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How To
DIY - Plumbing
Chinese plumbing can be quite contrary, or show state of the art techniques. We will write this page for foreigners who move into an apartment and find that not everything works as it should - which is pretty common.

Most of China does not do copper based pipework - they still have galvanized iron pipes in use, or modern plastic alternatives. Somehow, the soldered copper stage (Which I am very good at) was skipped. If you have a problem with old iron pipework, then this probably necessitates the services of a professional to put right.

But let's begin this section with what you as a foreigner will find when taking possession of your new or old apartment in China:

The first problem you will encounter is how to install the washing machine you just bought.

Installing a Washing Machine

Most people put this out on the balcony, where a washing machine has been before - and it is very handy for hanging out the clothes to dry. There will be a drain affair (Waste water hole in the floor) just right to accept the drainage pipe. You notice a light above for midnight washing shenanigans, and there is a tap just in the right place for water feed.

This is usually the point where it all falls apart ... because the tap set into the wall will either be the wrong size, or not have the right type of spout to connect anything to. This is a lengthy topic, so please pin back your luggholes and pay attention:

First of all, the wall tap (faucet) can have 2 sizes for connection to the iron pipework. On older taps the spout is designed to take a water pipe, and this fitting is integral and cannot be changed - so you need to replace the tap.

The new tap will invariably have the small bore pipe connector, and you will need the larger size. Therefore, when you go to buy a new tap, you may also need to buy the correct iron-pipework adapter to fit the new tap. You are best to dismantle the whole caboodle and take it all down the hardware shop or plumbers merchant (Same thing really).

The shop will then set you up with everything you need, including loads of PTFE tape, and new tap with the correct fitting to attach a modern washing machine ..... but with the small size spout connector, and you will invariably require the larger size. The tap pictured cost Y9 and the connector Y2.

Seasoned Expats will have this one sorted already, as otherwise you end up un-fitting everything, and going back to the shop - this time taking the washing machine fitting with you, and getting the larger size. This is so common a problem, it happens every time!
Image: My washing machine adapter is  plug-in - Click to Enlarge

Image: Tap to washing machine adapter - Click to Enlarge

Before we leave this topic, I want to mention the actual fittings themselves, as they appear to be plastic circles with adjusting screws you wind up to fit any tap. They do not actually work like this, so the white plastic bit that has 4 philips type screws going into it - needs throwing away. Just use the simple screw-on tap connector as illustrated.

The washing machine will have a white plastic connector which operates as a pull down and click up. This slots straight into the larger size tap connector spout = Simple 'Plug-in, plug-out'.

Toilet Cisterns

The second problem is that all Western style sit on WC's have severe problems with the flushing mechanism's - to the point where I have never yet been in an apartment that has one, where the top of the cistern is not left off for access to flush. You will see the same in restaurants, and it is an endemic Chinese quality issue that Chinese people have no intention of addressing - because they all use the 'Chinese Trap' or hole in the floor method. Tough!

You can quite easily replace the cistern internals (Usually of modern and weird plastic designs), and rest peacefully in the knowledge that it will not work much past week 6 - at which point you will have to remove the top of the cistern in order to get it to flush properly.

Modern cisterns operate with two flush push down buttons for full flush and water saving - just like in the west. The standard replacement internals will cost around Y25, with quality ones costing around Y40. It is well worth paying the extra.

In Toisan my WC has the old-fashioned float ball and stop-cock system. Unfortunately it was leaking from below, and after replacing the flex pipe, the problem continued - so we called in the local expert plumber (There were several jobs we wanted doing). All he did was remove the flex pipe and fit a stop to the outlet. He then placed the whole pipe with wall tap on the cistern and considered the job well done. It's a nightmare and still leaks from the original point - most likely a joint between the two-part unit. I have bought a replacement cistern internal (Pictured) and will fit it next time I have the inclination. Just as well this guy was the best plumbers in Toisan City, as otherwise I dread to think what may have resulted!

Pipework and Fittings

As mentioned above, Chinese either has the old galvanized iron pipes, or modern plastic - they seemed to skip the copper pipework (Except for specific uses). If you know how to work with old iron pipes in the west, then you will know that Chinese ones are basically the same. If you do not know, then this is best left to those that do.

