When I wrote my first article on press-connect fittings for copper tube in the October 1999 issue of Plumbing & Mechanical, hardly anyone knew what press-connect was. The response to the article was so overwhelming that I followed it up with a second article in PM’s March 2000 issue. By the third article in the January 2005 issue, everyone had at least seen press-connect fittings if they were not already pressing the connections.
In a 12-year period, press-connect copper fittings have become a dominant joining method in North America. Contractors are pressing copper on water supply systems, fuel gas systems and air systems. About the only copper system not being pressed is DWV systems. Furthermore, every major fitting manufacturer either has press-connect fittings or are about to introduce press-connect fittings.
A few months ago, I got a call from a colleague at Viega telling me the company was about to roll out its latest press-connect fittings for steel pipe and stainless-steel pipe or tubing. I was like a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t get enough information. But because I had advanced information about this roll-out, I agreed not to discuss or write about it until Viega had completed the introduction. So here we are in July, celebrating the birth of our nation, and we have a new joining system we also can celebrate.
To say the least, the new steel press-connect fittings are slick. They really are impressive and will change the way we join steel and stainless-steel pipe or tube. I’ll let the manufacturer do the selling of this product; let me address the technical and business issues for you as a contractor.
Technical benefitsYou may be asking how the steel press-connect is different than the copper press-joining method. First, all the fittings have a stainless-steel gripper ring on the inside. Don’t stick your fingers inside the fittings; those gripper rings are sharp and can give you a nice cut. I speak from experience - so don’t be as dumb!
The fittings also are beefier. When you pick one up, you will feel the weight of the fitting. These fittings are steel, not copper. They have some gusto to them.
The pressing is the same and, in my view, a little stronger than the copper press fittings. That is the result of the gripper ring holding the joint solid. Some may argue, but the result of the connection is a strong joint.
Another question you may be asking is whether the steel press-connect fittings are approved. Surprisingly, they are. All the plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas codes allow steel or stainless steel to be joined by mechanical joints. As it turns out, press-connect is a type of mechanical joint. The only other requirement is for the fittings to be listed, which the manufacturer secured before introducing the product.
The steel press fittings are listed for use in water, hydronics, air and fuel gas systems. The fuel gas fittings use a different O-ring, so make sure you don’t interchange the fittings. The steel press-connect fittings also are listed for use in potable water systems in accordance with NSF 61. If you are using steel pipe for potable water, it must be galvanized steel. The other option is to use stainless steel for potable water.
Business benefitsThe real question most of you may be asking is, “Will it increase my profit on the next job?” Yes, if you have a press-connect tool; no, if you don’t. The big nut is always the cost of the press-connect tool. Once you own the tool, you will save labor and increase the profit on an installation.
Steel press-connect fittings are going to cost more than your standard threaded fitting. But just think of the time savings of press vs. threaded connections. How much time does it take to join a gas piping installation using steel pipe? It probably took about half an hour to join a 1-in. elbow. Now, with press-connect fittings, you will reduce that down to five minutes at the most, including cutting the pipe and lining it up. The press joint itself is made in four to eight seconds.
You may use other mechanical fittings for joining steel pipe. That’s great. You already know that those fittings cost more than your standard threaded fittings. They also save labor. But imagine saving more labor. That is what the steel press-connect fitting will provide - more labor savings.
When I first encountered the fittings, I looked at every other method of joining steel pipe. My curiosity was with regard to the speed of joining steel pipe. No other joining method was as fast as the press-connect. Some were close, but press was the fastest. Furthermore, the joining method is approved for more applications than other mechanical joints. For fuel gas piping alone, the steel press-connect is a life saver. It is so fast it may give CSST a run for its money.
No, I haven’t evaluated the cost difference between the two systems. I am still a big fan of CSST.
So back to your profit. How will steel press-connect fittings increase your profits? Clearly, steel press-connect fittings will reduce the labor required to join steel pipe. If the savings is 60% in labor and the material costs increase 50%, you may have an installed cost savings of 25%, resulting in an overall cost savings that is based on the percentage of the entire project. My math isn’t fuzzy - material and labor prices differ. So, rather than bidding 25% less for a steel press-connect installation, you should bid maybe 5% less. The result is a greater profit.
Check out steel press-connect fittings. I am sure many of your competitors are. I believe that steel press-connect is the joining method of the future. It may make your threading tools obsolete.