47 comments

How to Become a Kickass Plumber – with PEX

This next edition of the Foreclosure Series answers the question:

“How can I profitably maintain or fix up a bargain-priced house for eventual rental or resale, when it costs so much to do things like plumbing repairs?”

When I was a twenty-one-year-old just beginning an engineering career, I had no desire to become a plumber. “A plumber is an old guy with a beer belly who fixes leaky pipes – where’s the appeal in that?”.

Five years later, I was a new homeowner, and a blast of cold weather cracked the pipe that ran to my garden hose faucet. I tried to find a plumber, and couldn’t get anyone to return my calls. So I had to figure out how to fix it myself.

Five more years later, I was hiring subcontractors to help build my housebuilding company’s first custom home. I gathered bids for the electrical, drywall, furnace, and plumbing work. They were all about $12,000, so I assumed all of these jobs were an equal amount of work.

The electricians worked for a week with a large crew, and provided thousands of dollars of fittings, light fixtures, circuit breakers, and expensive copper wire. The drywallers worked even longer and put up tens of thousands of pounds of drywall in all sorts of awkward places, then meticulously plastered and sanded the joints. The HVAC crew brought along a high-efficiency furnace and air conditioner, and worked even longer.

But the plumber showed up with just one chain-smoking assistant and a few duffel bags of parts and pipes, and had the whole place done in less than a week before presenting me with the $12,000 bill. “What the heck?”, I thought, “Why do these guys earn so much money for so little work?”.

As a homeowner, you’ll run into the same situation. Plumbers routinely earn $100 to throw in a toilet, hundreds more to replace a sink or faucet, and thousands if you dare ask them to provide the plumbing for a new bathroom.  I’m not knocking my fellow tradesmen, I think it is quite cool that they have somehow carved out a niche where they are able to charge over $80 per hour for manual labor. But if you’re going to own your own house, and want more power and less poverty, you should definitely learn to do your own plumbing, because it is easy and fun.

The technological revolution that made this activity drastically more easy and fun was the replacement of soldered copper pipes with flexible reinforced polyethylene pipes. These are commonly referred to as PEX (short for Poly-Ethylene-Crosslinked).

The benefits of PEX over copper include these:

  •  drastically cheaper pipe (20-26 cents per foot for PEX vs. over $1.00 for copper)
  •  faster cutting (5 seconds with a ratcheting scissor tool vs. 30-60 seconds with a hand-cranked wheel cutter)
  •  faster joints (10 seconds with a crimping tool vs. 2 minutes with a torch and solder)
  •  no dangerous flames (almost all plumbing is in tight places near electric wires and gas lines, exactly where you usually DON’T want to shoot flames)
  •  easy changes (you can swivel PEX joints around even after crimping them and they remain intact)
  •  easy pipe routing (PEX pipes can curve around corners and be pulled easily through awkward wall cavities)
  •  virtually freeze-proof (copper pipe is destroyed 100% of the time if you freeze it while full of water. PEX seems to miraculously survive repeated freeze-thaw cycles even at 0F, according to my own series of tests using my freezer :-))
  •  environmentally better (a roll of plastic uses much less energy and oil to produce than mining, melting, and refining an equivalent quantity of copper from solid rock).
  • amazingly reliable. With copper pipe joints, you never know if you did a perfect soldering job until you turn on the water supply and check for leaks. With PEX, if you squeezed the clamping tool until it automatically released, you got the joint right. I’ve done thousands of these PEX joints now, and never had a single drip.

PEX is so much better than copper in every way, you should immediately roll your eyes and sing a circus clown song at anyone who tells you they still do their plumbing with copper. So let’s get started.

Tools of the Trade:
There is a common misconception, even among plumbers, that PEX-related tools are expensive. This is true, if you buy the silly obscure-brand $250 crimping tools that plumbers buy, but I will share with you the secret way to get all the required parts for minimal cost. All you need is:

  • One PEX clamp tool, like this one.
  • And a bag of 1/2″ clamps (also called crimp rings) like these ones. If you’re working with larger pipes, as you might when connecting a water heater or sprinkler system, you can get 3/4″ components as well.
  • A roll of the actual pipe itself can be found in any building supply store, but it looks like this.
  • Then you’ll need something to cleanly cut the pipe, like these shears.
  • Whenever you have to cut off old copper pipe cleanly, you use one of these wheelie deals.
  • To connect the old copper pipe to your new PEX pipe, you just push both pipe ends into a Sharkbite coupling.
  • And when run new pipe along studs or under floors, you attach it every few feet with these handy dandy clamps.
  • As you start a project, you’ll be using fittings like elbows, tees, and shutoff valves for places you’ll eventually connect a faucet or toilet.  You can find everything you need in the plumbing section of Lowe’s or Home Depot, or if you think in advance you can get the fittings cheaper at Pexsupply.com right here.

