This article will serve as your epic guide in creating your ideal air compressor set up at home that will make all your neighbours and friends jealous!
I will begin the article with the fundamentals on how, what you need to plumb your air compressor and then I will provide you with some inspiration for your setup.
Table of Contents
- Why Plumb an Air Compressor Setup in your Garage?
- Key Considerations in Plumbing an Air Compressor Setup in Garage
- Air Compressor Plumbing Setup Tools
- Air Compressor Plumbing Setup Layout Ideas and Tips
- Air Compressor Plumbing Setup Optimisation
- FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Why Plumb an Air Compressor Setup in your Garage?
Plumbing you air compressor system within your garage can provide you with a number of positive benefits. Not only does it allow the air to get from point A to B in your garage, but it can also help you cool the air which assists in reducing the moisture content.
Reducing the moisture content can be very important for operating your pneumatic tools like powder coating or sandblasting. Fed up of having to move your air compressor around your workshop to reach your desired applications?
No matter the size of your garage, you can enjoy the benefits of plumbing an air compressor setup rather than trying to find a suitable location for your air compressor, snaking your single long air hose around obstacles and constantly trying not to trip over it.
Instead, you can install your own custom plumbing system with hose connections and shorter hoses for the tools you need at each station!
Key Considerations in Plumbing an Air Compressor Setup in Garage
The very first thing you should be considering is how your air compressor system will be used! You should put serious thought into workstations, plumbing routes, the location of your air compressor, noise, drain positions, ease of maintenance and potential future expansion.
It’s not so easy to alter your system, so if you think you may want to expand it in the future, plan for it now by designing the setup so that you can!
Note: Do not take this step lightly, you must spend quality time here and make not of everything that you consider. Spending little time or putting in half-hearted effort will only come back to haunt you in the future!
Add plenty of drops into the system, even places that you don’t think are necessary right now because they may well be in the future. Once the compressed air is available, I’m sure you’ll find more and more ways to use it, so do not limit your future self… you should place an air port as close to the garage door exit so that you can put air into your car tyres!
Think about how you’re going to interconnect your system, are you looking to use permanent hoses or hoses that you can quickly disconnect? Let’s get into the key considerations!
Estimating your Required SCFM for your Air Compressor Setup
Let’s kick things off! The first thing you should really put thought into is what you want to achieve from your system. Or what are you wanting to use your air compressor for?
I’m not sure whether you already have an air compressor or you are buying one specifically for this setup- but please consider what tools you intend to operate as this can be an important part in sizing your air compressor.
Will you be using the air compressor for spray-finish projects? Do you simply need to blow dust and debris off projects? Or do you have intentions to operate pneumatic tools, such as sanders or wrenches?
Well each tool may require a different amount of SCFM (standard cubic feet per minute), so it is important to get an air compressor capable of delivering your required SCFM.
Determining your SCFM requirement is quite possibly the most difficult part, so once you nail this- it’s all downhill from there!
The trick is that it’s not as simple as adding the SCFM of all your desired tools up and purchasing an air compressor of this size, as you will come up with an air compressor significantly larger that what you really need.
Why? Well you don’t used your air tools continuously, and nor do you use all your air tools at the exact same time… you only have two hands!
Therefore, the actual SCFM requirement for your air tool is based on its duty cycle. If you’re unsure what duty cycle is, let me provide you with a brief explanation but please visit our page on air compressor duty cycle for more information!
Duty cycle is the amount of time that any given tools is on versus the amount of time that it is off. So for instance, let’s say you have an air tool with a 10 SCFM requirement, and you use it for 2 minutes every 10 minutes (8 minutes off), this is a 20% duty cycle. Therefore, the tool is only using an average of 2 SCFM (10 x 0.2).
The key to determining your air compressor size requirement is understanding the duty cycle of every tool that you will be using. My advice is to make a list of every tool you intend to use (whether it’s the ones you have right now or those you plan to have in the future) and their SCFM rating, estimate their duty cycle and then calculate its actual SCFM requirement.
