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Improvised laboratory water supplies

Some of us have not been blessed with running water in our labs. This could be for many reasons, which include, but are not limited to - working in a garage, working in a shed, working in an area of a house with no sinks, etc. This often makes it harder, as we have to provide some other way to cool a condensor, or rinse down a beaker really quick. Here are a few methods that are tried and true. The plumbing method is of course the most drastic, but also the most effective. Keep in mind, these are just general guidelines so you can think of your own system. You'd be hard pressed to find the same exact equipment at your local hardware store, just because inventories are so different.

Gravity Fed Resovior

This is one of the quickest to set up, unfortunately it has limited uses. The principle uses the siphoning effect, but uses gravity to start it off instead. It is also very cost effective, being set up for around $20(USD). The downside is that it does have to be refilled, and don't even bother using this to cool a condenser.

List of materials:

5 gallon plastic water jug, or similar Scissors
10ft or more of latex tubing 3/8" Zip Ties
Spring loaded clamp with a light spring Drill
3-5ft vinyl tubing 3/8"  
Plastic 3/8" hose barb coupling  

First, feed the vinyl tubing into the 5 gallon plastic water jug. Make sure to put excess in there. Once you have enough in there, cut the rest off so there is about 2-3 inches sticking out of the top. Hold the tube up against one side of the neck, and mark two spots - one on each side of the tube - in the neck of the bottle. Drill a hole at each spot, then feed the zip tie through it. Zip the vinyl tube up tightly so it doesn't drop down into the resovior.

Push the 3/8" hose barb into the vinyl tube, then push the latex tube on the other side of the hose barb. Find a place where this will reside. Make sure the bottom of the container will be higher than any experiments you need this for. However, be smart on where you put it. When full, this will weigh around 45lbs (20.5kg). Once it is up there, trim the excess latex tubing off. You only want as much to hang down as you need. Then, place the light clamp 2-3 inches from the end. The clamp should completely close the latex tube. Your resovior water source is now complete. Now, we must fill it and bleed it.

Fill the resovior up with water (your pick), then position a small clean container where the hose end is. Hold the clamp open, and begin to suck water to the end. It's good practice to take your mouth off before it reaches the end, however this is just water. Once it is flowing out in a constant stream (into the clean container), you may close the clamp. Pour the contents of the container back into the resovior, so as not to waste any water. Now, whenever you need water, simply open the clamp. Gravity will pull the water down thats in the hose. This will create a low pressure zone in the rest of the hose, and it will suck water right from the resovior. This will continue in this fashion unless you have a leak in the hose, or you run out in the resovior.

Water Pump and Resovior

This is most likely the quickest to set up, obviously depending on the type of pump you get. It can provide large amounts of water whenever you need it. It can even be used effectively for cooling condensors. It even has the ability to cool below normal water temperature - if you keep a steady supply of ice in it. However, it will have to be constantly cooled, and excess water removed once in a while. It also costs a bit to set up, anywhere from $20(USD) to $50(USD).

Submersable pond pump Wrench
Hose barb to fit pump and 1/4" latex tubing.  
5 gallon bucket or something similar  
1/4" latex tubing  

Hopefully you got a pump with a threaded supply tube. If you did, then hopefully you bought the correct fitting that will attach to that. If you answered yes to both questions, then screw the fitting on. You want it snug, but there is no need to over tighten it - the water will just drain right back into the resovior. If you used a 1 gallon plastic jug, simply cut the top off, and place the pump inside. If you used a bucket (the perfered method) then just put the pump inside. Push the latex tubing onto the hose barb, and ziptie it on. Fill the resovior with water, and then you're done. It's helpful to keep this constantly running, so make sure the hose is long enough to stay in the resovior when you don't need it. This way, the pump will run, but just spit the water back into the bucket, or jug, whenever you're not using it, but all you need to do is grab the hose when you need water.

If you're using this to cool a condensor, make sure there is a return line of latex tubing. Just fill up with ice every once in a while. Once it gets too full from the ice melting - siphon off the excess water.