Congratulations! You are now fully equipped for water supply plumbing and repair, and the tools themselves cost you less than $60!

So let’s do a sample project!
In the current house I’m remodeling, I decided to cut off the entire copper pipe network, at a point fairly close to where it enters the house through the basement wall. I used a copper pipe cutter (the thing with the little cutting wheels) just like the one I showed you above.

Then I pushed on one side of a sharkbite coupler, and took a length of PEX pipe and pushed that firmly into the other end of the coupler.

Push-on connector fits over both Copper and PEX, making a perfect connection. Gator Grips and Sharkbites are removable, while the less costly alternative shown here is single-use.

Slide in the PEX, and the connection is done.

From this point on, I was able to easily branch out and connect everything in the house into the network using standard PEX fittings.

That was too easy. Show me another project!
Here’s a great one – connecting a brand-new shower valve to the supply plumbing.

This used to be a lot of work for old-fashioned plumbers because they had to disassemble the valve in order to avoid melting the sensitive plastic and rubber parts inside. Then they would stick some copper pipe into the openings and heat the whole thing up to a zillion degrees and melt in some solder.

But as modern PEX plumbers, all we have to do is wrench on some 1/2″ female pipe thread adapters to the male connectors provided on virtually every shower valve. (Note that you add about 8 laps of teflon tape first to ensure a watertight connection).

A normal shower valve with three PEX adapters screwed on (left, top, right), and a cap screwed onto the bottom outlet, which we don’t need because we are making a shower only with no bathtub spout.

Now we get to use our new clamping tool. Cut a short length of pipe for each side of the shower valve and a longer one to go up to the showerhead, push one length onto each of your nicely tightened adapters, slide on some clamp rings (1/4″ from the end), and clamp them.

This is all it takes to make a permanent joint with the clamp tool.

Repeat this process to connect in a couple of 90 degree elbows, and eventually the two long pipes that go down from shower-handle height down into your wall to connect to the rest of the world.

Elbows are on…

..And throw ‘er into the wall, connecting to hot, cold, and showerhead pipes!

Eventually you’ll add some tile backerboard material and the shower will look like this just before you tile it.

It really is that easy, and you can follow these basic techniques and work your way through an entire house to build the connection points for toilets, sinks, tubs, showers, laundry machines, garden hoses, pet grooming centers, bar sinks, sprinkler systems, boilers, solar hot water heaters, radiant floor heat systems, and anything else you can think of.

PEX components also make a great toy for kids. You can sit together and cut lengths of pipe and slide them onto fittings (just skip the clamping stage so you can reuse the parts later), to make animals, water experiments, fountains, and scientific-looking sandbox volcanoes and erosion demonstrations.

You can think of this article as an enthusiastic advertisement to get you excited about the concept and give you an idea of where to get started. If you’re going to plumb a major project, you should also grab a library book about plumbing to understand how to make sure your projects end up building-code-compliant. There are also videos on YouTube that teach you how to do almost anything related to home renovations.

Finally, you can check with your city’s building department if you have additional questions, and they can help you pull building permits and schedule inspections of your finished work to ensure everything is done in a trouble-free manner. Building inspectors are usually nice, under-appreciated people who love to share their knowledge and help you learn even more, so don’t be shy about getting building permits for important projects.

What we just learned is called “supply plumbing”. That’s the most important and useful skill, but you can also complement the knowledge by learning about “drain plumbing” (the black pipes that start under your sink and send water out to the sewer), and “miscellaneous”, which is just the lego-style fiddling you do when you connect a faucet or replace a toilet. Once you can do all of them, you are way ahead of your neighbors, and you may find yourself earning cases of beer or home-cooked meals just for helping them with the simplest of tasks.

 

  • Tanner November 23, 2011, 7:55 am

    Awesome! I always hate soldering and dealing with the expense of copper pipes. This makes things so much easier. I never knew? Very timely

    Reply
  • Jason November 23, 2011, 8:18 am

    I remodeled our bath with PEX. I will never go back to copper if I can help it. It was easy, inexpensive and forgiving!