Once you’ve done this for every tool you can add them all up to have a rough estimate of your air compressor size. For more information on what size air compressor you need, visit our guide!
Selecting an Air Compressor for you Garage Setup
Now that you’ve done the hard part, and calculated your required SCFM, it’s time to start to consider what type of air compressor you need. You’re spoilt for choice, however I will break down your considerations depending on your application.
If your SCFM requirements are around 120 SCFM or less, you have three basic choices:
Given that you’re plumbing this air compressor setup in your garage… I’m presuming , so a packaged unit could be your best bet!!
Packaged units come complete, ready to install, providing you with a great amount of convenience. You may also want to put thought into whether you want an oilless or oil lubricated air compressor, we have a guide on this topic here!
Reciprocating Air Compressors
Does your desired tool applications require intermittent use? Well, reciprocating compressors seem to be the best choice for you. Why? They offer a solid, very proven solution that will provide you with many years of extremely reliable service.
If your desired applications are say equal to or less than 20 SCFM and intermittent, a single-stage reciprocating air compressor will suitable for your services. And, if your applications require anything above 20 SCFM to 120 SCFM then a two-stage reciprocating air compressor should be used.
Rotary Screw Compressors
For applications that require a steady state or continuous use operation, rotary screw compressors may well be the better option. Though, it is possible to run a reciprocating compressor for continuous use, it would certainly need an aftercooler equipped (more to follow on this).
For 200 SCFM or over, a screw compressor is your only choice.
Considering the location of your Compressor and Hose Connections
You must think about the most suitable position for your air compressor to lay in your garage… and from here think about where your ideal work stations are so that you can run the hose connections to them. For example, you’ll want one connection near your workbench so that you have access to your nailers and other pneumatic tools, and another by the overhead garage door making it easy for you to inflate a tire on a vehicle parked outside.
Remember to ensure the location has suitable ventilation, the compressor must receive a fresh intake of air, so hiding it in a cupboard won’t be wise unless you have ventilation in place.
Connecting your Air Compressor to the Plumbing Setup
Using a short, flexible hose with a quick-disconnect fitting can be a great way to connect your air compressor to your plumbing system like in the image below.
This can provide you with the freedom and ability to disconnect your air compressor from the plumbing setup and take it elsewhere for use if needed.
Not only this, but the soft connection on air compressors can help insulate the vibrations from the compressor. If your compressor is directly connected to the piping, all of the vibrations can lead to stresses in the pipes and possibly even failure.
A shut-off valve, or also referred to as a ball valve, is a very important feature that should be included right near the outlet of the air compressor. They allow you to shut the air off for the entire system in emergencies.
For instance, lets say your plumbing gets damaged and bursts, you can immediately shut off the ball valve so that only the air that remains in the lines will be able to escape instead of having to wait for the entire air compressor tank to empty.
It’s also a good point of call, to allow you to make repairs or change on your air lines without the need of actually having to drain the whole air compressor tank.
Some tips of advice for when selecting a ball valve for your system:
- the internal diameter of the ball valve should match the rest of your piping
- if you plan to attach it directly to your air compressor you will need an appropriately sized reducer as the air compressor outlet is typically larger than you need
- seek a male x female valve as the outlet of the compressor is female and the outlet of the piping will be male
How Sizing NPT Fittings Enhance Airflow
You do not want to have air mains that are too great in size. If you have an increase in pipe size from say 3/8″ to 1″ air main then this essentially becomes a compressed air receiver.
If any application draws more air than can come out of the 3/8″ discharge of the compressor then the 1″ main is almost immaterial, except for additional storage. Though, a 3/8″ compressed air line flows a lot of air so this may not be an issue.
Many people believe that Type M NPT fittings are for industrial use and Type T fittings are automotive, though this may be true in some cases, all Type M fittings will fit type M couplers and connectors and the same applies to Type T and their counterparts. So as long as you buy the correct NPT fittings for your plumbing setup you’ll have no issues.
