Adapting to Evolving Industry Standards and Practices
Efficiency in the modern plumbing system hinges on the installers’ ability to connect sections of pipe — predominantly copper and stainless steel — with a secure, water-tight seal that can withstand not only specified types and degrees of pressure, but also a variety of conditions, such as exposure to the elements, corrosive materials, and fluctuations in temperature, among other factors.
This fundamental aspect of the plumbing industry has remained unchanged for nearly a century. While some materials have evolved in response to new insights — such as the discovery of lead toxicity in North America’s pipes in the 1960s — the tools and methods for building and maintaining plumbing systems have remained
Current State of the Industry: Where Press-Connect Fittings Fit in
Press-connect fittings have achieved widespread adoption, with an approximate daily installation rate of one million units around the world. They are utilized in various distribution systems for potable water, natural gas, and propane, as well as in refrigeration and fire protection, and the handling of compressed air, corrosives, hydronic heat, low-pressure steam, vacuum, gas, and petroleum products.
Standards organizations worldwide have adapted to the widespread use of press-connect fittings by amending their plumbing-related standards to include them. For instance:
- CSA/ANSI LC 4:22/CSA 6.32:22 covers press-connect metallic fittings for use in fuel gas distribution systems.
- IAPMO/ANSI/CAN Z1117 covers press connections with copper, copper alloy fittings (Type K, L, M copper tube), carbon steel fittings (Schedule 10, 40), and stainless-steel fittings (Schedule 5, 10, 40 pipes).
- ASME B16.51 applies to press-connect fittings made of cast copper, wrought copper and wrought copper alloy. It is designed for use with hard-drawn seamless copper tube (ASTM B88) in water-conveying piping systems. The system has a maximum pressure rating of 1380kPa from 0oC to 93oC.
The many benefits of press-connect fittings, which are elaborated in greater detail in the ‘Advantages of Press-Connect Fittings’ section below, have made them an appealing choice for businesses and tradespeople as they offer a compelling alternative to the traditional soldering method.
Resistance to Adoption
While press-connect fittings have gained significant traction within the industry, a considerable number of installers still rely on traditional methods. This preference is often rooted in established practices, a conservative ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ mindset, a lack of information about new practices, potential concerns about the initial investment needed for press-tool kits, and the inherent human resistance to change.
However, beyond psychological factors that can make installers prefer the familiarity of traditional methods, potentially leading to bias against press-connect fittings, there are also technical considerations that add to the reluctance to adopt them. One of these considerations is material compatibility, as press-connect fittings are used with diverse pipe materials like copper, stainless steel, and carbon steel. Ensuring compatibility between these different materials can be intricate, requiring comprehensive testing and engineering to prevent issues like corrosion and leaks over time.
Another technical challenge involves sealing mechanisms and leak prevention. Achieving a reliable and long-lasting seal is paramount for press-connect fittings and this becomes especially challenging when dealing with various pipe materials and sizes. The development of effective sealing mechanisms that prevent leaks throughout the fitting’s lifespan is a complex task. Moreover, education and training are essential in the industry to ensure proper press-connect fittings installations. Inadequate training can result in improper installations, leaks, and safety hazards, which can foster negative biases against press-connect fittings. Therefore, maintaining a well-educated workforce is crucial for upholding the reputation of press-connect fittings within the industry. Additionally, some installers have considered press-connect fittings and simply believe that soldering provides a better seal.2 It is worth examining the relative advantages of the two installation methods as they co-exist and how the balance between them may shift over time.
Looking Ahead: The Future of Press-Connect Fittings
What is the expected role of press-connect fittings in the future plumbing industry, and what factors will
inform and shape this role?
