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
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!
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
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'.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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 -
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.