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The Power of PEX Tubing

Written By:
R. Dodge Woodson

What is so special about PEX tubing? Isn’t it just a plastic plumbing pipe? It’s not that Polybutylene tubing which spurred so many class-action lawsuits, is it? Slow down. PEX is not the Polybutylene that took a bad rap a few years ago. PEX is a hybrid, and it’s a cross-linked Polybutylene tubing. Yes, it’s plastic, but PEX offers numerous advantages to metallic water-distribution piping systems.

Polybutylene is grey in color. PEX comes in white, blue, and red colors. This is advantageous in that cold water can be piped with blue tubing and hot water can be piped with red tubing. PEX can expand up to one-third of its own diameter before bursting when it is frozen. Compare this to copper tubing and you will see instant advantages.

Copper tubing, which is common in most homes, is subject to chemical reactions that create leaks. Acid is one such chemical reaction. Too much acid in copper tubing will create pinholes. The holes may be tiny, but the water damage can be disastrous. This is not a problem when PEX tubing is used.

PEX installations require less of a plumber’s time. Most of us know how much plumbers charge for their time, so this is a no-brainer. No flame is required to install PEX tubing. This is another difference between PEX and copper. Go with the PEX!

Check the price of copper. Compare it with PEX. Again, you have a no-brainer. PEX fittings are more expensive than copper fittings, but fewer are needed and the additional cost of the PEX fittings won’t amount to much when you compare the cost of the tubing itself.

I used Polybutylene (PB) back in the 1970’s and for many years following with no problems. However, the installation procedure required precise work. Personally, I feel that PB got a bad rap, but PEX is installed with essentially the same procedures and it’s great.

As an old-school master plumber with over 30 years of experience, I am probably supposed to support copper, but I don’t. For general residential applications, PEX is the player. It is cheaper, faster to install, and in many ways it offers superior service.

PEX joints are made in two ways. There are crimping tools and crimp rings. This is the system that I use with PEX. Another system, and it is equally good, uses an expansion tool on the tubing that opens the tubing and allows it to grip onto fittings. These are the two professional means of installing PEX.

Homeowners can use compression fittings to make easy connections with PEX. All you need to make a leak-proof joint is two adjustable wrenches and a compression fitting. The tubing is cut professionally with a sharp cutting tool, but a homeowner can cut the PEX tubing with a knife or a hacksaw. There are also new fittings available that allow homeowners to basically jab the pipe into the fitting for a solid fit.

If you want to re-pipe your house, repair a section of piping, or add to your plumbing system, I strongly recommend a PEX connection. The compression fittings that I spoke of earlier allow you to transition from copper to PEX. You can do it, and you don’t need super skills or pro tools. Go for it!

R. Dodge Woodson is a master plumber of over 30 years. He has written over 90 books dealing with many subjects, including plumbing.