Introduction to PEX Plumbing Materials

First, please note that this is being written by a 46-year-old female electrician. I am NOT a plumber. With that in mind, if I was able to complete this project, you probably can, too.

I purchased my home ten years ago and one of the few annoyances was the fact that there was almost no water pressure. The house was built in the 50’s and still had the original galvanized plumbing. On my “to do” list for years has been to replace the mess. I was also afraid of the expense of copper and the difficulty. With a new all copper system I knew I would have to do a lot of soldering and there would be considerable room for mistakes………. as in flooding the house. Having been working in the residential construction area I began to notice new homes being built using the PEX plumbing system and decided to learn more about it. Long story short I completed my new system at the end of May and am thrilled with it.

PEX or cross-linked polyethylene is a flexible tubing. It is light in weight and much more resistant to freezing than copper piping. It is connected by crimping the tubing to the various size and type connectors as compared to sweating with a torch. This is a big plus when working in tight spaces or if, like me, you are prone to aiming the torch at your hand rather than the copper. You may still need to make some sweat connections but very few, leaving less area for potential leaks. The benefits over galvanized are even better. You don’t need huge pipe wrenches and massive strength to loosen or tighten connections. The flexibility of pex allows for fewer connections overall and makes for much faster installation.

Pex sizes. Standard use Pex comes in 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″ sizes. ( I.D.) This is for both the tubing and connectors. For my applications I only used 1/2″ and 3/4″. I used 3/4″ from the water main to the manifolds and 1/2″ out to each fixture. This provides more than enough pressure – flow in an average home. If you have a home that is in the mansion category you might want to start with 1″ pex and work from there. I only needed one 1/2″ to 3/8″ connector for one fixture hook up. Pex also comes in white, red, and blue tube colors. Red being used for hot water and blue for cold. There is no difference in the actual tubing and you can just as easily use all red or all blue. It is really to make identifying the water lines easier.

Pex connectors. I tried both the “crimp” clamps and the “cinch” type clamps. Both require separate types of tools to make the connection. I thought I would prefer the “cinch” connectors but in the end found the “crimp” connectors to be easier and less prone to leak. The cinch type require less space to navigate the connecting tool but the difference was not a problem for my application. I had a couple of leaks with the cinch connectors because I did not get them quite tight enough in the initial installation. I did not have any leakage problems with the clamp type connectors and actually found they required less strength, almost none, to complete.

Manifold system. This I found to be a HUGE plus of the PEX system. I installed two manifolds. I assembled my own over purchasing store made to get exactly what I wanted. I purchased the base pieces on E-bay. I have one manifold that distributes cold water throughout the house and one off of the hot water heater. The pluses: I am able to shut the water off to each individual fixture or area without shutting off all of the water to the house. I have also found that with this distribution system I have more regulated water pressure. The water goes to the manifold and then out to each fixture instead of being in one long pipe and dropping off at each fixture. I also have a couple of extra shut offs with no connections on both hot and cold for when I am ready to finally install the second bathroom…..another on the “to do” list. All I will have to do is add in the tubing to the new fixtures and it will be done. I will not have to shut the whole house down for completion.

Costs. The PEX itself is much less expensive that copper. I completed my house for under $800. This included two different types of Pex connection tools and complete new fixtures for the shower, laundry sink and washer. You do not necessarily need new fixtures. Mine were just so old there was no point. Those fixtures were about $100 or so of the total. The tools cost less than $200 on E-Bay. I believe you can also rent the tools but that takes all the fun out of it. I also most likely bought several things I did not need but that just happens when I shop for anything involving tools and home repair. I do recommend checking for supplies on E-Bay. I found almost all supplies were less expensive, except the tubing itself, and found much greater availability. I went to both of the major building supply stores in my area and their PEX choices are rather limited.

In conclusion I am very happy with my new plumbing system. Remember, I am not a plumber. I was able to complete this project myself. Again, I am a 46 year old female, about 5’1″ and 125lbs. You do not need to be a hulk to do this job. Crazy maybe but not a hulk. The water pressure in my home has vastly improved to the point of my adjusting down some of the valves on the manifolds, another plus. The first time I flushed the toilet I thought it exploded. I can now flush and turn on the sink at the same time. My washing machine fills up in no time at all and my massaging shower head actually massages my back instead of randomly spitting water. I do recommend that you take time to learn about the PEX system and what is involved in the installation and I also very much recommend E-Bay for supplies. In all, even with a burnt hand and broken ribs….don’t even ask……I am very pleased with my new plumbing system and the fact that I was able to complete it myself without my house floating down the street!

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