So I had a wonderful YouTube viewer moan to me about how to solder copper tubing videos were a dime a dozen and rather than show my soldering techniques, I should show how to avoid burning down your house when soldering in close quarters. It is a great idea for a video and I guess I should thank him for the idea, but man people are just miserable!
Anyway, when soldering copper tubing it’s not always out in the open away from flammable materials and that presents a problem. At the very least you should always have a fire extinguisher at the ready god forbid thing’s get out of hand. It happened to me one time in my career and it scared the living hell out of me.
I was replacing two copper emergency water shut-off valves under a pedestal basin. There was approximately 2″ of copper sticking past the wall and I started with the hot water on the left side. The old valve came off without incident and I quickly soldered the new one on. Lunch time!
As I was cleaning up the area for my return I started to hear what sounded like a “crackling noise” and could not pinpoint what was happening. Well, my instincts took over, I put my ear up against the sheetrock wall above the sink and knew instantly that the fiberglass insulation was starting to burn.
Without hesitation, I called down to the homeowner and told her to call the fire department and immediately grabbed my hammer to the wall above the sink. I reached in and pulled out the batt of insulation that was starting to take off and tossed it into the bathtub where I dowsed it with water.
The fire dept arrived in record time and they came in gangbusters ready to destroy the place, but I begged them to hold off I’m pretty sure I solved the problem. They proceeded to look into the wall cavity with some infra-red heat detecting equipment and were satisfied that there was no need to open up walls. Needless to say, I was a basket case and it must have shown.
As they were leaving one of the firefighters came over to me and said: “you saved this ladies house”. Kind words indeed, but I was visibly shaken as nothing like that had never happened to me before. This is one of the times when you thank god your liability insurance is paid up and in good standing. Although this was six attached condominiums and my limits at that time would never have covered a complete loss!
I took a long lunch break came back and finished soldering on the cold water valve, followed by a thorough cleaning of the bathroom. The following day I sent my tile man to the house to re-insulate and patch the wallboard, followed by painting the entire bathroom. An experience I will never forget nor take for granted when using an open flame inside or outside of a wall. All it takes is one stray spark to get away and your life could change forever.
How To Solder Copper Tubing & Avoid a Disaster!
I tell this story so those of you who are considering doing some D.I.Y. soldering are aware that there are some products available on the market that will greatly reduce (not eliminate) the chances of something like the above from happening to you. One is La-Co Heat Gel Cool Barrier Spray which you can spray on all the surrounding areas to avoid heat transfer to most surfaces.
The next item is the Oatey 31400 Bagged 9″ X 12″ Flame Protector which you can use to cover any flammable materials you want to avoid burning or scorching. I wet mine and ring it out before using it, but you can use it dry as well. Finally, the Kidda Multi Purpose Fire Extinguisher god forbid things get out of hand. Folks, it happened to me and it can happen to you!
Check out the video below where I demonstrate both the La-Co Heat Gel and the Oatey Flame Protector. And to the moaning You-Tube viewer who wasn’t impressed with my How To Solder Copper Tubing videos, thanks for the tip! I think it made a great blog post and even better video! Until next time, proceed with CAUTION!