For many water feature builders and owners the aspect of plumbing can seem daunting. Seeing all the different pieces and intricate roles they seemingly play can overwhelm anyone new to it. While plumbing does take some “know how” it really all just boils down to a simple science. You know water has to get from point A to point B and not leak. Now to do that all you really need is a basic understanding of the components. Once you have a grasp on that it's as simple as legos.
To start we'll learn some terminology. Nothing too in depth but enough to help you understand some of the simple processes and terms. Just even understanding it a bit can help it make much more sense as it is explained.
Fitting- A fitting is a piece of plumbing that connects pipes with a purpose. Fittings can turn tubing, slow water flow, or even allow the tubing to be removable. Many fittings serve many different needs.
Tubing/Pipe/Hose - This is the part of your plumbing that will carry the water in your feature. This is how water from a pump moves to places like filters and waterfalls.
Glue/ cement - For features using PVC the tubing and fittings are connected by glue to make them water tight.
Teflon Tape- Teflon tape is used when connecting FPT or MPT threaded fittings to make them water tight. Mostly you will see this done on the back of waterfall tanks or filters to make sure water does not leak out of the threaded fittings.
Hose Clamps- These in a sense are adjustable rings. They are slid over tubing and barbed fittings then tightened down to make a water tight fit.
FPT- Female Pipe Thread this type of thread is threaded on the inside of the fitting making it able to connect to MPT fittings.
MPT- Male Pipe Thread this type of thread is threaded on the outside of the fitting making it able to connect to FPT fittings.
Spigot- A Spigot can be thought as a male glued fitting.
Slip/Hub - A hub connection can be thought of as a female glued fitting and accepts PVC pipe or a spigot fitting.
Barbed Fitting - Barbed fittings are fittings used in features using kinkfree tubing or black vinyl tubing. These fittings after being inserted into tubing will need clamped down to become water tight.
Pipe & Tubing
To get started with set up it is easiest to begin with the piping. It is important to start here because depending on the type of piping you choose it will change the fittings that pair with it. This is the actual part of your plumbing that will transport the water the majority of the way. Depending on the feature you are creating, piping selection just comes down to what the feature needs. To know what you need it is best to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Kink Free Tubing- Kink-free tubing slips onto barbed fittings and can be further secured with a hose clamp. It comes in many sizes to allow different ranges of flow. The main advantage to this tubing is its ability to make virtually any turn. This tubing is able to bend over on itself without kinking therefore allowing the maximum flow through the tubing in the tightest of turns. The tubing however has a few downsides. The tubing is not very forgiving with its size and has a hard time fitting to many barbed fittings well which can make a leaf-free connection more difficult. The biggest issue with the tubing however is its lifespan. This tubing has a tendency to get brittle and deteriorate in a relatively short period of time.
Black Vinyl Tubing- Vinyl tubing slips onto barbed fittings and can be further secured with a hose clamp. One of the most simple yet proven types of pond tubing, vinyl is often found in the smaller sizes of tubing. A long lasting simple tubing makes this perfect for smaller features and systems. When the tubing gets into the larger sizes or makes tight turns it can kink so this tubing is often used in straight shots or bending lengths. This tubing fits very well to fittings and can easily be buried without having to dig too big a trench if one is needed at all.
Flexible PVC- Flexible PVC must be glued into fittings with a PVC cement. For most water features this is the standard piping choice. Allowing all the advantages of schedule 40 fittings and the flexibility of tubing. Flexible PVC can work in most installations.
Rigid PVC- PVC must be glued into fittings with a PVC cement. PVC pipe is used everywhere from bathrooms to koi ponds. The main reason people use this piping in ponds is for very formally presented ponds. Rigid PVC is connected and installed in very uniform ways allowing it to work well with formal ponds that don't need piping to bend or need to keep a very uniform design due to space constraints.
After choosing the correct pipe for your feature, size is the next element to consider. Often the flow of the pump will determine this. Smaller sizes of tubing allow for less water to pass through while larger pipes allow more water to move through at a time. You also may wish to consider the connections you will have for filters and waterfalls.
