the various manufacturers.

The press fit joining method is simple, fast and easy. You cut and ream the copper tubing as you normally would, then the pipe is inserted completely into the socket of the press fitting. Place the press tool over the humped area of the joint, and pull the trigger. The tool applies about 2,000 pounds of pressure to the fitting to join the pipe and fitting. No cleaning of the copper, no flux, no soldering - and no mess.

How Strong Is The Joint?

The manufacturers have tested these joints to 800 psi, which is 10 times higher than the maximum pressure anticipated for a copper tubing system. Forget about pulling the joint apart. The pressure applied to the fitting holds the pipe and fitting together against any possible pull out forces. The o-ring, by the way, is more of a back up to the connection. The copper fitting pressed tight to the copper tubing makes the actual joint.

One of the beauties of the press fit joint is that you cannot make a bad connection. The tool will not disengage unless the joint has gone to completion. Hence, the fitting is always pressed to the pipe.

The companies that produce these fittings have really thought of everything. It will join any type of copper tubing: K, L or M. One tool is used to join a number of pipe sizes. A single pin is removed to change the size of the jaws from one pipe size to another. The jaws will fit into the tightest of locations to make a press connection.

The tools are powered by battery or line voltage. If you forget to press a fitting and happen to notice water leaking all over the place, you can simply place the tool over the fitting and press the connection with full line pressure. No need to drain all of the water to re-solder a joint.

I have heard only one complaint about the copper press fit system. You cannot unsolder a joint. But then, when was the last time you unsoldered a wrought fitting?

So what is the advantage to a copper press fit system? Time. Depending on the estimating manual you use and the size of the pipe, soldered joints take from three to 20 minutes per joint. Hence, an elbow would be six to 40 minutes; a tee nine to 60 minutes. When joining by a press fit system, each joint takes between three and seven seconds. For a tool with line current, the joint takes three seconds to make. The battery-powered tool increases to a whopping seven seconds. That is substantial savings in labor for joining copper tubing.

I also like how the finished system looks. There are no burn marks on the studs, joists or wallboard. The copper tubing doesn't have high temperature marks on the pipe. There is no flux or solder running down the pipe. It is just a clean, neat-looking job.

The two manufacturers of these fittings that I am aware of in the United States are Benkan and Ridgid/Viega. Benkan, a large Japanese fitting manufacturer, is distributed by Tube-Line Co. of New Jersey.

Ridgid/Viega is a cooperative effort between Viega and Ridgid Tool. Viega is one of the largest fitting manufacturers in Europe with headquarters in Germany. Ridgid, of course, is producing the press fit tool. Tube-Line is looking for a domestic manufacturer for its tool. The current tools are manufactured by Benkan in Japan.

The difference between these two manufacturers is the location of the hump in the fitting. The Ridgid/Viega fittings have the o-ring located in the middle of the socket. The Benkan fittings have the o-ring located on the entrance to the socket (at the end of the fitting).

Benkan has fittings in 1/2- and 3/4-inch sizes, with 1-inch sizes planned for the future. Ridgid/Viega has fittings in 1/2- through 2-inch sizes. They will be adding 3- and 4-inch sizes within the next two years.

Both manufacturers have been going through the listing and approval process. The way I look at it, there isn't one code in the country that prohibits this type of joining method. After all, the joint falls into a classification of a mechanical joint. Compared to other mechanical joints being used in copper tubing, the press fit just makes a better compression connection.

The Bottom Line

Everyone asks, "How much do these press fit fittings cost?" The answer is more, of course. There will also be a capital investment in the new tools. The cost savings is in the reduction in labor.

Based on my calculations, the copper press fit water distribution system will give plastic pipe a run for its money. A PEX manifold piping system still comes in with the lowest installation cost; however, the copper press fit system will be priced right alongside other material designs.

I am going to be bold and offer a prediction. Within five years, every major player in the plumbing profession will be using press fit copper fittings for the majority of the copper tubing they install. Check this system out. I think you'll agree with me.