Removable plumbing system

This is by far the best option. It can provide a constant stream of clean, cool water, and it requires no maintenance. It uses a garden hose for the supply water (so this is most adequate for sheds or garages), but incorporates a piping system so you don't have a garden hose sitting in your lab. The downsides are that it is moderately expensive, you have to know how to sweat pipes (or learn, it's easy), it takes a bit of effort to set up. If you have to babysit a reaction, this would be quality time to set it up.

Here is a list of what I used:

2x 10ft sections - 1/2" copper pipe Blow Torch (or similar)
2x 90degree elbows - 1/2" copper Pipe sweating flux
2x Tee connector - 1/2" copper Lead free pipe solder

2x Pipe caps - 1/2" copper

Various wrenches
4x Female threaded adapter - 1/2" copper Plumbers PTFE tape
2x male threaded adapter - 1/2" copper Pipe cutter
2x garden hose connectors with 3/8" nipple  
20ft of 3/8" vinyl tubing  
1x adjustable stop valve - 1/2" threaded  
4x 3/8" brass nipples - 1/2" threaded  
4x pipe coupling - 1/2" copper  

Note: Sweat(ing) and solder(ing) are interchangable below.

The goal is to build two separate pipe assemblies. One for the supply, one for the return. You obviously don't want to go outside, and turn the hose on or off every time, so include an adjustable stop (looks like a hose valve). I started by cutting both 10ft section of pipe in half, to have four 5ft sections. On one, I sweat a 90degree elbow. At the other end of the pipe, I added the coupling and the 1/2" felame threaded adapter. I set this somewhere to cool. I repeated the above step, to obtain a second pipe similar to it.

Next, I focused on the return line. I eyeballed the rough distance from the wall to where I wanted the return dump, and cut the pipe accordingly. Then, sweat the Tee onto this, followed by sweating the 1/2" female threaded adapter onto the base of the Tee. At the opposite end, I extended it to the edge of my lab table, using leftover tube from the cut before. This was incase I chose to expand it later. After this, I simply capped that end at the edge of the table.

I joined these two together, with part B rotated so that the dump formed rougly a 60degree angle with part A. Once this has cooled, I flushed it with water from the hose, to remove any copper particles.

Now moving on to the supply line, I cut a peice of pipe to the approximate distance I wanted. This distance was to go from the 90degree elbow to the stop valve. I sweat the coupling followed by the 1/2" threaded male adapter to this. I threaded one end of the stop valve into this, using plumbers PTFE tape. Next, I used some scrap cut from before and sweat on the other male threaded adapter - of course with the coupling. Once it cooled, this was also threaded onto the stop valve. At the other end, the remaining Tee was soldered on. To this was soldered the final female threaded adapter, and the coupling. At the last end of the Tee, a scrap peice of copper was soldered on, followed by a copper end cap.

The above segment was sweat onto the unused pipe assembly built in the first step. This time the stop valve and tee were parallel with the adjacent line. This was flushed with water to remove any copper particles or other impurities. Both sections of pipe line had the 3/8" nipples threaded on (with plumbers tape). They were hung on the wall where they would reside.

10' of vinyl tube was pushed all the way onto the supply line hose barb. A hose-clamp I had laying around was fit on, and tightened. At the other end, the garden hose to 3/8" hose barb adapter was fitted, and likewise clamped on. This was thrown on the window. To the return line, just enough vinyl hose was cut, so that it made it outside the window.

The remaining vinyl tube was pressed onto the supply and return hose barbs on the lab table. This was so water would come in, then right back out. The hose was connected, and turned on full blast. The stop valve on the supply line was turned all the way off (so no water was flowing) and any leaks were observed. If there are leaks, fix them now. If not, open the stop valve half way. Examine for leaks around the stop valve. If it leaks at the stem, tighten the little nut behind it until it doesn't leak. Keep checking for leaks, if any more show up, fix them. If not, then open the stop valve all the way. Once again, check for leaks. If something leaks, fix it. If not, let it run for 5 minutes like this. This will remove any particles in the system, and at the same time, stress test all the components. If nothing leaks after 5 minutes, then you have suceeded, and you now have a constant flow of cool water in your lab.