    Reply
  • Matt November 23, 2011, 8:28 am

    I learned to use similar pipes when i worked landscaping for a number of years… Irrigation systems are made out of PVC Pipes, but the joining and clamping is almost identical… PVX probably allows for higher pressures than PVC pipes…
    And about plumber prices … I think that in Chicago (I heard this working at a job site, and this was a couple years ago, I think prices went down now) one connection (supply and drainage) would cost close to two thousand dollars!
    So if there’s any construction worth saving money on it’s plumbing… After all you cover it with drywall and paint, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not artistic as long as it works :)
    Good post

    Reply
  • mike crosby November 23, 2011, 8:56 am

    I don’t “Star” many posts, but this one for sure. You make me richer, thank you.

    Reply
  • Kevin Schwartzenberg November 23, 2011, 9:03 am

    Great post MMM. One thing to look out for is building code. Unfortunately, in Chicago PEX is not up to code for plumbing. All water service piping has to be copper or ductile iron. I think it can be used for utility water systems and radiant floor heating as long as the systems are not cross connected to the potable water system.

    Reply
    • MMM November 23, 2011, 9:10 am

      Wow! That is so backwards and insane! .. I guess building departments are not always the most fast-moving places in the world, but shit, if the international plumbing code accepts it, and Europeans use it, every small town building inspector should shut up and listen to the experts. And in Chicago too, where there are gigantic swaths of uninsulated old housing and regular freezing weather – there must be split pipe incidents causing water damage somewhere every day.

      I wonder if there is even corruption in the works there – i.e., lobbying groups pushing for continued use of copper because it generates more labor hours and profits for themselves. That’s pure speculation, but it would sure be sad.

      You will note that with this article, I am doing the opposite – decreasing the pool of people who will pay me to handsomely do plumbing for them because I’m letting them in on the secret that it is easy to do yourself.

      Reply
      • qhartman November 23, 2011, 10:22 am

        It is really common for code and construction regulation to be politically driven in the US. Another example, in Oregon you have to be “low voltage” licensed to legally install communications cabling, like CAT V or coax inside buildings. That licensing is nearly as involved as what it takes to become an electrician, including a three year apprenticeship, except you still won’t be able to install power wiring.

        This regulation went into effect about 10 years ago, and the consensus among the people I’ve talked to is that it was a power grab by the electrician’s unions to force people (like myself) who have the know-how out of the market if it’s not going to be their primary income. The real bummer for me is that I am about 6 months short of having enough out of state experience to be grandfathered in and not have to go through the whole process.

        Here’s a link to the state’s page on the license: http://licenseinfo.oregon.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=license_seng&link_item_id=1679

        Reply
      • No Name Guy November 23, 2011, 10:37 am

        Not corruption per se (like bribery, kickbacks, etc), but the legal version called “corporatism” – in this case in favor of the Plumbers Union. It’s pretty common – be it in favor of whomever – corporations, unionized labor, etc.

        If Jane and Joe average home owner can do it themselves the high priced services of the business / industry / union are no longer needed.

        Reply
      • Kevin Schwartzenberg November 23, 2011, 11:14 am

        Yeah it’s pretty unfortunate. I had heard this from a friend who works for the city, but I wanted to confirm before I posted it so I googled it. I subsequently found it in the building code and on numerous plumbing discussion threads but ironically, one of the top search results was for a giant conference of PEX suppliers and users that occurred here in August. It talked about the giant market for PEX in Chicago in the area of radiant heat, but no mention of trying to get it added to the building code.

        Reply
    • John Stephenson November 30, 2013, 4:40 pm

      PEX is not code in most cities due to the lower pressure it can carry in a chlorinated system. The chlorination weakens the PEX about 5-25%. Some newer PEX pipe is chlorine resistant but codes have not quite caught up.
      Since PEX is rated up to about 4 times the average pressure this is quite silly to not allow it, and the connectors will pop off before the PEX gives out.

      Reply
  • TLV November 23, 2011, 10:04 am

    There was a section on PEX in a renovation book I was reading the other day. One of the (two) caveats it mentioned was that PEX decays when exposed to light, but it didn’t give any details. What’s the deal there?

    (The only other caveat they listed was that it was more expensive than copper, which may have been true when the book was written but obviously isn’t anymore.)

    Reply
    • qhartman November 23, 2011, 10:23 am

      Like most any plastic, it breaks down when exposed to UV. It’s really only a concern if you’re going to leave it exposed for years and years. Inside a wall it’s a non-issue.

