We’ve heard of PVC or copper pipes, but what is PEX? With all the hype about this emerging PEX material, let’s take a look at what precisely these pipes are and why they’d be a good option.
What is a PEX pipe?
PEX is short for cross-linked polyethylene and is used in water supply piping systems. They’re called PEX pipes or PEX tubing. It has a bunch of neat advantages in comparison to metal pipes such as copper, lead, or iron, and even surpasses other plastic pipes such as PVC, ABS, or CPVC. Mainly, these pipes are said to be extremely flexible and durable. The don’t easily corrode or degrade due to various liquids and chemicals. The installation of these pipes is also quick and easy.
The tubing of PEX pipes is made from cross-linked high-density polyethylene polymer by continuously melting the HDPE and shaping it into a tube. For cross-linking, there are three different methods currently being used. The use of PEX piping has been increasing ever since it was first introduced and has become very popular over time. Let’s explore the history of the PEX pipe and how exactly it has become one of the most widely used plumbing material.
Its History and Usage
The PEX pipe was made in 1968 by a German scientist named Thomas Engle when he figured out how to cross-link polyethylene, which is standard plastic. He did this through radiation, which produced a much more supple form of plastic. This new plastic was made into a PEX pipe, which was more flexible. It arrived in the United States in the 1980s and was initially used for radiant floor heating systems. It works by embedding the flexible tubing within a concrete slab and then hot water is run through the slab, which effectively heats it. The heat from the slab radiates heat to the entire room. To this day, PEX pipes are used widely for radiant floor heating systems.
When initially tested, the PEX pipe was said to have slight damage due to high chlorine levels. The US water supply systems commonly contained very high levels of chlorine. Hence the PEX pipe arrived in Europe before it was familiar in the US. Antioxidants added into the PEX material made it suitable to use for drinking water, allowing it to meet the potable drinking water standards in the US. This led to the PEX pipe’s popularity and widespread use in the country. More than sixty percent of residential water supply systems that are being constructed are using the PEX piping systems.
Characteristics and Types of PEX
PEX is an innovative and practical material with some neat qualities:
The PEX pipe can be stored on spools and doesn’t need to be cut beforehand or soldered for installation. The flexibility of the PEX pipe is what makes it easier to ship, carry, store, and install.
PEX material can expand, which makes it resistant to cracking from low temperatures. The expansion properties are what make PEX a much better alternative to steel or copper.
PEX pipes don’t allow the transfer of heat through the tubing as compared to metal pipes. This helps to save energy while using PEX tubing.
No “Water Hammer” noise
The typical “water hammer” noise that’s heard when water flows through plumbing systems doesn’t occur in PEX tubing. Water flows a lot more quietly through PEX tubing, and there is virtually no noise.
PEX pipes do not corrode, unlike copper or steel pipes. Corrosion can cause leaks and can also contaminate the water supply, which is dangerous for drinking water, especially.
PEX pipes are available in so many varieties; it might become challenging to choose the perfect fit for your application. Don’t worry, the following facts about PEX will help you decide which type of PEX pipe you should be using and why it’s the best choice.
There are three types of PEX labels: PEX-A, PEX-B, and PEX-C. They are different because of the particular manufacturing process used for creating the tubing. To choose the best type of PEX, you’ll need to know what each label means:
PEX-A is made using peroxide and is the most flexible type of PEX. PEX-A is the best of any home water supply plumbing system. The degree of expansion for PEX-A is higher than the rest, which means it’s most resistant to cracking from freezing temperatures. So, if you’re living in an area where the climate becomes very harsh and cold, a PEX-A grade pipe is probably the best choice. With an increase in quality and functionality, however, comes an increase in price. That is why the PEX-A type is more expensive than the others and varies according to the brand or diameter.
