When you’re thinking about remodeling your home, you might consider replacing and upgrading your pipes. Having good, sturdy pipes is essential in areas with harsh winters and where temperatures can drop below freezing. When water in a pipe freezes, the pipe expands. When that water melts, the pipe can burst.
Many homeowners insulate their pipes with varying methods, while others use small heaters to keep entire walls warm. However, in recent years, PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) pipes have become exceptionally popular among the DIY crowd for preventing cold weather related problems.
PEX was invented in the 1950s and initially marketed in Europe. In the United States, PEX has been used for radiant heating systems since the 1980s, and has only recently been used for potable water.
Why homeowners love PEX
PEX pipes are flexible, cheaper alternatives to copper pipes that don’t take much time to install. PEX is also less likely to burst if the water inside freezes. At about one-third the cost of copper, PEX is cost-efficient for anyone who needs to install a significant amount of piping in their home. It’s also non-corrosive, which makes it even more attractive.
Perhaps the best PEX attribute is that you don’t need to use glue. This means you’re free to work in small, enclosed, unventilated areas without having to wear a respirator.
While PEX pipes provide some serious plumbing benefits, don’t rush out to buy it just yet. Consider the following points before installing this new kind of pipe in your home.
1. PEX won’t eliminate the need for an emergency plumber
If you’re considering PEX because it sounds like a cure-all for plumbing problems, you should reconsider. Even though the material is less likely to burst, it can happen.
No matter how great PEX pipes are, you should always post the number of your local emergency plumber on the wall. If PEX ends up not working for you, you might want a professional to replace the pipes for you.
2. Chlorine is bad for PEX
Chlorine is an enemy of PEX. If you can’t avoid running chlorinated water through your pipes, you might be okay, but only for a while. Manufacturers coat PEX pipes with antioxidants so the chlorine will degrade those antioxidants instead of the pipes. However, once the antioxidants are gone, the pipe isn’t protected and can fail quickly.
3. PEX is like a vampire – it hates the sun
If you have exposed pipes in a room that gets direct sunlight through a window, or outside, PEX is not a good choice of material. In the sun, PEX degrades quickly by losing elasticity and flexibility.
Manufacturers add a special coating that helps to prevent degradation from the sun, but like the antioxidants, it won’t protect the pipes forever. If you want to take good care of your PEX pipes, keep them away from sunlight before, during, and after installation.
4. PEX doesn’t do well as part of a radiant floor heating system
Radiant flooring is popular among the energy-saver crowd, but PEX isn’t built for that purpose. A radiant flooring system is constructed in a closed loop, which can cause oxygen to corrode the heating elements.
5. PEX doesn’t play well with petrochemicals
Burying your PEX pipes below the frost line is normally a beneficial move, but not when petrochemicals are around. When PEX comes in contact with ground water contaminated by petrochemicals, certain gasoline additives, and pesticides, those chemicals can come through the pipes and into your potable water. The result is a contaminated water supply.
The other problem is that chemical byproducts from the manufacturing process can leech into your potable water. This process is accelerated by over-chlorination. Experts say that a chlorination level below 4ppm and a pH at or above 6.5 is generally safe. However, you may not want to take that risk.
Still set on PEX? Take some precautions
If you’re set on installing PEX pipes in your home, there are several ways to prevent PEX material from bursting in low temperatures:
- Drain the whole system if the plumbing won’t be in use during the winter
- Insulate the pipes installed in outside walls
- Avoid installing PEX in outside walls
- Bury the pipes below the frost line
- Install a hot water recirculation system
PEX is a great invention and can be the solution to many plumbing problems. However, before installing this material in your home, make sure it’s the best choice for your specific needs.
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