PEX Piping is versatile and a synch to install. For the small house DIYer PEX can be a cash-saving dream.
For years, DIY plumbing has been the bane of even the bravest DIY homeowners. Digging into walls? Sweating joints? Soldering?
Fortunately for the small house DIYer, there is a solution.
PEX piping is cheap, versatile, and is quickly replacing copper as the go-to piping for professionals and DIYers just like you.
Ease of Use
Anybody who has ever installed copper piping on their own knows that it’s about as much fun as raising carp in a bathtub. It’s heavy work that’s done primarily over your head. It’s a pain to sweat and solder joints, and the cost of copper makes bargain-hunting DIYers shudder.
PEX solves all of this.
PEX is a hardened form of polyethylene extruded in to long rolls of tube. The product has been around since the 1930s, but it came into widespread usage with the rise of radiant floor heating systems. PEX piping would be sunk beneath the floor and hot water would be circulated through to keep a home at an even temperature without running a forced air furnace.
Somewhere along the line some forward-thinking plumbers realized that since PEX was so great at carrying water beneath the floors of a home, it would be ideally suited for taking water from the main and delivering it though basements and walls. In short—it could do what copper does.
And they were right.
PEX piping is available in any gauge you can buy copper in, and it’s cheap. Dirt cheap compared to copper. Copper prices are subject to market fluxuations, but even when copper prices are low, PEX piping is only a fraction of the cost. At the moment, a 10-foot stick of ½-in copper will run you about $15. The same length of PEX is just under $3.
And the savings multiply with scale. PEX can be easily produced in rolls, which means it is manageable in runs up to 100-feet.
But the fact that PEX is cheap is just a desirable side effect. Ease of installation is the real value of PEX.
Because PEX is flexible, it requires fewer fittings that copper. Where copper needs elbows to bend corners, PEX can accommodate gradual bends—and sharper bends with a little more persuasion.
Because of this, PEX is ideal for remodel jobs. In a copper installation, .65 PSI of water pressure is lost with every 90 degree joint. Because copper piping is rigid, it needs to be run perfectly around joists, HVAC, and other basement obstacles. This can add up to a lot of 90 degree joints.
Going around a single HVAC will lose you almost 2 PSI of pressure. PEX can be manipulated without hard corners, which saves both money and time during installation.
In a copper-system, sweating and soldering each joint is a long process even for the professionals. In PEX, there are a variety of ways to attach joints and fittings, and none of them are as cumbersome as solder.
PEX holds its fittings with crimp rings. There are a few different systems in place, and which you choose is a matter of preference. PEX fittings slide neatly inside of PEX tubing and a metal ring collars them both. When the fitting is in place the ring gets crimped with a special tool, making a water-tight connection in a fraction of the time the old copper fitting would have taken. This is a remarkably efficient system.
Still, for all of its benefits PEX piping has some disadvantages.
That PEX needs fewer fittings is an especially good thing. While the cost of PEX piping is negligible when compared with copper, PEX fittings are disproportionately expensive.
PEX can’t be used outdoors, and shouldn’t be stored outdoors for long periods of time. UV radiation causes the polyethylene to break down, and there is a risk of contamination.
Be sure to check your local building codes before committing to a PEX system. While it is up to code in almost all areas for open plumbing, certain types of fittings are often not code inside walls.
While PEX has some drawbacks, its leaps and bounds above copper piping. It’s cheaper, easier to install, and has very low barriers to entry for a small-house DIYer.
PEX takes the fear out of DIY plumbing, and offers an affordable solution for what could have been a pricy problem.
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.
PEX on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-linked_polyethylene)
PEX Info (www.pexinfo.com)
Pricing taken from http://www.homedepot.com