      Reply
    • Paul O. November 23, 2011, 10:46 am

      Many organic polymers degrade with exposure to sunlight. UV light is to blame as it’s short wavelength/high frequency disturbs the bonds of some compounds, stressing them and causing the material to become brittle and crack. If you ever had the misfortune as a child of kicking a ball into a 1980s vinyl sided exterior wall, you’ll immediately understand just how brittle these things can get.

      I suppose another caveat of PEX is the possibility of leached carcinogens in the water supply. When the Romans invented plumbing, they poisoned their upper class for generations by using pure lead piping.

      Reply
      • MMM November 23, 2011, 11:46 am

        Yup – PEX does have a specific UV rating (you’re not supposed to store it in direct sunlight for more than something like 60 days). And there were some isolated cases of earlier 1980s generations of a different kind of plastic pipe failing, so they were removed from the building code.

        Because of these earlier problems, PEX was very strictly tested and had to prove itself for a long time before reaching full approval in the US. All 50 states approve now (although Chicago apparently is a remaining holdout as noted earlier).

        As for carcinogens – I don’t try to second-guess the scientists who test this stuff for a living and who approved it for me. If I want to live longer, I’ll invest the time in getting more exercise, rather than working longer so I can afford to pay five times more to get copper pipes. Statistically speaking, exercise and diet are drastically better ways to get a longer and healthier life – to the point where you should pretty much ignore everything else and just keep optimizing them. On that note, I’m off for a hike right now :-)

        Reply
      • Emily U. February 27, 2014, 9:49 pm

        Actually the Romans coated the inside of their pipes with another metal, I can’t remember what off the top of my head though. It wasn’t the lead pipes that poisoned them, it was that they had a habit of drinking out of lead cups. Seriously.

        Reply
  • Jennifer November 23, 2011, 10:41 am

    I’m curious – Did you salvage the ununsed copper piping in the house? That would bring in a pretty penny (har har) at the yard.

    Reply
  • Smurph November 23, 2011, 11:16 am

    Great article. I just bought a house with three bathrooms that need some updating. I was considering just leaving all the old faucets and shower valves in there despite some them being leaky, but this PEX stuff looks like it’s right up my alley.

    Reply
  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple November 23, 2011, 12:06 pm

    This is cool. My husband has done some minor plumbing for our house (for the dishwasher). We hire out for anything related to natural gas plumbing, and we hire a plumber to snake our sewer line once a year (our snake isn’t large or long enough.)

    My brother in law is a plumber – it’s a good living for someone helping the folks who aren’t handy or don’t want to bother!

    Reply
  • Mark Goho November 23, 2011, 12:33 pm

    Hey MMM, how would you respond to the fact that copper naturally inhibits the growth of organic compounds and PEX does not? Have you done any research in this area?

    Reply
    • MMM November 23, 2011, 5:15 pm

      Nope, I’m trusting the scientists and engineers who approved it for worldwide use on that one too. Domestic water is very clean, however, and also chlorinated, which makes it pretty hard for slimy things to develop in it. On the flip side of it, some people worry about drinking too much dissolved copper because it corrodes if the water supply has a low pH. I say, stop worrying about these silly things.

      Reply
  • Paul November 23, 2011, 8:17 pm

    The copper supply pipes often double as a ground wire for electrical systems and are very good at conducting lightning strikes to ground. I heard that this kind of pipe had a high failure rate in areas with a lot of lightning because the pex pipe is a poor electrical conductor. Also in older housing with two wire outlets the electrical codes allows you to ground newer electrical outlets to your copper pipe. Do you know if the newer pex has an electrical conductor in it or how using pex can impact electrical systems.

    Reply
    • MMM November 24, 2011, 8:05 am

      In an older house, like the one I am working on now, you still have some of the original copper coming out of the ground and entering the house, so you can still use it as an electrical ground. In a newer house, like the ones I built a few years ago, the electricians simply hammered a long metal rod into the soil outside the house and ran a wire from that into the main circuit panel.

      Reply
    • Vincent November 25, 2011, 7:04 pm

      You can use a carbon/copper ground kit, run a wire to your electrical main box, and if you whant can ad a lighting rod, should no be more than $200 if doing it yourself. Whay better than using the water pipes for grounding.

      Reply
    • TomTX December 15, 2012, 1:04 pm

      Grounding to the water pipes has been non-code-compliant in many jurisdictions for quite awhile. You still see it, but it’s not the best plan.

      Reply
  • kerry November 24, 2011, 6:58 am

    Great PEX article. Like the man himself, I am a home builder who simply cannot afford to over pay plumbers to do lesser quality work than I am capable of. A couple of comments about the shower install, and a few tips for a cheaper, faster job.

