It’s time for DIY Plumbers to move out of the Copper Age. PEX Piping is cheap, versatile, and will save DIY small housers a ton of headaches.
What you’ll need:
- PEX Piping
- PEX Fittings
- PEX Tool (See Below)
- Crimp Rings
- Cutting Tool
- Manifold (for new installations)
This is the big one. This is going to take your water from the main and distribute it through your house. You can buy PEX in sticks or coils, depending on how much you need. One small note—PEX has a memory and wants to stay in whatever form it comes in. That means when you buy PEX in coil form, it takes a bit of manipulation to do what you want.
These come in one flavor. Generally made out of some durable metal, the PEX fitting joins two or more lengths of PEX pipes together. The connection is ribbed so the crimp rings are able to better hold. The fittings work with the PEX and connection system to create a high-pressure seal.
PEX Tool and Crimp Rings
PEX tools come in a couple of varieties. The most common tool you’ll find will work as a true crimping tool. It will slide over the ring and squeeze tightly around the piping.
Another common variation of the tool, though, uses a cinch system. The tool itself is similar to the crimp tool, but with a couple of variations. Where the crimping tool requires the DIY plumber to buy different size rings for different sized PEX (1/2, ¾, 1-inch, etc.), the cinch tool allows the DIYer to purchase just one size ring for different sized PEX piping.
Be mindful of your tool when purchasing your rings. Rings are designed to work perfectly with your tool, and are going to either crimp or cinch. Regardless of your flavor, the PEX connection system will join your PEX pipes to your fittings. They work equally well, in my experience, so if you don’t plan on doing a lot of plumbing, I’d just go with what you can buy cheaply. Or better yet, borrow!
Go to any big box store and they are going to try to sell you a special tool for cutting PEX piping. The tool works great. It’s big, with strong jaws, and makes a clean cut through PEX. Still, it isn’t necessary. It’s particularity not necessary for the DIY small houser. PEX piping is soft, easy to work with, and can be cut with anything from a small hacksaw to a kitchen shears.
You don’t need to get rid of all your copper piping to bring in PEX. PEX can be integrated seamlessly with a copper system. There are a variety of connection methods you can use to transition from copper to PEX, but perhaps the easiest is a compression fitting. A compression fitting “bites” on to copper, PEX, or anything in between, and makes for an easy connection with no additional work.
Careful: They aren’t always code inside of walls. Still, they make a fast and easy job of what could otherwise be a nightmare.
The actual layout of PEX in your small house is going to depend on a lot of factors. Is this a new installation? Are your replacing existing plumbing? Are you adding a new bathroom?
Regardless of the project, the job starts with making connections. Every connection is going to require three things:
- A length of PEX piping
- A fitting, and
- A crimp ring or cinch ring, depending on the system you’ve opted for.
Your main water supply should be shut off. If you are working within an existing plumbing system, be sure to bleed your pipes so you don’t get a snout full of water.
To make a PEX connection, first slide the crimp ring or cinch ring over a properly-sized length of PEX tubing. Remember that if you’re using the crimp system, the ring will need to be properly sized for the pipe.
Once you’ve slid the ring onto the PEX piping, insert your fitting. The fitting should be pushed up all the way to the hilt, so that the edge of the PEX piping is touching the center stalk of the coupling.
The ring, already on the outside of the PEX piping, should then slide easily over the fitting, and be spaced about a centimeter away from the fitting. This will allow your ring to hold fast to one of the ridges of the fitting beneath.
Now you’re ready to make your connection.
You Got to Buy a New Tool—
Time to Learn to Use It
Now you get to use your tool. The crimp tool and cinch tool are going to work a bit differently, but both are going to ultimately make a high-pressure seal that will keep your plumbing humming for years.
For New Installations
If you’re working on a new installation, you’ll want to look into installing a manifold for your PEX plumbing system.
The manifold is a sort of “circuit breaker” for your plumbing. It works as a sort of central hub that distributes water to the rest of the house. It’s connected directly to the main and located centrally. This will allow for equal travel distance to every faucet in your house, and keep hot water response and water pressure consistent throughout your home.
In a crimp configuration, the tool slides around the outside of the ring. The ring, sitting squarely on the PEX piping will fit inside the crimp tool. Make sure the ring is firmly nestled inside your tool and give it a squeeze. The principles are the same for a cinch system, but instead of fitting around the entire ring the cinch tool slides over a small nub hanging off the cinch ring. One squeeze will do it.
Congratulations, you’ve made your first connections.
Now that you’ve made one connection, the rest will fall into place. Installing PEX piping is like assembling a puzzle. Careful measuring, cutting, and diligence will make quick work of your next plumbing job.
Joe is a writer and DIY small house enthusiast. When he isn’t writing, he and his beautiful wife can be found restoring their 1936 Bungalow. It may someday be finished.
See their progress at JosephHolschuh.com.
PEX on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-linked_polyethylene)
PEX Info (www.pexinfo.com)
Image from Wikipedia, cross-linked polyethylene.
PEX Tools in Image Above:
- crimping tool to squeeze a metal band to join a pipe and a fitting
- compression coupling joining two 1/2 inch pipes (copper or PEX)
- “T-joint” to connect 3/4″, 3/4″, and 1/2″ pipes
- Copper-to-PEX 1/2″ connection (requires soldering)
- tools to undo PEX connections
- tools to undo PEX connections
- crimp rings to squeeze metal band to connect PEX to a fixture
- PEX tube cutter