Adding Regulators into you Air Compressor Plumbing Setup
After you’ve selected your air compressor, it’s important to consider how you are going to achieve pressure control of the overall system pressure. The solution? A master regulator!
Master regulators should be used on the output of the primary receiver. For general purpose applications of your garage plumbing setup, set your output pressure on the regulator to 90 PSI (pounds per square inch). Why? Because 90 PSI is an adequate pressure for the majority of pneumatic tools.
Master regulators are required on compressors that have under 40 hp (horsepower), anything above that and the compressor itself should usually be set up to control the output pressure.
Though, as can be observed in the image below, a point-of-use regulator can be used at the workstation or equipment location. Adding a pressure regulator at each drop, will allow you to control the air pressure at each hose individually rather than having to adjust the pressure for the whole system.
Some applications may require a specific lower pressure than that of the system, therefore a point-of-use regulator allows you to alter the pressure at this specific application only.
For example, the majority of finish nailers will work best at 90 psi, but a sprayer may only require 40-50 psi. So it would be in your best interest to only change the pressure at this drop rather than in the whole system.
This is obviously under the assumption that you’re going to include multiple drops in your system, if you only opt for one then it would not be necessary to have a master regulator and a point-of-use regulator, you’d only need either one!
Regulator Flow Rate
A final consideration for a regulator is its flow rate, a recommended rule of thumb would be to size your regulator for a flow rate that is five times greater than the maximum rating of the compressor so that it’s able to conduct high-surge situations.
What Pipes to use for your Air Compressor Plumbing Setup
This consideration, as you can imagine, is extremely important in any air compression system. You must be smart, and not use old plumbing systems that are left over as they may be difficult to determine the condition of them and their fittings. Putting in a new system will be easier and certainly offer you more benefits.
The required pipe size on an air compressor system depends on the two following factors which you must consider:
- the distance of your application
- the volume of air being carried to the application
This also entirely depends on how big your garage/workshop is, or how much of it you intend to plumb your setup into! If your pneumatic tools are located three quarters of the way across the length of your garage, you would need a different pipe size than you would if your tools were let’s say only a couple feet away from the compressor!
Likewise, the diameter of the pipe could also differ if the application is high-intensity (continuous) or low-intensity (intermittent).
On multiple systems, the pipes connected to the air compressor are selected to match the diameter of the compressor outlet. This may seem intuitive and reasonable, it can lead to errors within the system like pressure drops and losses in efficiency.
Any google search will provide you with charts that show the ratings of a system’s SCFM, and how to calculate the correct compressed air pipe size. These ratings tend to be based on the length of the pipes and the system’s psi or its flow rate in SCFM.
Though it is important to note that these charts can be inconsistent, as some are based on outside diameter measurements and others on inside diameter measurements. But the following data provided in the table below can be given as a rough estimation
For each unit of length, pressure loss can be cut with the right material, such as smooth bore piping made of copper, aluminium or stainless steel. Semi-flexible rubber tubing that is approved for high pressure capabilities can also be a suitable choice for you. A list of suitable compressed piping material types are:
- Aluminium pipe
- Black pipe
- Copper pipe
- Galvanized or stainless steel pipe
- Polyethylene tube
- Rubber hose
Of course, each material holds advantages and disadvantages and may well require different methods of installation.
It’s important to note that you should not use PVC pipe, or PEX and other similar plumbing fittings for compressed air as they may fracture or explode under high pressures.
For more information on the best compressed air pipeline materials for compressed air piping systems visit our guide!
Combating Moisture and Particulates in your Air Compressor Plumbing System
Certain amounts of moisture can get into the compressed air along with oil if used in the compressors motor getting into the tank. Very common applications like sanding and painting can have serious problems if moisture or oil were to stay in the air stream and enter their respective tools.