    #1. A lot of shower valve bodies have both a 1/2″ male pipe thread and an internal 1/2″ female copper sized inlet for all four entrances. I buy a PEX to copper fitting that costs about a third of the ones you us. The obvious drawback is that it needs to be soldered, but every plumber, builder, flipper or tinkerer needs a small MAP gas torch, which makes soldering 10X easier. Since it saves $10 a shower it’s worth it.
    #2 Like most “pros” in these parts, I only use PEX coils as a last resort. It is available in 20′ straight lengths and it is much easier and more civilized to use.
    #3 If you have the space, never use a 90* fitting on 1/2″ PEX. There are plastic and metal clamps available that are cheaper than a fitting. They force 1/2 PEX into a permanent, but gentle, 90* bend. Cheaper, faster, no joint, no leak.
    #4 There are three types of barbed PEX fittings. Cast brass, stamped copper and plastic. Some manufacturers do not allow stamped copper, and I don’t really have a lot of faith in the plastic ones.
    #5 The ring clamp tool shown is available for $38 at Lowes, or $100 at my local supply house, same tool. Do not use it to tear a ring apart, if you need to remove a clamp, take a diagonal pliers and peel the end of the clamp off of the little tabs than lock it together. If you need to salvage a fitting, cut the PEX an inch longer than the fitting. Take a utility knife and cut the plastic tube the long way, but don’t cut deep enough to score fitting barbs. Take two pliers and grab the edges of the cut and rip the plastic like peeling a banana.
    #6 Don’t twist a completed joint excessively, they will drip.
    #7 Shark Bite fitting are a gift from the Gods of engineering. That said, they are expensive and finicky. They are best used as a one time “from-to”. As in converting the piping entering the home, bathroom, kitchen etc from old to new pipe. They do not work well when you want to do a big PEX job and use them for a few dozen joints.The PEX moves too much from thermal expansion and the fittings leak. You will find both internet plumbers and manufacturers that vigorously deny this, but field evidence proves otherwise. Bottom line is, if you have more than a small number of $7-10 Shark Bites in a home remodel, you are wasting money.

    Once again, good to see a well done article, good luck

    Reply
    • MMM November 24, 2011, 9:52 pm

      Thanks for the tips!

      Regarding your point #1 though – female thread adapters are $1.67 each, and solder-in adapters are $0.75 each. So you only save $3.68 per shower (or less after factoring in propane and solder use) for disassembling a shower valve and doing 4 solder joints, then reassembling the valve. If I was building a 100-unit apartment building, I might hire a $15-per-hour lackey to do this for me. But even at my hourly rate, avoiding soldering almost always saves money.

      Reply
      • kerry November 25, 2011, 7:09 pm

        “Regarding your point #1 though – female thread adapters are $1.67 each, and solder-in adapters are $0.75 each. So you only save $3.68 per shower”

        You’re right, in that case it isn’t worth the extra time to save so little. The only issue I have had recently with threaded connections and valves in general was when using threaded male adapters on one type of shower valve body that had very thin walled threaded female inlets. the slightest bit of over tightening would create a hairline crack at the seam of the valve body. Drove me 1/2 nuts, as we are required to do air pressure testing, and this type of leak can be real difficult to spot.
        Another thing I just noticed was the white PEX you used. We are required to run red for hot and blue for cold. It’s all the same price from my suppler. Color coding is a good idea, as it keeps things logical and avoids accidental cross connection during and after the installation.
        As your readers research PEX, they may encounter suppliers and other proponents of the “home run” approach to installing PEX. This is a system where all the various fixtures in a home are fed by individual lines that originate at a distribution manifold and run, unbroken, straight to each fixture. Personally, I’m not convinced. The benefits are a higher, more pressure balanced flow to each fixture, and an obvious lack of potentially hidden joints, concealed in walls and floors. IMHO, it’s also an expensive waste of a lot of material for little gain.

        Reply
  • Yabusame November 24, 2011, 9:40 am

    Cool article. It makes me want to strip out all of the plumbing and put in new stuff, so I know exactly where it is routed and what state it is in. Not going to do that yet though ;-)

    Reply
  • Joe January 11, 2012, 4:58 pm

    “Push-on connector fits over both Copper and PEX, making a perfect connection. Gator Grips and Sharkbites are removable, while the less costly alternative shown here is single-use.”

    More information about that cheaper alternative would be nice. I’ve seen the sharkbites and used the gator grips, but wasn’t aware of a single-use (and less expensive) option like that.

