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When it comes to water, most properties have two different systems – one for getting fresh water into a property and one for getting rid of dirty water.

It has been known for properties to have water disposal pipes wrongly connected meaning that waste water from toilets, baths, sinks, showers and washing machines/dishwashers are linked to the surface water network rather than the foul sewage one and this can lead to pollution in rivers and streams.

While pipes that deal with rainwater from roofs, roads and drives being wrongly directed to the foul sewage system can put pressure on it, which can lead to flooding.

If in doubt, it is advisable to have your pipework connections checked out by a qualified plumber. 

There are two common ways to get water into your home.

Stored water:

Here there is a cold water storage tank in the loft or roof space, which usually supplies cold water to the bathroom.

Hot water is generated by the tank being connected to a cylinder where the water is heated by a boiler or immersion heater.

With this system, only water from the cold water kitchen tap, which is fed directly from the mains, should be drunk.

The advantages of this system is that if the water supply is interrupted or the water pressure is low, there is a stored supply of water available until water supply services return to normal.

However, it can be more expensive to install, the storage unit can become contaminated if not properly protected and can freeze if there is inadequate insulation.

Mains water:

This is how most modern houses are supplied. This provides mains pressured water, which is of drinking standard, to every tap in the house.

Hot water will be generated via a combination boiler or a hot water cylinder.

Its installation is cheaper than the stored water system, there is less risk of bacterial contamination and it supplies safe drinking water to every cold tap in the property. 


Good quality and competently-installed pipework is what keeps the sinks, taps, bathrooms, toilets, showers, plumbing, heating and drainage systems in your home working efficiently and cost-effectively.

Ensuring pipe joints are watertight, that drainage systems are kept block-free, and that pipework is correctly installed and maintained are among the key elements that need to be focused on.

It is advisable to regularly check pipework as it is far cheaper if a problem is rectified sooner rather than later.

After all a pipe that has been left to leak can lead to rotten floorboards and a dripping tap can waste a substantial amount of water and increase your utility bills.

Materials used for plumbing systems have changed during the years and householders may find that pipework from a variety of materials has been used in their property.

Today many houses are built using a combination of copper and plastic pipework, as the use of each material is advantageous in different settings. Plastic is usually cheaper and easier to fit, while copper can be longer lasting and withstand higher temperatures.

Metric/imperial pipes:

Which pipework sizing system has been used in a house usually depends on its age. Older properties will have Imperial pipes and modern homes normally will have Metric ones.

Metric and Imperial pressure pipework is the same when it comes to performance, strength, and methods of joining.

The pipe sizes differ between the two, but they can be combined in the same pipe network with the use of Imperial to Metric adaptors.

When it comes to sizing up for different types of pipework, the general rule of thumb is:

15mm (1/2ins): kitchen sinks, basins, some showers, washing machines, and radiator flow and returns.

22mm (3/4ins): high output showers, baths, main central heating circuits and hot water cylinders.

28mm (1ins): Larger heating installations.

Metal pipes:

Copper: The most commonly used material for hot and cold water and central heating pipework is a type of copper. Referred to as half-hard-tempered copper, its attributes include that it can be easily bent, is light-weight and solders efficiently and effectively.

Copper is renowned for its thermal conductivity and being resistant to corrosion.

The three sizes of copper pipe which are generally employed for household plumbing systems are 15mm (1/2ins), 22mm (3/4ins) and 28mm (1ins).

Stainless steel: This material, which is available in the same sizes as copper, does not corrode easily, is durable and is said to have an expected life span of up to 50 years.

It is often chosen when pipework is exposed due to its aesthetic qualities.

Also, it does not trigger galvanic corrosion when connected to iron pipes, unlike some other metals.

However, it is more difficult to bend and solder.

Lead: While the use of this type of piping has been banned for plumbing purposes for decades due to the risk of lead leaching into the water, it may still exist in many older properties.

Those who have lead piping are advised to let the tap run enough time to fill a sink before drawing off water for drinking or cooking. This is because lead can build up in water that has been standing in pipes overnight or due to no-one being in during the day.