Modern plastic pipes for domestic use are white and come in coils about 1 meter in diameter. They are equivalent to 1" pipes in the west, although appear to be larger. Their internal diameter (within fittings) is not. They are quite easy to work with given a couple of tips:

1. They can be bent into shape, such as for making a corner or spout. The diameter of any turn should be about 5 inches minimum, although this can be reduced further with expert use of a little heat. Do not try this unless you are competent, as many things can go wrong. Plastic pipe bent using grips should retain shape, but cover the grips with cloth to avoid unsightly marks on the pipe.

2. Whilst you can cut these pipes with a hack-saw, professionals use a specialized scissors press thingymagig. This looks like a pair of curved scissors placed inside a nut-cracker. Pressure is then applied using a lever and ratchet system, where you would normally work around the outside of the pipe (Keeping everything lined-up and true). These produce an excellent result with no burrs, and the bonus is the end of the cut pipe is slightly tapered inwards thus making fitting far easier. I have not seem any plastic joints of the type we would apply jointing compound to and allow to set. Instead, Chinese use a special version of brass compression joint (Pictured) and explained below.

Brass Compression Fittings

Chinese do use Brass fittings, and modern ones are perhaps not quite as you would expect. Please study the photograph to understand what is happening here.

To fit a joint, place the brass nut on the pipe, followed by the compression fitting and finally, the green plastic insert ring. The plastic ring should be placed near the end of the pipe (About 1/2 inch up) and then the whole pipe is knocked into its seat - with a lot of force. Once securely seated, the compression ring is slid into position, and then the locking ring tightened as you would in the west. To align, the locking nut can be slacked slightly to allow rotation. Once in place, tighten securely.
Image: Brass Fittings - Click to Enlarge

This is all pretty simple once you get the hang of it, but designing the system layout in not. This is because there are only a severely limited number of types of brass joints available, and all of them are designed for use with plastic pipework. Joints available are: straight coupler, 90 degree bend, and T. Therefore, any male end of a fitting will have an insert poking upwards from the centre to receive the plastic pipe. Male couplings do not come without this, rendering them useless for taking any form of adapter - unless this is a short length of plastic pipe.

Female compression fittings are available, which do allow you to insert a coupler to change the size to match that of another fitting. These are normally used to accommodate a tap. However, they only come in a couple of arrangements (Centre of three in a T, or all ends). Therefore before beginning installation, we suggest you lay out all parts of your proposed system and check the joints will accommodate your purpose. There are several photographs on this page that will help explain this with greater clarity.

Hot Water

Unless you have a state of the art and very expensive apartment, then know that apartments in Guangdong and most of China do not feature hot water. This will be restricted to water heaters and their dedicated outlets only - a shower normally.

You may notice your tap has two water feeds and presume one is for hot water. Wrong! Look closer and you will realise they both come off the same cold water feed pipe.

If you must have hot water, then communal boiler systems are not common and are usually reserved for use by hotels. Your options are to fit either a gas boiler, or an electric version - bearing in mind Chinese electric tariffs are usually very expensive. Therefore most people choose the gas version, and if you think you may be moving soon, then it is best to buy a calor gas one, as we did.

Whilst you should be able to fit this yourself quite easily, use apartment or Garden fitters for mains gas - this is a legal requirement in China. The new boiler may also have to have a fan extractor to comply with new government safety regulations. Best to enquire first before purchase. The fitters will probably be able to get you a better deal anyway. This does not apply to calor gas or electric heaters (As far as we are aware) so doing this yourself should be fine. If in doubt - check!

Dripping Taps

These are not a common problem, to the point where I have only ever known of one. If they are the German type unilever, then you need to replace the whole tap (Normally) or know what you are doing. The problem will most likely be with a standard tap that has knobs on it that you can take apart - just like in the west. We suggest you dismantle the tap and take the internals down to the local store. There are numerous sizes and style of replacement washers for Chinese taps, so you need to ensure you get the correct one first time. These will be easily obtained from your local back street hardware store or trade counter, and you will get several of them for Y1 RMB.
This information is as supplied by ourselves, and ably supported by our friends and various internet portals.
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