    Reply
    • MMM January 11, 2012, 7:24 pm

      Those beauties just happened to be in stock at my local Lowe’s. I had never seen them before, so perhaps they are a new product. I’ll be using them all the time now, since I rarely need to remove the connector. They were about $3 instead of the usual $5-6 for a sharkbite/gatorgrip.

      Reply
      • Joe January 13, 2012, 10:29 am

        Yeah, the price is right, and I never had any desire to remove/re-use the connectors anyway. Thanks, I’ll have to look for them next time I’m in there.

        Reply
  • Rebecca October 14, 2012, 2:02 pm

    So, my eventual goal is to build a small, efficient house from natural materials (cob, strawbale, cordwood, etc.). My (unresearched) plan for plumbing is to consolidate all of it to one internal wall, with a storage tank/solar water heater lofted above, and run copper piping on the outside of the walls to the kitchen and bathroom below–this way I could see anything that goes wrong, rather than waiting for a leak to show up through a wall of water-sensitive material… I’d probably use PEX for radiant benches and floors, but I like the idea of the rustic/industrial look if the exposed pipes combined with natural plasters and wood. Is this a crazy-pants plan, or does it make some kind of sense? I could always just frame out that one pipe-containing wall more conventionally…

    Reply
  • Nate February 11, 2013, 8:02 pm

    Something I have just uncovered over the weekend… the interior diameter of PEX is about 1/4th of an inch less than a copper equivalent. So if you are replacing 3/4th copper, to get the same water pressure you need to convert to 1 inch PEX. Also, a long 1/2 inch PEX run is a disaster. Much safer bet to run the 1 inch PEX the whole way. Eventually at the final fixture, it will be converted to 3/8th of an inch, but having that 1 inch or at least 3/4 inch PEX nearby to hold the right pressure is CRITICAL!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 11, 2013, 10:11 pm

      You’ll only lose noticeable pressure with long runs of pipe combined with high flow devices like a bathtub (still only 6psi per 100 feet at 2gpm).. For showers and sinks, even 1/2 inch pex is more than plenty and 3/4 easily does a large house with 60psi inlet pressure. Still, it is wise to run the 3/4 stuff to areas with many sub-branches.

      Reply
      • Nate February 12, 2013, 9:35 am

        Last weekend I replaced a bunch of copper and did some new runs. I had a connection that was 3/4 copper solderer to 1/2 copper and soddered all the way to shower. I replaced with 3/4 PEX to 1/2 inch PEX. For the pipes behind the wall, I used a 1/2 to 1/2 sharkbite to connect the 1/2 PEX to the 1/2 copper. It was noticeably weaker water pressure. Double checked, turned off and back on at meter, it was at full flow there (or at least appears to be). The water pressure is about 33% what it used to be.

        This weekend I’m redoing it with 1 inch PEX for main lines and 1 x 1 x 3/4 T’s whenever I need to come off the main line. Going to use a 3/4 to 1/2 reducing sharkebite coupler whenever I go from new 3/4 PEX to existing 1/2 copper behind walls.

        I’m assuming the smaller pipe diameters as well as the brass couplings along the way, especially the 3/4 to 1/2 were restricting things.

        Did some research trying to figure out the issue:
        PEX 1/2 inch pipe internal diameter: 0.475″
        PEX 3/4 inch pipe internal diameter: 0.671″
        PEX 1 inch pipe internal diameter: 0.862″

        Copper M 1/2 inch pipe internal diameter: 0.625″
        Copper M 3/4 inch pipe internal diameter: 0.811″
        Copper M 1 inch pipe internal diameter: 1.055″

        Copper L 1/2 inch pipe internal diameter: 0.545″
        Copper L 3/4 inch pipe internal diameter: 0.785″
        Copper L 1 inch pipe internal diameter: 1.025″

        Now I’m curious if my 1 inch to 1 inch PEX couplings could slow down flow. I’m at 0.862″ as it was, and the old working pipes were at 0.811″. Any comments on that? I was using crimp rings opposed to the stainless steel clamps you recommended. Any idea if crimp rings restrict flow significantly compared to clamps?

        As I disassembled my old plumbing I noticed some of the sharkbites where missing the white plastic pieces inside of them (particularly in the 3/4 connections). Is that a trick for using sharkbites without potentially slowing down flow? A quick google search sounds like their purpose is to stop the pipe from going any further into the coupling then necessary, not related to sealing the connection.