Therefore, air compressor systems should be equipped with filtration devices either at each drops outlet, or right before the air regulator on the discharge line from your compressor.
For more information on compressed air filtration, types of filters and their purpose please visit our guide!
An alternative option to the filter being inserted immediately after the compressor is an air dryer. A properly maintained air dryer will catch the majority of moisture that is in your system.
An air compressor water trap setup like a water separator can help remove the water vapor from the air line to ensure you get the highest quality.
You could even use an air dryer in conjunction with a water separator, it would be best to link them together with a short airline with the separator coming first, and then the dryer afterwards to condense and get the vapor out. Allowing you to have added protection against moisture and other fluids/particulates.
Another way of combating moisture and a less-expensive technique is installing drip legs as can be seen in the image below. It is generally recommended that one is installed at every drop below tees to provide a straight path for water to drain and not enter your tools.
Filters, dryers and separators do a great job however small amounts can still get through them, which makes adding drain valves at each drop a must!
So by now you will have a great understanding of the key considerations to take into account when you’re planning your air compressor plumbing setup. Now let’s take a look at some plumbing tools, setup ideas and tips!
Air Compressor Plumbing Setup Tools
Before actually starting your compressed air plumbing setup, it’s a great idea to familiarise yourself with and obtain the common plumbing tools you’ll need to help you with the setup.
Having a good range of quality tools will make the whole task a lot simpler and ensure you’re doing the right thing. Basic plumbing tools you may want to have on hand include:
- Wire Brush
- Tape Measure
- Teflon Tape
- 24″ Magnet Square
- PTFE Based Pipe Dope
- Pipe Cutter
- Hand Threader
- Pipe Wrench
- Pipe Vise
Important: Please be aware that these tools are just suggestions for use with certain materials. For example, if you were using a hose or PAP for your air path, you will not need most of these tools as a magnetic base square and threading is not necessary.
The wire brush will be used to clean the pipe threads before assembly. A tape measure say from 25ft-50ft is recommended to help measure pipe and building the lengths, and even planning out the layout itself.
A 24 inch magnetic base square level will allow you to free up your hands for other tasks as the magnet allows the level to be stuck to the pipe being levelled. All pipes will need PTFE-based pipe dope applied as a sealant before assembly. Either that or the PTFE tape can be used, the PTFE component in both provides the necessary lubrication so that the threads are able to seal effectively ensuring the seal is air tight.
Suitable pipe cutter is essential, ensure that the cutter wheel is sharp and certainly free from any chips.
Note: depending on your chosen pipe material, do not confuse tubing cutters and pipe cutters. They both have the same general appearance, but tubing cutters will not be able to cut through the heavier load of pipe.
A hand threader will be an absolute must, and obtaining a good set will provide you with dies for 1/8″ to 2″.
Note: hand threading pipe over 1″ can require a great amount of effort and may be very difficult, so it is therefore advised to use an electric pipe threading machine for best results.
Pipe wrenches are a vital tool for plumbing projects that require threading, you must ensure that the jaws are sharp for use and have a suitable range of sizes available. Typical tool boxes come with 10″, 12″, 24″ and 36″ pipe wrenches.
Lastly, a pipe vise though it is not essential, it can certainly make your plumbing setup a lot easier. Allowing you to clamp your pipe with exceptional force so that you can conduct whatever work you need to on it.
Of course, I am not limiting you to these tools, as I’ve said already, you may not need most of them. These are just an idea of some of the basic tools for plumbing your own air compressor setup in your garage.
You must question yourself, and ask what you need… think about wall mounts or stand of brackets for example, you will need a drill, suitable drill bits and screws. For sweating copper pipes together you will need a torch. These are just a few considerations you must ponder!
Air Compressor Plumbing Setup Layout Ideas and Tips
Air Compressor Setup in Garage
What could your air compressor layout actually look like? There should be great thought put into the layout of the plumbing setup. Of course, this will depend on how many drops you intend to have within your setup.