This PEX grade is manufactured through a “moisture-cure” method. It’s just a little stiffer than PEX-A and has coil memory characteristics that make it return to its initial coil shape. Coil memory characteristics do not interfere with installation. PEX-B is usually used in home plumbing systems and is a little less in cost than PEX-A. PEX-B also is resistant to cracking in freezing temperature and features better resistance to chlorine than the other types. This allows PEX-B to be better for places where the water is high in chlorine content.
PEX-C is made through irradiation and is the stiffest type of PEX. Because of its stiffness, PEX-C is challenging to work with compared to the ease of using PEX-A and PEX-B. PEX-C might also get kinks or become cracked from freezing water. Therefore, PEX-C is most suitable for applications where either a quick repair is required, or where sharp bends aren’t necessary. PEX-C is the least expensive type of PEX.
PEX comes in a bunch of different colors. However, they don’t signify any difference in PEX grade. The colors are simply there so installation and differentiation are easier
1. Red PEX
You can use red PEX to carry hot water.
2. Blue PEX
You can use blue PEX to carry cold water
3. White PEX
You can use this color to carry either cold or hot water.
4. Gray PEX
Gray is less common but can also be used to carry either cold or hot water.
Apart from different colors, PEX can also be bought in various lengths and diameters.
Short PEX is usually found in ten-foot pieces. It’s suitable for small repairs
Long PEX rolls are over 500 feet long and are used for installing an entire home water supply system.
Other than these lengths, you can find and buy customized lengths that are most suitable for your specifications.
A PEX pipe can be found in diameters ranging from 3/8- to 1-inch.
The combination of PEX label, its color, length, and diameter will help you select the best possible PEX type for your home’s needs.
Pros and Cons of Using PEX Pipes
Each type of material has its advantages and disadvantages. You won’t be able to find the perfect material which doesn’t have at least one drawback. Figuring out whether PEX is suitable for you requires you to know exactly what its pros and cons are.
Pros of PEX
There are a lot of ways using PEX tubing can help:
- PEX pipes do not need to be soldered like copper, or galvanized steel does.
- PEX pipes expand, which make them better at resisting cracks due to freezing temperature than steel or copper alternatives.
- PEX is non-corrosive, which means using it for any type of water supply is safe. You won’t have to worry about leaks or contamination to the water like with copper or steel piping.
- PEX allows water to flow silently and eliminates and “water hammer” noise that is usually found in metal piping systems.
- PEX pipes are easily shipped and stored because they are flexible and are fitted onto spools.
- Lower shipping and handling costs because of its low weight and easy storage
- Color varieties of PEX let you easily color-code your entire plumbing system to distinguish between hot and cold water.
- PEX can be combined with existing or new metal water supply plumbing lines.
- Its installation requires much fewer fittings than other types of piping. You don’t need elbow fittings for turning at 90-degree corners.
- Safe to install because a torch isn’t needed to solder and make connections.
- PEX tubing conserves heat, which in turn helps to save energy.
- Installation costs less because the PEX pipe is considerably cheaper than metal alternatives.
Cons of PEX
Following are a few drawbacks of PEX:
- PEX material is not suited for the outdoors since UV rays can damage it.
- It is not recyclable because it doesn’t melt as easily as other plastics.
- Some special connectors and tools are required for the installation.
Installing PEX tubing
Installation of PEX is considerably much easier than the rest of the piping systems. We’ll provide you with all the information you need to make proper connections and fittings with PEX. Although some specific tools and connections are required, for the most part, if you follow all instructions correctly, installation should be a breeze.
Making Connections and Fittings
The first concern that people may have is whether they’ll need special tools for making the connections. The answer is that you don’t necessarily need a fancy tool. You can just use stab-in or compression fittings when you’re making the connections. These types of connections, however, may be too expensive to apply on a large project. They’ll be perfect if you only require a few, but for a larger scale, you might want to invest in a special tool.
Tools you’ll need
Crimp rings and cinch clamps are two simple and affordable types of connection methods that you can opt for. They’re the most suitable ones for DIY projects.
