PEX: The Answer to Your Plumbing Pipe Problems!
Do you have frozen pipes? Do your PVC pipes crack and burst? Do you hear the constant metallic knock-knock-knocking of old iron or copper pipes? Could there possibly be just one solution for all of these plumbing pipe woes? Yes! It's called PEX plumbing and it will solve all of these problems!
What Is PEX Plumbing?
PEX plumbing is a proven system that's been around for over three decades, providing hot and cold plumbing needs safely and securely at a lower price point than copper or even rigid plastic pipe installations.
It's called because the tubing is made of polyethylene that has been cross linked. Crosslinked high-density polyethylene polymer is a very flexible type of plastic that can take the rigors of high temperatures and high pressure without erosion. But "PEX" is a lot faster and easier to say than "crosslinked high-density polyethylene polymer," reflecting the quick and easy installation of this miracle plumbing tubing. PEX
In addition to supplying a home with its typical water needs, PEX plumbing can also be used in lieu of heating systems by providing radiant floor heating. Radiant floor heating makes that travertine kitchen floor less jarring on chilly winter mornings, and cozies up tile, wood and other flooring systems safely. Since heat rises, heating from the ground up is more efficient than forcing warm air down from vents placed high in walls. Radiant floor heating doesn't just keep your toes happy; it warms the entire room quite comfortably, and without the noise of forced air heating systems. Heating your home this way can reduce your heating bills by a quarter or more, which helps to offset the cost of installation. The characteristics of PEX make that tubing system the perfect solution for radiant floor heating.
Why Is PEX Plumbing Better Than Other Types of Plumbing?
PEX plumbing materials are durable, long-lasting and can be used in a wide variety of plumbing situations. PEX is cost effective, requiring budget friendly materials with only minimal outlays for specific expensive tools, and those tools are only necessary to purchase if you plan to use certain types of connections.
Its flexibility allows maneuverability around corners without the use of elbow joints or other re-directional connectors. Since fewer connections are required, PEX eliminates the cost and hassle of many fittings typically used in traditional plumbing, and fewer connections means fewer possible leaks. With lengths up to 100 feet, plumbing lines can go a long way between connections!
PEX can withstand temperature extremes of hot or cold, without requiring additional insulation, which means no more burst pipes! The smaller diameter of the tubing offers some water savings, while rushing water to the desired outlet faster than traditional plumbing. And, the PEX manifold system allows access to specific water applications through individual shut-off lines without having to turn off the entire household's water supply.
Vivid blue and red colored tubing make identifying cold vs. hot lines a snap; tubing is also available in white and other colors for easy color coding. Its flexibility accommodates the build up of water when quickly shutting off a valve, so there's no loud hammering sound as sometimes occurs with metal pipes.
PEX can be used in conjunction with metal and/or rigid plastic pipe systems. Connecting PEX with steel, copper, iron, PVC, ABS or CPVC allows homeowners to make a transition to PEX without having to re-pipe their entire home.
Preassembled for Easy Installation
Individual valves let you stop water flow to a particular fixture without interrupting the entire household's water service.
PEX plumbing won't rust, won't spring pinhole leaks, can handle high chlorine levels and low pH levels, resists scale build up and won't pit, corrode or decay with proper installation. PEX materials are recyclable through means of reapplication: the tubing itself cannot be melted down to make new tubing, due to its crosslinked nature; however, used PEX can be pulverized into a fine powder and used as an extending material in the manufacture of reusable pallets, tote bins, decking and other durable plastic-based products. Given the durability of PEX plumbing, however, it would likely be a long time before these materials would need to find their second lives.
Can I Install PEX Plumbing Myself?
That depends partially upon your skill level, experience and willingness to learn new tricks of the plumbing trade. It also depends upon where you hope to run your plumbing lines. PEX is a great plumbing solution, but you wouldn't want to leave the lines outside, exposed to sun, wind and rain. If you bury your PEX lines sufficiently underground to protect them from the elements, especially if you use EcoFlex insulated PEX tubing, there should be no problem.
If, however, your plumbing lines will be going under cement or tile, you'll only want to tackle that if you have a strong background in working properly with those materials. Otherwise, hire a contractor to help with those portions of the job. You'll likely want to hire a professional if you wish to install a PEX manifold to handle all your household plumbing needs. While installation is comparatively easy, large or more complicated applications of PEX would best be left in the hands of professionals, unless you have solid plumbing experience yourself.
As far as hooking up PEX plumbing lines yourself, there are six main types of connections that can be used; some of them extremely simple even for complete novices. For all connection methods, start by making a cut in the PEX tubing using a tube cutter to achieve a smooth and even cut.