Market and Workforce Factors
According to the New England Institute of Technology, the plumbing services industry in the U.S. boasts a substantial market size of $129 billion and employs approximately 469,000 professionals.³ This figure reflects the significant annual revenue generated by professionals who provide essential plumbing services, including installation, repairs, and maintenance. It also highlights the ongoing demand for plumbing solutions across residential, commercial, and industrial environments. Additionally, the plumbing fixtures market in North America, which includes the manufacturing and distribution of plumbing components like pipes, fittings, and fixtures, was valued at $22.40 billion in 2020 and is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 7.5% from 2021 to 2028. This further reinforces that the demand for plumbing professionals and their services will grow, potentially driven by the increasing number of aging homes and buildings that require repair and
In Canada, for example, the demand for skilled tradespeople is at an all-time high. According to Statistics Canada, an estimated 700,000 skilled trade workers are expected to retire between 2019 and 2028, creating an unprecedented number of job vacancies.4
This increasing demand for plumbers aligns with a declining number of plumbing professionals, as lifelong plumbers approach retirement while Generation Z individuals typically exhibit less interest in pursuing skilled trades compared to their predecessors.
Despite government programs aimed at encouraging students and youth to pursue plumbing and other trades, along with some reports suggesting their interest in these trades due to the prospects of self-employment, potentially high earnings, and the minimal susceptibility to artificial intelligence (AI) replacement, it will still take years for new plumbers to complete their training and apprenticeship and establish themselves as professional tradespeople. Consequently, the current workforce challenges are expected to persist.
In the interim, the time and efficiency advantages that press-connect installations offer relative to soldered installations will enable plumbers to complete more jobs in less time and better manage their increased workload, as the industry awaits the influx of new plumbing professionals.
Education and Training
The training offered by colleges and trade schools will significantly influence the methods employed by the next
generation of plumbers at the outset of their careers. For instance, a swift analysis of the curriculum at a randomly selected Canadian college reveals a predominant focus on welding and soldering techniques for pipe installations. These skills are still considered essential, especially since most existing fittings have been welded or soldered in current plumbing systems, although this landscape may evolve over time.
Consequently, it is reasonable to expect that individuals who do enter the plumbing trade will favor the simpler, faster, cleaner option that press-connect fittings provide — which one might liken to using a smartphone camera rather than developing photos in a darkroom. As seasoned tradespeople transition into retirement and a new wave of talent enters the profession, the next generation’s values and preferences will have a significant influence in the plumbing industry.
Advantages of Press-Connect Fittings
One key factor to consider when assessing the role of press-connect fittings in the future of plumbing is their numerous advantages over traditional methods.
- Speed of installation, quicker clean-up — With a greatly simplified installation process that offers time savings at each step, press-connect fittings can reduce the time per installation by anywhere from 60% to 95%.
- Uniformity of result — The quality of the press connect fitted joints tends to be consistent across users and is less dependent on the relative skill of the installer, or the materials used, which is typically not the case with soldered joints. Press-connect fittings allow less opportunity for human error.
- Greater safety — Press-connect fittings eliminate the need for open flames or heat sources, presenting fewer risks to the safety of the installer, the environment in which the work is performed, and the overall plumbing system.
- Versatility — Press-connect fittings are available in copper, stainless steel, and carbon steel and will work with virtually any pipe system made of those materials.
- Works in wet and dry environments — Press connect fittings work with both dry and wet pipes, which eliminates the need to drain or wait for pipes to dry — saving valuable time.
- Relative cost savings — While the initial purchase of press-connect fittings and tools may be more expensive (e.g., the purchase of a press-tool kit for the sealing of the joints can run to thousands of U.S. dollars), the long-term savings in terms of efficiency, reduced material requirements, and fewer training expenses often outweigh the heavier upfront costs.
- Fewer materials required — Press-connect fittings require no chemical flux, no soldering iron, no solder and less safety gear (e.g., fire extinguisher, flame protector cloth and/or steel plates), due to the reduced fire hazard and risk of personal injury.
- No permits required — Installing press-connect fittings does not require fire-safety permits and associated safety protocols, saving both time and money.
- Less training required — The reduced complexity of press-connect fittings result in less time and money spent on training staff.
- No fumes or emissions — The absence of a propane or butane-fueled blowtorch means no noxious fumes or harmful emissions.
- Environmental friendliness — The press-connect fittings installation process is much “greener” than soldering, welding, and brazing, as detailed below.