After the piping we really need to look at the connections and what they do. Piping often starts at the pump itself. While features with kink free or black vinyl tubing will likely clamp to the pump directly. Some features with PVC require just a simple fitting. Furthermore this same principle often applies to pressurized filters and waterfalls tanks. Meaning this type of hookup will be at the beginning and the end. So this can often cover the entirety of simple features.
Step Down Fittings- This fitting features multiple sizes of barbed connections. For most small tubings such as kink free and black vinyl these fittings allow many different sizes of pipe to fit to them easily. The step down fitting is a fitting that in a way looks like a cone that has multiple size rings on it for many different size tubings to fit to it. It attaches by having the tubing slide over it and then clamping it into place.
Male Adapter - A male adapter has an MPT connection on one side and a slip hub on the other. The most common use is to adapt a female thread to PVC.
Female Adapter- A female adapter has an FPT connection on one side and a slip hub on the other. The most common use is to adapt a male thread to PVC.
Union- acting as a quick disconnect, a union fitting is one that will allow the removal of the pump for service without much effort at all. This makes removal and reinstalling the pump much easier. Most commonly a union has a slip hub connection for connecting directly to PVC.
Rubber Coupling- Often taking the place of the union this is another option. While they are not as quick to take on and off as unions. These fittings can be easily put into an existing feature that the builder may not have thought to put a union in originally. They are a slip hub connection that utilizes a clamp to secure meaning no cement is needed for this type of fitting. These rubber couplings are made for drain lines which are very low pressure, but they can work in medium pressure situations as well. They should not be used in very high pressure situations as leakage chances increase.
Elbows- Elbows helps PVC make quick turns. They are usually necessary when running rigid PVC and in certain situations with flex PVC as well to be able to make 45 or 90 degree turns in a short amount of space. These can be threaded, hub, or spigot. For example a Street Elbow is a hub on one side and a spigot on the other.
Tees and Wyes- used to split one section of piping into two. Tees and Wyes help divert water flow to two different areas. Mostly used to send the flow of a pump to two different waterfalls these fittings help add more options when creating your water feature. The difference between the two however would be how they split the water. Tees split it like the name would suggest in a T. So the water is going in opposite directions. While Wyes split it like the letter Y these fittings help maximize flow by putting less pressure back against the pump.
Couplings- Couplings serve to connect two sections of pipe together. While there are many different types of couplings, the premise is easy enough. Whether slip or threaded, the coupling is a female type connection.
Bushings- Similar to a coupling, a bushing connects two things together but one side acts as a male fitting and the others as female.
Male Insert- A male insert has male thread on one side and a barbed connection on the other.
Check Valve- Check valves are simply a valve that only allows the water to flow one direction. This can help keep external pumps primed or keep water from flowing out of the lines in the event of a shut off. This helps to prevent flooding and or loss of water. Pond applications use "swing" type check valves. Spring loaded are not suitable.
Ball Valve- Used to control flow of a pump and or put pressure back against it. Many times back pressure added to a pump will help them run longer and more efficiently so people will choose a slightly larger pump then back the flow off to the flow they desire accomplishing both goals.
Gate Valve- Acting as a shut off, gate valves are invaluable for drains. A drain is something that does not need to be regulated nor used all the time so a gate valve allows for an on off switch essentially and provides a water tight seal to prevent leaks.
Other Specialty Fittings
Bulkhead Fitting- When going through the wall of a pond, waterfall tank, or filter. You will often see a two piece part threaded with a gasket. Bulkheads allow this transfer of water to be water tight. Transporting water from pump to feature while allowing it to go through the walls of the pond or the filter itself without leaking.
Bottom Drain - Bottom Drains can help in keeping a pond clean. Installed through the liner in the bottom of the pond. They can be connected to the pump and filter or to a sump where the waste from the bottom of the pond can be flushed away.
While there is always more and much still to learn, this is a basic understanding of plumbing that can help most anyone fully install a water feature of their dreams. If more specific needs arise or if larger more professional installations prove challenging we can always help!
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