The six main PEX connection systems are clamping, crimping, compression, expansion, press and Shark Bite. Here's a look at each one.
The Six Main PEX Connection Systems
You'll need standard PEX tubing, a clamping tool, stainless steel clamp rings and HydroPEX fittings. Place a stainless steel clamp ring over the end of the PEX tubing, sliding it down just a bit from the end of the tube. Notice that there's a small tab on the outside of the stainless steel clamp ring. Next, insert the HydroPEX fitting snugly into the PEX tube. When inserted properly, the HydroPEX fitting will be halfway in the PEX tubing and halfway out. Now, take the clamping tool, align it right over the stainless steel clamp ring's tab, and squeeze, tightening the ring until the connection is solid and secure.
Similar to clamping, the crimping method requires the use of standard PEX tubing, a crimping tool, round crimp rings made of copper and HydroPEX fittings. Slide the crimp ring over the end of the PEX tube, insert the HydryoPEX fitting, and use the crimping tool to crush the ring into place, securing the PEX tubing snugly around the HydroPEX fitting. Check your connections with a Go/No-Go gauge to ensure a proper fit.
This type of fitting is used when connecting PEX tubing to a manifold for radiant heat applications. No tool is required for this type of connection, which can be applied using standard PEX or PEX-Aluminum-PEX tubing. Compression fittings have three separate metal parts: a nut threaded on the inside, a split-ring ferrule, and an insert. Slide the nut onto the tubing first, followed by the ferrule, and then the insert. Couple all the pieces within each other, and as you screw the nut, its inner threads will clamp down upon the ferrule, securing the assembly.
This method requires PEX A-quality tubing. Standard PE tubing won't work in this method, as the tubing needs to come back to form after expansion, which won't happen when using a lower-quality PEX tubing.
For expander connections, use high-quality PEX tubing, an expander tool and ProPEX fittings and rings. The fittings cannot be inserted into the tubing until the tube is expanded. First, place a ProPEX ring onto the end of the A-quality tubing, arranging it such that the fitting is not flush with the end of the tube, but hanging off the end of the tube about an eighth of an inch. Now, here's where that expander tool comes into use. First, make sure you have the right head size attached to your tool to accommodate your tubing size. Open the tool up fully, insert the head into the end of the tube, and close the handles together. Each open and close motion will expand the tubing a little bit. Do this several times, turning the tubing a bit in between expansions, to fully and evenly expand the tubing. Once the tubing has been expanded, remove the expander tool and immediately insert the metal ProPEX fitting. The tubing will shrink back to its normal size, forming itself right around the metal ProPEX fitting for a tight connection.
Use a press PEX tool, press PEX fittings and stainless steel PEX press sleeves. Standard PEX or PEX-aluminum-PEX tubing can be used with this method. Slide the sleeve over the PEX tubing, resting it on the end of the tube, like a cap. Next, insert the PEX press fitting (half of the fitting will be in the tube and half will stick out of the tube). Use a press PEX tool sized for your tubing to press the sleeve securely against the tube and metal fitting.
6. Shark Bite
The easiest PEX connection to make is by using the method, as no tools or rings are required. The first step in making this kind of a connection is the only step: simply push the end of your PEX tubing into the Shark Bite connector--that's it! A solid connection is instantly made with this method. Shark Bite connectors can also be used with copper or CPVC pipe. Shark Bite
Notice that none of the connection techniques require the use of solder, which means you can kiss lead-based installation and blow torches goodbye.
How Do I Know Which PEX Connector Method to Use?
All methods provide secure connections. Many plumbers prefer the expander method, but crimping is very popular with the DIY crowd. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to invest hundreds of dollars in tools if you'll only be using them minimally. If your project is an isolated task, your best bet is to use the Shark Bite method, which requires no tools whatsoever, although all methods do require a PEX tubing cutter to make square, clean cuts.
There are many possible applications of PEX tubing. One idea is to capture heat biologically by taking advantage of the heat created in a compost pile. This is one green method of adding hot water to a home water supply at no cost. The extreme cold of the snow in the picture above won't damage the PEX, but leaving the tubing exposed to ultra-violet light will. Burying the tubing well within the pile will protect the tubing from the elements, but better yet, EcoFlex insulated PEX tubing would be the perfect solution for outdoor applications such as this.
Whether your next plumbing job is big or small, consider incorporating PEX into your home's plumbing system. You may discover it's the long-sought-for solution you never even knew existed.
© M.S. Ross
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.