If you’ve ever spent an afternoon lying in a damp crawlspace propped up on one elbow soldering a copper joint while simultaneously holding your breath to avoid the flux vapors and trying not to set the joists on fire, you may want to take a look at fittings from SharkBite Plumbing Solutions. The “push-to-connect” fittings and valves work with ¼-to-1-inch-diameter copper, CPVC, PEX, PE-RT, and HDPE (but not galvanized) pipe, and include not only elbows, tees, couplings, and threaded connectors, but items such as dishwasher elbows, ball valves, and unions. There are even flex-hose kits for water heaters and ice makers, and chrome-finish toilet and faucet supply kits.
Make the connection. After cutting and cleaning burrs from the end of the tubing, making a connection is as easy as pushing the pipe into the fitting with a slight twist. What keeps it from leaking? In a word: compression. The tubing first passes through a release collar (more on this in a minute), then through a toothy stainless steel “grab ring” and a chlorine-resistant EPDM rubber O-ring. The fully inserted pipe compresses the O-ring against the wall of the fitting, and everything is held firmly in place by the stainless steel teeth.
Disconnecting requires using a horseshoe-shape “disconnect clip” that, when slipped over the tubing and pressed against the release collar, disengages the teeth so the pipe can be pulled out. It’s easier than breaking a soldered connection—when it works. Most of the website complaints are from people who had difficulty exerting enough pressure on the collar. Although quick to point out that a difficult disconnect is better than a leak, the company responded by developing “disconnect tongs,” a tool that makes it much easier to compress the release collar.
We talked with John “JT” Taylor, construction manager for Phil Kean Design Group, in Orlando, Fla., who has used SharkBite fittings for years without any issues, including on this year’s New American Remodeled Home. “It’s difficult at first to get buy-in from plumbers,” JT says. “It’s a smaller learning curve than any other kind of pipe fitting, but the fittings cost more, and it takes a plumber two or three jobs before he realizes how much labor he’s saving.” The fittings can be rotated after installation—something you can’t do with a soldered joint—and although they aren’t intended for repeated connection-disconnection, JT reuses fittings all the time, he says: “Mostly we’re disconnecting stops to put on trim. I have no qualms about reusing the fittings.”
For copper, SharkBite fittings are rated for 200 psi and a maximum temperature of 200° F (soldering near SharkBite fittings could create temperatures that exceed this rating), and they aren’t electrically continuous, so you will need to install a jumper in a grounding system.