Do you intend to mount your linear plumbing on one of the side walls or install the setup overhead for an a single air hose? Or do you intend to have a full spine or closed loop distribution system where you have multiple drops scattered across your garage?
Closed loop systems run up from your air compressor and tee’s into pipes that run in both directions around your walls and meet on the other side of your garage or workshop. These systems are probably better suited for scenarios where more than one application is being used at the same time.
A linear system is where the pipe runs from the compressor and ends somewhere else in the garage, very common in most homes. This is ideal for a user with short length of piping and only has drops on one or two walls.
If you plan to have drops on 3 walls then there is certainly no reason why you shouldn’t complete the loop and add drops to the final wall. This can offer you great benefits in that the drop that was furthest away from the air compressor, and so having the highest pressure drop, is now a much shorter distance to the air compressor due to the closed loop and therefore has a lot less pressure drop!
The real trick is to plan ahead, if you see yourself having a blasting cabinet in your future then add a tee fitting and shutoff valve along the wall where you’d like it to go.
Let’s take a look at some layout possibilities in greater detail!
Side Wall Setup with Air Hose Reel
If you’re only wanting the one drop from your plumbing setup then your best bet is creating something like this linear set up in the image below.
Here you have your air compressor plugged into the mains, (preferably by your garage door) that will be connected to your piping with a flexible hose attached straight to a filter before entering the piping system, the air can then pass through a regulator before entering the air hose reel and into the tool for your application.
It’s important to set this sort of layout up near your garage door if possible so that you can use the system to fill car tyres without having to navigate the hose around obstacles in your garage.
The hose reel itself can be attached with a swivel mounting bracket so that it stores flat against the wall when not in use.
Overhead Setup with Air Hose Reel
Another option for you if you only want the one drop on the plumbing setup, but instead you have a crowded workspace in your garage and you may not necessarily want to drag your hose around even if it is near the garage door, you can apply the setup so that your air hose is over head like in the linear example below.
This will save you a lot of space in your garage, and if centred, can provide you with compressed air at any point with ease.
Spine Distribution System
The spine approach sees the use of a central spine across the middle of your garage roof that feeds out towards your side walls and down to the necessary drops. It is an excellent linear choice for small facilities like your garage!
These distribution systems use a large pipe near the compressor to deal with flow requirements and then a smaller pipe along its length for when the flow requirements diminish.
An abundance of isolation (shut off) valves must be present at every drop so that maintenance can be carried out in specific locations without disturbing the overall distributions systems operation.
Loop Distribution System
A final method, and one that is very common, is the loop distribution system. As can be observed in the image presented earlier for closed loop systems, these systems consist of a pipe loop that follows the outer wall of the garage or workshop with drops taken off where needed.
However, it’s necessary to introduce balance pipes into your loop distribution system like in the example below where a balance pipe is strung across the middle of the system. Balance pipes are placed at locations that will connect with the opposite sides of the primary loop, and if fitted properly, they will help assure a consistent delivery rate to all application drops.
Note: the image below is not a looped system, but is instead an example of a balance pipe within a system.
The concept behind loop distribution setups is that when a specific application is experiencing a surge situation that will affect the flow requirements of applications down the line, air will be automatically compensated from the opposite side of the loop. Of course, this will not affect you solely working by yourself in your garage on one application at a time but it is certainly something to be aware of.
Again, the location and number of isolation (shut-off) valves are extremely important in these systems to allow maintenance to be conducted to any part of the system without the disruption of the whole systems operation.