        Either way, I’m glad I gave this type of pipe a try. I have a 100 year old house that had a huge mix of copper both soldered and sharkbite, PVC, CPVC, compression couplings, etc. Whenever I had a repair or change to make as I slowly made changes (moved sink, added new hose bib, new fridge with icemaker, showerhead repair) I worked with whatever was in the area and now have a huge mix of types of pipes and couplings. Will be good to stick with just one when I figure this out.

        Reply
        • Nate March 25, 2013, 11:08 am

          Just to update the resolution to this.

          3/4 inch was more than adequate and I ended up running my whole house in this, with the final connection to copper to the fixtures.

          I had made a conscience attempt to keep dirt out of my pipes as I ran them, but turns out I had gotten enough in them, that some fixtures were a bit clogged. After I cleaned them out, all water pressure was restored.

          I grabbed the 1 inch Gatorbite PEX pipe from home depot, and it was incredibly unflexible and wound up in its original shape compared to the 3/4 inch Appollo. If you are working in a tight space I cannot recommend the Gatorbite brand even though its a few bucks cheaper.

          Also learned, using crimp rings opposed to clamps also makes things significantly harder working in a tight space.

          I’m glad I took on the challenge or repiping everything with PEX that was not behind a wall, as I found 3 small leaks I never would have found, ran new pipes for a future shower, and moved my hose attachment.

          The biggest challenge is having everything you need on hand. The pexsupply.com was great and cheap, but for a novice plumbing, you nearly always run out of something you didn’t realize you need. Thankfully their return process is very smooth, so over order your stuff (crimp rings/clamps, elbows, Ts, connectors, etc)

          My 1500 sq ft house had a mix of PEX, PVC, CPVC, and copper. I took all cut up beat up copper piping to the scrap yard and walked away with around $40 for 15 minutes of work.

          Reply
  • Ryan March 23, 2013, 7:03 pm

    I’ve spent many an hour in a chemical engineering lab running ammonia supply gas lines every which way, gaining mad skills with wheelie deals, clamps, fittings, and 1/4′ Teflon or stainless steel tube.

    I always assumed plumbers were mystical beings with deep blue-collar knowledge, but it turns out PEX and Swagelok are exactly the same thing. Looks like I will be doing my own plumbing from now on.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 23, 2013, 7:59 pm

      Heheh.. I like your term “Deep Blue-Collar Knowledge”, might make a good line in a song.

      Reply
  • Brian May 15, 2013, 10:27 pm

    MMM,

    Great post. I am a relatively new reader and a huge MMM enthusiast.

    I am interested in purchasing my first home, but before I do, I would like to learn more about home maintenance, specifically plumbing. Do you know of any website or service that could connect me with a plumber interested in teaching a 23-year-old in southeast Michigan the skills of the trade? I am not looking to get paid for my work, however, some day I figure I could turn plumbing into a part-time business.

    I may just start calling through the phone book tomorrow.

    P.s. I realize I could take classes at my local community college, but truthfully, I recently graduated with my undergraduate degree and am not interested in sitting in a classroom or paying tuition (I did graduate debt free!)

    Reply
    • Nate May 17, 2013, 7:19 am

      I’m the fellow from a few comments up with questions on PEX. Pretty much nothing beats youtube videos followed by actually doing it. I have a plumbing 1-2-3 book from Home Depot and rarely even bother referencing it. I pretty much learned how everything fits together from practice and research.

      Sewer lines with PVC are very simple, just make sure you’ve got your P-trap and some angle. Connect it with rubber cement and don’t mess around with screw in/teflon tape where possible. 2 inch drain lines have always sufficed for me. The main sewer connection is prob closer to 4 inches and metal (iron?). A connector runs between the PVC and metal and runs about $30-$50. I’ve never messed with it but looks straight forward.

      Supply lines: I had done copper w/ sharkbites, PVC, and CPVC. I had notice one PEX run in my house but didn’t really know what is was and was more familiar with the other types.

      To sum them up:
      Copper is the most expensive but can be useful for the “last mile” or final run that comes out the wall/floor. Its strong and can handle a beating but can freeze. This would prob be best under sinks. Also, hot water heaters in some areas require the first few feet to be copper before switching to PEX just to give it a few feet to cool off.
      I never learned welding but there are $5-$10 sharkbite connections at Lowes/HD or cheaper at PEXSupply.com. For any novice I’d recommend this over welding. It takes all of 2 seconds to install them. A copper pipe cutter is very cheap and simple. You can get a once size fits all for $10-$20.

      PVC is the cheapest. Prob a bit better than PVC for freezing. Can do light bends where copper cannot. A PVC cutter is $10-$20 at lowes. Connects with rubber cement.