Crimp rings are metal bands that are usually made from copper, and you can easily slip them over the fittings and compress them using a crimp ring tool. One of the drawbacks to using crimp rings is that separate devices are needed for different sized crimp rings. This might cost you a little extra, but it’ll be worth it.
Cinch clamps are similar to band clamps that are widely used in DIY applications. The clinch clamp is slipped over the outward tab, and then you just need to squeeze it to tighten the clamp. The benefit of this tool over the crimp rings is that you’ll need one tool for all cinch clamp sizes.
Another tool you’ll probably need is a pipe cutter for cutting the tubing. The cutter is a scissor-like special tool. You’ll also need a de-crimping tool which is made for removing the crimp rings from the fittings. This is essential during the entire process because you may need to re-fit or re-re-arrange pipe fittings. The de-crimping tool will allow you to reuse the fittings easily.
The costs of these tools depend entirely on the type of brand you’re going for. A great tip is to buy all the necessary tools in a kit since it’ll considerably cost less than buying each tool individually.
Making connections with PEX
Now that we’ve cleared up which type of tools we’ll be needed let’s see what the connection methods are. Here are the most common connection methods for PEX pipes:
1. Standard Connections
This method involves connecting PEX pipes with brass PEX fittings and using copper crimp rings for the fittings. The standard procedure is followed for crimping and fixing the rings onto the pipe.
2. Expansion Connections
Expansion fittings require an expansion tool which is used to increase the diameter of the PEX pipe. It requires special expansion fittings, and they’re inserted into the expanded part of the tube which later shrinks back to its original shape and size.
3. SSC Method
SSC stands for stainless steel clamp, and this method uses an exclusive clamp with the same fittings used for standard connections. For this method, a special ratchet clamping tool is required for tightening the stainless-steel rings.
Types of PEX fittings
To make all the appropriate connections, you’ll need the right PEX fittings. Fittings are usually made of brass, bronze, or copper, or even specially formulated plastic. Typical PEX fittings include crimp rings, compression fittings, and clamps.
Some useful DIY tips
Setting up your PEX piping system might seem like a difficult task, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be DIYing your way to a perfect plumbing system in no time. Here are a few tips to ensure your project is a success:
1. Use the appropriate tools for PEX connections. Each type of connection needs a specific device, if you use something different, it might not work right correctly.
2. When storing PEX pipes, make sure they’re not outside. If they’re inside, be careful not to place them near a sunny window. PEX pipes can be damaged by UV light.
3. Invest in a PEX pipe cutter; it’ll make it much easier for you to cut the pipes. You’ll have neat and clean cuts which will allow you to make connections more easily.
Comparison of PEX With Other Types of Pipes
We’ve seen so many useful characteristics and neat advantages of PEX, but how exactly is it better than other types of pipes? Here’s a comparison with a metal alternative, copper, and a plastic alternative, CPVC.
PEX vs. Copper
PEX is known to be less expensive than copper, especially if you’re carrying out a medium to large scale project. PEX is also a lot easier to install since you don’t need soldering methods, and the connection process is fast and straightforward. PEX is also non-corrosive, unlike copper, which corrodes over time.
PEX vs. CPVC
PEX and CPVC are almost the same in price, but PEX is much better because there’s no glue needed. CPVC requires special glue, and you need to work in a ventilated area or wear protective gear. PEX also is more resistant to freezing temperature than CPVC, making it less likely to burst. PEX is also more flexible and is available in more varieties than CPVC.
PEX has a long list of advantages that make is a much better choice for plumbing than other pipe materials. The PEX pipe installation is secure, and once you have the right tools and equipment, it can be done without having to hire professional help. PEX is great for either hot or cold water supply, whether it’s for a residential building or an industrial area. It is non-corrosive, which means the water supply will be entirely safe for drinking. PEX is also a more economical choice than other pipe types, and its carrying and storage is easier too. Due to its extremely durable properties and flexible material, PEX is slowly starting to replace other traditional plumbing methods. PEX is a wonderful choice for plumbing and is catching on quite quickly.