Some general tips that should be noted when plumbing your air compressor setup are and how to achieve a successful layout:
- insert a ball/shut-off valve at the outlet of the compressor and each drop
- include a soft connection from your compressor to the pipe to deal with vibrations
- use quick disconnect fittings
- appropriately size your piping based on your SCFM output
- aim for as few elbows, tee’s and connections as possible
- the horizontal piping running around your garage or workshop should not be completely level – and instead slope slightly downwards
- design the system so that there are no low spots where water can collect
- drops should all run off the top of the horizontal pipe and curve back down (to help gravity assist in reducing water entering the drops)
- aim to run around 25 feet of piping before your first drop so that the air cools down allowing the moisture to condense into liquid and be caught in the filters
- add filters as close to the air outlets as possible to account for pipe corrosion or debris
- install unions in numerous locations if using copper, aluminium or steel for ease of maintenance if necessary
Air Compressor Plumbing Setup Optimisation
One way to optimise your air compressor plumbing setup could be soundproofing the air compressor by putting it in cupboard or wooden box! It’s important to ensure the air compressor has proper ventilation so that it has a fresh intake of air and does not overheat.
I’ve found some great examples online like the one below where the box is made out of plywood or MDF and has the necessary holes for ventilation.
Another idea could be combining this soundproofing idea with making the air compressor more portable by adding wheels onto the bottom of the box, turning it into a trolley like unit (depending on the size of the compressor of course), like in the example below.
You could scratch the soundproofing and focus on the portability by implementing a hose reel onto your trolley like the following example. Not only does this offer you the ability to move your air compressor wherever you like (within reason of power) but you have the additional benefit of the hose reel allowing you to reach an even greater distance.
A slightly different example of optimization could be adding a compressed air manifold at a drop line. This manifold (shown below) will enable you to feed the supply of air at a certain pressure into the manifold, and then out via its series of smaller air ports to a number of different pieces of equipment.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
By creating a successful plumbing setup! Install a compressor in the corner of your garage or somewhere suitable and not in the way, and then run a piping network to different parts of the garage so that you have air supply in multiple locations without hoses being scattered across your garage floor.
Absolutely not! Under no circumstances should you be using PVC pipe or fittings when dealing with compressed air. PVC pipe is not intended for these applications because of the inherent stored energy of gas, it is suited to non-compressible fluids only.
PVC pipe fractures when it fails, and due to the shear amount of pressure, hundreds of razor sharp plastic shards will blast out creating a safety hazard.
Begin by threading the pipes and fittings you wish to use using the suitable tools. Include lots of unions fittings throughout your air system so that you can conduct maintenance and make changes in the future. Use teflon tape or dope and two pipe wrenches to tighten pipes together and ensure they’re air tight.
Attach the air line pipes to the wall using wall mounts and use elbows coming off tee’s for each drop so that it’s difficult for the moisture to enter the drops. Regardless, you should add filters to the ends of each drop and regulators if necessary before the air enters your application.
Once you have decided upon the ideal location for the compressor by determining how much room you will need for your work and tool applications, place the compressor on isolator pads. This will help to stabilize the device as well as reducing the noise. Select sufficient hose/pipe lengths and fittings .
Attach the air compressor to your desired plumbing network, whether that be direct to a hose, or to a a linear or a closed pipe loop setup, using a flexible hose as the connection that can withstand the air compressors vibrations. The plumbing network of your choice should include a shut-off valve, filters and an air dryer to ensure you receive the highest quality of air into your pneumatic tools.
Ensure when plumbing your system that you use teflon tape or dope between any pipe connections to ensure your system has the necessary lubrication in place to create an air-tight seal. To treat leaks, plan ahead… insert lots of ball/shut-off valves in your system, especially at drops along with unions so that you’re able to shut-off the required section of your plumbing system without having to drain the air out the whole system.
First of all, ensure that a flexible hose is used as the connection between the air compressor and its piping system. This will help to avoid the vibrations from the air compressor causing any damage to the piping directly.
You can also mount the lines so that they’re offset from the wall using stand-off brackets, this will stop them from vibrating from the internal pressure of the air and rubbing against the wall.
Use a series of wall mounts/stand-off brackets. The stand-off brackets allow the lines to be slightly away from the wall so that you do not need to worry about vibrations.
If you have any questions or comments regarding how to plumb an air compressor setup, please leave a comment below with photos if applicable to help others help you!