This is the scenario you face:
You have a bathroom remodel about to start. You’re capable and want to do some of the work yourself, including plumbing. But there are a few things you’ve never experienced, including PEX pipe.
What is PEX?
What’s involved working with it?
Is PEX harder to work with than copper?
In this post, Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumbers and plumbing contractors discuss the advantages and disadvantages of PEX and offer a few tips.
This information is presented to give homeowners a basic understanding of PEX as they consider service, repair, and upgrades working with a Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor.
What is PEX?
Just a moment of tech talk.
PEX tubing is made from crosslinked HDPE (high density polyethylene) polymer. The HDPE is melted and continuously extruded into tube. The crosslinking of the HDPE is accomplished in one of three different methods.
PEX plumbing has been in use in Europe since about 1970, and was introduced in the United States around 1980. The use of PEX has been increasing ever since, replacing copper pipe in many applications, especially radiant heating systems installed in the slab under floors or walkways.
Interest in PEX for hot and cold water plumbing has increased recently, particularly as an alternative to traditional copper and chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) piping. One Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber notes a simple reality: “Most people are using PEX because copper has gotten too expensive.”
If you are interested in using PEX piping, it’s advisable to understand the advantages of using the product and what it takes to work with it. If you are uncertain about using or installing PEX, use your Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber because any plumbing mistake can be messy, cause further damage, and be costly to remedy.
There are many advantages to using PEX. In no formal order:
- PEX costs at least 25 percent less on average than copper and is an excellent alternative for areas too small or tight for rigid copper and CPVC pipes.
- It installs quickly.
- PEX plumbing installations require fewer fittings than rigid piping. The flexible tubing can turn 90 degree corners without the need for elbow fittings, and PEX tubing unrolled from spools can be installed in long runs without the need for coupling fittings. Less time is spent running pipe and installing fittings than with rigid pipe systems.
- The tubing is connected by using crimp rings with a compression tool or by snapping it into connecter fittings (not by “sweating pipes” or using other connecting fittings).
- Attaching PEX tube to fittings does not require soldering, and so eliminates the health hazards involved with lead-based solder and acid fluxes; PEX is also safer to install since a torch is not needed to make connections.
- PEX doesn’t corrode or pit when exposed to acidic water. Sediment does not build up on the inside of the pipe.
- PEX is much more resistant to freeze-breakage than copper or rigid plastic pipe. It can expand up to eight times its size before it freezes.
- Copper pipes have a history of developing leaks, and copper reacts to different metals touching it like nails or galvanized clamps. It’s also prone to wearing down because of the flow of the water throughout the pipe. These are not issues with PEX.
- PEX tubing does not transfer heat as readily as copper, and so conserves energy.
- Water flows more quietly through PEX tube, and the characteristic “water hammer” noise of copper pipe systems is virtually eliminated.
Here are some observations, in no particular order of importance, from Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumbers who use PEX piping:
- Since the PEX pipe is flexible, much like electric cables hidden behind your walls, you just drill the needed holes in joists and wall studs and feed the PEX tubing as one long piece from your basement mechanical room (in one example) to the plumbing fixture that needs water.
- You can cut PEX with a handy tool in less than two seconds. The tool makes a clean cut that’s required to get watertight joints. It takes longer to cut copper tubing, including reaming the cut end.
- The plastic used to make PEX has a memory much like Spandex fabric. You can stretch and enlarge PEX pipe, but it wants to go back to its original size and does so in just seconds, depending on the air temperature. You stretch PEX pipe using a special hand tool, or you can use a nice cordless expanding tool that will do the work for you.
- When making a connection with PEX pipe, slide a compression ring onto the end of the cut pipe, then insert the expanding tool in the end and give it a squeeze. The tip of the tool starts to open and it stretches the pipe and the compression ring. You’ll need to squeeze the tool several times to get the pipe and ring large enough to fit over the end of the fitting, valve or manifold.
- As the PEX pipe starts to shrink back to its original size, it grabs tightly onto ridges on the fittings and valves, making a watertight connection. At normal room temperature of about 70 degrees, you can create a connection in about 15 seconds or less. That’s impossible soldering a copper pipe joint.
- It’s simple to transition between PEX pipe and copper tubing. All PEX manufacturers make solid brass fittings that allow for the transition. You solder this brass fitting onto the end of a piece of copper tubing as you would solder any joint. Once the fitting has cooled to room temperature, be sure to clean the soldered joint to remove any residual flux, which can cause future corrosion. The other end of the brass fitting has the same sharp ridges as you find on the plastic fittings. Slide a compression ring on the end of your PEX pipe, use the expander tool to enlarge the pipe and ring and slide it over the end of the brass fitting. Within seconds the PEX pipe and ring shrink and you have a watertight connection.
- Temperature affects PEX pipe. The warmer it is, the easier it is to enlarge the pipe and compression rings with the expander tool. If it’s cold keep the compression rings in your pocket or inside your clothes to keep warm.
- PEX is easy to practice. Make up a few joints using small pieces of PEX pipe to get to know the materials. You’ll discover how many squeezes you need to make using the expander tool to expand the pipe and compression ring and see how fast the material shrinks to make watertight connections.
Not to Forget About Copper
All of this is not to say PEX is the way to go. As noted, you will want to discuss with a Decatur or Hartselle, AL plumber what option is best for your home and circumstances.
Some plumbers prefer to work with copper. “We know that it’s good for 40 to 60 years,” a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber said. “With PEX we don’t know what water will do the the plastic plumbing 30 years from now. With copper, the fittings will not cause any problem as long as the plumber solders them correctly.”
An important note for homeowners to consider: Plumbers working with PEX should be certified by the product manufacturer. Should the product not be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions, the warranty could be voided.