In this third decade of the 21st century, industries and consumers have an ever-increasing awareness of the
need for environmental sustainability in their products, processes, and practices. In this context, traditional pipe fitting methods — with their use of chemicals, burning of fuel, risk of fire, and waste by-products — cannot compete with the greener alternative that press connect fittings offer.
The Green Building Movement
The 2018 World Green Building Trends SmartMarket Report indicated that nearly half of the survey respondents expected to make 60% of their projects green in the next three years — an increase from 27% in 2018 to almost half (47%) by 2021.
The 2021 report anticipates even larger numbers by 2024.
Neither the 2018 nor the 2021 report mentions press connect fittings specifically, or plumbing techniques in general. However, as all aspects of building and construction come under scrutiny for their sustainable processes and practices (or lack thereof), there will come a time — perhaps when press-connect fittings gain greater prominence in the market — when they will become part of the conversation.
With each generation becoming more environmentally conscious than the previous one, and with green building practices more entrenched, the environmental benefits of press-connect fittings stand to make them an increasingly attractive option.
Drawbacks and Disadvantages of Press-Connect Fittings
While press-connect fittings do boast numerous advantages over soldered, welded, or brazed fittings, they do have their disadvantages and potential drawbacks.
Higher up-front cost — The initial set-up cost, such as the thousands of dollars for a press-tool kit containing various jaw sizes and crimping rings, may deter some plumbers or firms from making the transition to the newer method of installation.
Maintenance requirements — The press tool essential to the maintenance process requires periodic recalibrations, which means downtime and hundreds of dollars in costs.
Permanence makes errors costly — Once crimped, press-connect fittings are permanent, so errors require complete do-overs, which can be costly due to the relative expense of the fittings and the extra labor.
Reliability — Concerns arise about the durability and longevity of press-connect fittings because their seal relies on a rubber O-ring, which can deteriorate over time. However, an experiment reveals that it is the metal-to-metal compression that makes for a tight seal, while the rubber O-ring is meant to catch any drips that occur over time. It is important to note that O-rings are typically pre-lubricated to mitigate against deterioration and are not necessary for achieving a secure seal during installation. Nevertheless, some individuals may still harbor concerns regarding their long-term durability.
Difficult in small spaces — Press-connect fittings have reportedly been harder to use than traditional methods
in tight or narrow spaces.
Despite these drawbacks, the advantages of press-connect fittings appear to outweigh the disadvantages to a degree that suggests press-connect fittings being the preferred choice for creating pipe joints in the years and decades ahead. The potential for cost savings alone is expected to encourage their adoption.
Bottom line: Are Press-Connect Fittings the Future of Plumbing?
Some trade publications have heralded press-connect fittings as “the future of plumbing,” while others have
expressed skepticism. CSA Group asked our experts: Will press-connect fittings ultimately replace the traditional
methods of soldering, welding, and brazing in the plumbing systems of the future?
Their response was clear and unequivocal: Yes, they will.
A Few Finals Thoughts on the Future
In addition to the projected dominance of press-connect fittings over time, other trends appear on the
horizon that merits a mention.
Press-connect vs. push-connect fittings
While press-connect fittings have gradually been revolutionizing the plumbing industry for professional plumbers, push-connect fittings have also found a place in the industry. Press-connect fittings are versatile and durable, making them an ideal option for a wide range of applications. They are also designed to withstand much longer list of potentially hazardous substances and challenging conditions than push-connect fittings can. Meanwhile, push-connect fittings are primarily suited for water-system connections when used with Copper, PEX, PE-RT, or CPVC tubing.
Nevertheless, while both press-connect and push-connect fittings serve distinct purposes, professionals in the plumbing industry can rely on the versatility of press-connect fittings for lasting and reliable installations
As the integration of smart technology into an evergrowing array of products and environments appears unlikely to slow down, it is not inconceivable that such developments will find their way into the plumbing industry as well. There is already discussion about the potential for “smart pipes” featuring automated leak alerts and other innovative possibilities. Whether or not such technology will eventually be integrated into systems built with press-connect fittings remains to be seen. However, this is an era where technological advancements continually expand the realm of possibilities.