For many long years Pete the Plumber envied the ‘sparkie’s’ relative ease of sending Romex and cable through bored holes in stud, plate, rafter and joist. My copper, steel, iron, and rigid DWV required time consuming, precision layout. Well, for threaded steel, I can now play like the sparkie. A little bit late (in years), but I finally went down to one of my wholesale plumbing supplier’s and attended a workshop on installing CSST, or “Corrugated Stainless Steel Tube”. This very flexible fuel gas material was developed in Japan in the 1980’s. I’ll wager it was an earthquake generated idea. Anyway, this corrugated stainless steel tubing, with a non-metallic cover “……which provides ease of running through joists, studs, and other building components” (TracPipe/CounterStrike by OmegaFlex) now enables plumbers to mimic the ‘sparkie’ when installing fuel gas systems. Could have taken that class years ago. Why did I wait so long? Probably because of general laziness and a pre-investment in a lot of other tooling for threading steel pipe.
The incident that finally “broke the camel’s back” was a new gas line for a 3M ‘fixer-upper’. It t’was the epitome of “The Money Pit”. The worst of the job was under the house, crawling around on my belly, like swimming, long distances, and doubling around and squeezing* through cripple walls on grade beams. No convenient foundation vents to avail either. Plumber, tools, black steel pipe, and fittings accessed that under-portion of the home through a basement opening. Even if I had been running coiled PEX, instead, it still would’a been a huge pain. Realizing how quickly I could have been in-and-out with CSST, Pete the Plumber decided it was past time to check it out. I had a couple month wait for the workshop.
After partaking the two-hour work shop and a short, 20 question test, myself and a half-dozen other plumbers received our Certification card. With it we can now purchase this brand of CSST at suppliers who offer it. This company (OmegaFlex) (www.omegaflex.com) chooses not to trade with the general public, only with plumbers. I can see why. (Better have a gargantuan liability insurance policy). It’s not because of any difficulty assembling their systems. Matter of fact, it is so easy.
All one needs are two Crescent wrenches and a quality tubing cutter with a cutting wheel designed for the task. That’s the rub. (To the untrained, it so appears.) But to be successful cutting the tubing, with a sanctioned tubing cutter, requires past experience with tubing cutters, a great deal more than you could expect from the ‘man off the street’. That’s not to say that a bright beginner could not be trained to safely use this technology. The factory rep who put on the workshop, if with some attention to the operation of different choices in tubing cutters, on his product, could show a mechanically adept non-plumber how to safely assemble it. With the Design and Installation Guide, the illustrated Parts List, and easy to understand slide rule sizing tool, experienced plumbers adapt with ease.
There are some proprietary brackets and components that I assume the three or four competing companies also have versions of, or close to. Like the PEX manufacturers, there is no intermixing product lines. The fittings are all proprietary, and there are actual outside tubing diameter differences between manufacturers. So like PEX, you gotta stick with one brand. I liked OmegaFlex’s TracPipe because it has higher Btu flow rates, per pipe size, than it’s competitors; its various brass fittings are high quality; has well-designed installation support (text and ill.), beefy protective hardware; and, it’s manufactured in the USA. When will Pete the Plumber likely employ this additional piping technology? Probably not before being faced with another horrid crawl job. But if and when that day comes, I know what I’m gonna do, then.
An afterthought: I wonder if the damage of Hurricane Harvey (and his inevitable siblings) could spotlight CSST for its speed of installation, when there’s a need for re-creating housing at warp speed?
Pete the Plumber once had to have the Oakland, CA Fire Department come to a job where he was stuck under a house. Yep, tried too hard to crawl between cripples on a grade beam and swelled up. The brave rescuers, after cutting off as much of my clothing as they could, then hosed me down with a slippery, gooey foam. It took three of them to pluck me free. Ever since then, when under a house looking for a hopefully crawlable cripple wall, I hope the 40 pounds I’ve lost since that embarrassing episode will keep me free.
Peter Hemp is a San Francisco East Bay residential plumber and plumbing author and former R & D steam vehicle plumber. His hobbies are ocean kayaking and touring the Left Coast by bicycle.
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