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What Is PEX Piping?

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The colorful plastic, bendy piping you see in new homes or homes that have been repiped. “I’ll take Piping again for $200, Alex.”

PEX piping is an alternative to copper, galvanized steel, PVC, and other piping materials. Its versatility, durability, and ease of installation have launched PEX onto the podium of residential piping.🏅

How does it compare to traditional metal piping? What are the advantages of choosing PEX next time you need to replace some pipes in your home? Read on to find out!

Nerdy Science Stuff About PEX Piping

PEX is short for “cross-linked polyethylene.” Polyethylene, for those of us who skipped chemistry class, is plastic.

The “cross-linking” refers to the process by which the long chain molecules that make up polyethylene are chemically bonded to one another, creating a stronger, more flexible material. This gives PEX piping better resistance to freeze-thaw cycles, higher heat resistance, and more burst strength than regular polyethylene.

First used in homes in radiant floor heating, PEX became a water supply line material in the 1980s. PEX is totally safe for transporting drinking water and is now a very common choice for water line plumbing.

What’s With All the Pretty Colors?

A cool feature of PEX is that it can be manufactured in different colors, which makes identifying hot and cold water lines a breeze (unless you’re color blind). Plumbing systems don’t have to use different colors, but this does help organize your waterworks.

PEX is currently available in 4 colors for incoming water lines:

  • Red for hot water lines.
  • Blue for cold water lines.
  • White is used for either.
  • Gray is used for either.

The Benefits of PEX Piping

PEX piping is practical and easy to install with the right tools. Plastic tubing is lighter than piping made from heavy metals (rock on 🤘) like copper and steel. This lighter-weight material is probably a positive if you’re a home improvement DIYer.

Other PEX qualities make it an appealing choice for homeowners and plumbers alike.

Bendy Like Your Yoga Teacher

PEX is a malleable, bendy material that can be shaped around corners and looped without sacrificing performance. PEX piping moves similar to a stiff garden hose.

Why is this awesome?! Because water lines can run around corners and weird angles without installing joints, which is necessary with copper piping. This saves time and money on your installation costs.

Fewer joints mean there are fewer places for leaks and drips to occur. This is also a good thing.

FUN FACT: PEX piping is classified into 3 categories: A, B, & C. A is the most flexible and expensive, and C is the least flexible and least costly.

PEX is Very Temperature-Resistant

All materials expand and contract when heated and cooled. Piping with hot and cool water flowing through it is bound to this thermodynamic law.

Because PEX is bendy and a little stretchy, it can absorb these temperature changes without compromising the pipe’s integrity. When metal plumbing expands and contracts over time, it slowly weakens the pipes and joints, leading to cracks and leaks.

PEX is virtually invincible against freeze-cracking. The pipe remains flexible and intact even when temperatures drop well below freezing.

Cheaper Than Copper

If price is important for your repiping project, then PEX should be a frontrunner. Costs per foot for PEX piping are usually 50-75%% of the cost for the same length of copper pipe.

PEX piping systems also require fewer joints and connectors, which speeds up installation time. So the total price of repiping your home with PEX is cheaper than going with copper.

If you have exposed pipes or plumbing, copper will provide a more sophisticated look. PEX piping might look like your kids’ playset, but it’s definitely cheaper.

PEX Gets Along With Everyone

Versatility is another great benefit of PEX piping. PEX can be connected to existing plumbing, including metal and PVC. With the correct fittings and know-how, PEX can safely be integrated with different plumbing materials.

So PEX is a great solution for repiping your entire home, or as replacement pieces for plumbing repairs.

Depending on the connection and fitting, PEX is joined to metal or PVC piping with:

  • Push-fit fitting
  • Clamp-ring connection
  • In-line fitting

The Limitations of PEX Plumbing

Nothing is perfect (said Karen), not even PEX plumbing. PEX is a really practical plumbing solution for older homes in need of pipe replacement.

But there are some restrictions on where PEX can be installed.

PEX Is The Vampire of Piping

PEX piping hates the sun.🧛

The manufactured plastic is sensitive to UV light, which degrades the integrity of the piping. UV light wears down the molecular structure of PEX and makes it brittle.

So basically, exposure to the sun will ruin PEX piping and cause it to crack, rupture, and not perform very well.

PEX is not suitable for above-ground outdoor installations or any place regularly exposed to sunlight. This won’t be an issue for most homes because plumbing usually runs in walls, attics, and under floors.

Vulnerable to Animal Damage

Remember, PEX is a plastic material. So even though it’s very durable and has some give for stretching and squeezing, an ambitious rodent can chew through this piping. The same can’t be said for copper.

If you live in an area prone to rat or rodent infestations, you’ll want to protect your plumbing with some pest control measures. ❌🐀

If you’re curious about what rodents can gnaw through plastic piping, go down the rabbit hole here. #nopunintended

PEX is Non-Recyclable

But it can be repurposed! The manufacturing process of PEX makes it impossible to recycle with today’s technology (molecular bonding science stuff). Copper piping, on the other hand, is 100% recyclable.

However, discarded PEX piping can be mulched and repurposed for other products like playground matting and footwear.

PEX plumbing is extremely durable. This type of piping will last 30+ years if it’s cared for. So you can wait for new recycling technology in the meantime. ♻️

Why Choose PEX in California?

Earthquake Resistant Plumbing

An earth tremor isn’t exactly wonderful for your home’s comfort systems…especially your plumbing. Earthquakes put a lot of stress on your plumbing and can cause cracks, leaks, and other damage.

Because PEX is flexible and can expand safely, PEX piping is an excellent solution for areas affected by earthquakes.

PEX is not impervious to serious tectonic shifts, but it’s more resilient than metal piping under the same conditions.

You Didn’t See That Repiping Project Coming…

In many cases, whole-home repiping is a foreseeable expense. If you’re experiencing lots of water problems and leaking pipes, a reliable plumber should explain that your pipes need replacing.

But when you don’t see a repiping project coming, the price can be intimidating. PEX piping is cheaper than copper piping with virtually all the same performance metrics.

If you’re on a budget, go with PEX piping.

Your Galvanized Pipes are Probably Rusty

If you’ve got galvanized piping in your home, it was probably installed a long time ago. Fresno and other cities across the Central Valley no longer permit galvanized pipes for home plumbing.

Galvanized pipes corrode from minerals in the natural water supply. This leads to rusty pipes and contaminated water in your home. Corroded pipes are also more vulnerable to damage.

Swap out your old galvanized pipes for PEX to prevent poisoning yourself. PEX piping never rusts (because it’s plastic) and lasts longer than metal piping.

Time to Replace Those Rusty Ol’ Pipes?

Is your home 25 years or older and still has its original plumbing? Then you’re probably noticing more pipe problems popping up each year. Fixing a leaky pipe is fine, but if your home is due for repiping, one thing leads to another (as The Fixx once said). #nopunintended

Eventually, you’ll save money and time and remove the risk of water damage by repiping your entire home. It’s part of the life cycle for any plumbing system.

A Lee’s Plumbing Specialist can evaluate your entire plumbing system and explain if repiping with PEX is a good idea for improved home comfort.

Thomas Howard

Written by Thomas Howard

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