Replacing lead piping with modern, safer alternative materials should be carried out as soon as is practicably possible.

Iron:  The preference for types of metals used for plumbing has changed during the years as ones with superior qualities came to the fore.

Lead was once the metal of choice but was overtaken by iron, which now has been displaced in favour of copper.

Iron water supply pipes can still be found in older properties. Its main disadvantages are that rust can build up inside the pipe, which has a detrimental effect on the water pressure and flow.

Plastic pipes:

Many people choose plastic pipes because they are rust resistant and have a smooth interior surface which minimises friction and helps maximise the speed of water flow. They also are easy to put together, light in weight, and can be connected to existing metal pipework.

cPVC: Similar to PVC, but it can withstand a greater range of temperatures. Today it is widely used in plumbing and drainage systems due to its low cost, strength, durability and easy installation.

PB: Its uses include hot and cold water supply and central heating systems as it is known for being robust as well as flexible and easy to install. Can have a tendency to sag if it is not properly supported.

PEX: This is an extremely flexible material, which means it is less susceptible to the damaging effects of freezing and thawing. It is popular for cold and hot water supply pipes and underfloor heating systems. Can have a tendency to sag if it is not adequately supported.

MDPE: Another strong, flexible and durable plastic that also is less prone to problems with pressure and corrosion. It is commonly used for underground domestic water supplies pipework. Larger in diameter it can improve the delivery of water to a property.

Thawing frozen pipes:

  1. Open the tap that is linked to the frozen pipe to allow the water to flow once the ice starts to melt. 
  2. The next step is to warm the pipe. 
  3. This can be done in a variety of ways such as wrapping the pipe in towels that have been soaked in boiling water, putting on a hot water bottle, using a hair dryer or a heat lamp. A word of warming - never ever use a heating device with an open flame.
  4. As the ice melts water will start to flow from the tap, which needs to be left on for several minutes to ensure the pipe is fully thawed.
  5. A check then will need to be made to ascertain if the ice has ruptured any of the pipework. If this has happened you will need to turn off the water supply at the stop cock and either replace or seal the damaged section of pipework.


Cold water storage tank: 

  • This is found in the loft or roof space with it usually only delivering cold water to the bathroom.
  • Hot water is generated by the tank being connected to a cylinder where the water is heated by a boiler or immersion heater.
  • With this system, only water from the cold water kitchen tap, which is fed directly from the mains, should be drunk.
  • For safety reasons and to prevent contamination, the tank should have a tightly fitting lid to stop light, dust, birds, insects and vermin getting in.
  • It also should be insulated to stop the water from freezing, while also not being not located near any sources of heat to ensure the water is kept as cold as possible.
  • Vents, including an overflow, also need to feature in the design. These need to be covered in such a way to prevent insects and particles getting into the system.

Polythene tank:

In the past water tanks were made of galvanised steel (iron) which was prone to rusting, which as well as discolouring the water and making it have a metallic taste, meant the structure of the tank could fail and end up leaking.

Nowadays, tanks are made of polyethylene which is much more durable and overcomes the problems associated with the iron ones.

Vented cylinders:

  • These are used in conjunction with a cold water storage tank in the roof space of a house and are found in the airing cupboard.
  • Water to the cylinder is delivered from the storage tank, which itself has been supplied with water from the mains.
  • The cylinder’s water is heated by an electric immersion heater, a central heating boiler or solid fuel appliance.

Unvented cylinders

  • An unvented cylinder is pressurised system with the water supplied directly from the mains.
  • It is capable of delivering hot water at mains pressure, which can help maximise the water flow to a shower and/or bath.
  • There also is more flexibility about where the cylinder can be located.
  • This system means a water storage tank in the roof space is not required. 

Combi boilers:

These do away with the need for both the water storage tank and water cylinder. They are supplied with water direct from the mains and instantaneously heat water when a hot tap is turned on.

This is just an overview and we go into more detail in other sections. However, while these are guidelines and advice if you are unsure than call in an expert plumber.

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