      PEX is installed in all houses now. 3/4 PEX would be more than enough water pressure for any fixture. For brand new construction they do individual runs of PEX now from what I believe is called a “PEX Manifold”. Its flexible, can handle freezing (to a degree), and the cost is between copper and PVC. You can buy it in 50-100′ runs in white, red, or cold to keep your tempatures straight. You pretty much can just run one big line with any off-shoots along the way. I found the Appollo brand at Lowes to be worth the few extra bucks compared to the Sharkbite brand at HomeDepot (maybe 33% cheaper).

      I went with crimp rings but would recommend PEX clamps instead, especially if you are working in a tight space. The fittings are all dirt cheap anyways, especially compared to paying a pro.

      The best part about plumbing? Turn off the water, make any changes, turn it back on. If there’s a leak, you’ll be able to see immediately. Turn water back off and redo. The cost of having to redo a few things is completely worth not having to pay a plumber, and this is the simpilest of trades. There’s no reason to ever get a permit IMO for self plumbing repairs. I’ve even moved a natural gas line (8 new connections, sprayed with soapy water and found 2 small leaks, tightened and good to go). The thing about plumbing is A) its not going away and B) you’ll almost always not have every single part you thought you needed on hand. I had to make many “well hell, I didn’t think of this” trips to Lowes for additional fittings. I finally just started buying a ton and returned what I didn’t need

      Any questions, fire away.

      Reply
    • BarrettSun March 5, 2014, 1:05 pm

      Brian,

      Does your area have Habitat for Humanity? Where I live, HFH periodically builds houses from scratch for deserving low income people, partly by using volunteer labor where people like yourself learn skills such as plumbing while supervised by more experienced volunteers or paid staff.

      Other nonprofits rehab homes for low-income seniors, including plumbing repairs. Look around, you might find a good learning opportunity. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Rose Rhoads October 29, 2013, 4:12 pm

    MMM – You are a life saver. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    We are remodeling our basement bathroom and decided to use pex. We used the quick remove pex attachments purchased from Menards, had everything installed, turned the water on and had leaks in every elbow, t and attachment. We thought perhaps we had some faulty parts so we removed them and back to the store we went. Once again all leaky parts changed turned on the water again and we still had leaks. Talk about a nightmare.

    This is where You came in. I googled installing pex and leaks and I see your page/blog. What a savior you are. We went to Home Depot this time and purchased the clamps and the tool, plus all the other parts to change out everything. Viola we have no leaks! Yes the tool is pricy but honestly for all the trips to the other store, all the parts we will return this will more than cover the cost of the tool.

    I cannot thank you enough for your information! Without it I am not sure this bathroom project would have ever gotten finished.

    Reply
  • Frank December 19, 2013, 6:09 pm

    Personally I would never use a push to fit fitting in a wall.. They just seem too easy to come un-pushed.. Same with the slip on copper connections.. I think I would solder a connection on and crimp a ring onto the PEX/fitting. The price of the tool will seem pretty small compared to a fitting letting go.

    Speaking of fittings I have the tool that goes all the way round a copper ring that is slid onto the PEX pipe. This just a solid ring.

    Any thoughts on the reliability if each type?

    Reply
  • Steve Turner January 21, 2014, 12:16 pm

    Can anyone give a ballpark estimate of how many feet of PEX tubing a 2 bath, 2 story, 1800 sq. ft. house might use? We have one bathroom per level, 9′ ceilings on the main level, and the house was built around 1900.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 22, 2014, 8:29 pm

      You could sketch out your runs on paper to figure it out in more detail. But I would take a rough guess that you could do it all with 200 feet (about $55 worth) of 1/2″ PEX. You could get a 100 of red, and a 100 of blue just to be fancy. Maybe 50′ or less of 3/4″ pipe as well, to handle the main water intake, connecting the water heater, and getting a branch out to near the bathrooms before it splits into two.

      Reply
  • Adam March 26, 2014, 4:31 pm

    Great article.

    10 years ago, with the help of an equally amateur friend, I replaced all the plumbing in my small house with PEX in a single day. Couple hundred in materials and tools including a good book. It has all held up well and I have used the tools on other projects since. If I can do it, you can do it.

    As an experiment, I used some PEX scraps to plumb an automatic watering system for the chicken coop. No problems for 3 yrs, then last month a section that gets a lot of sun finally failed after a long freeze. 15 min fix, but it confirms the warnings about UV degradation.

    Another tip on plumbing: if you plan to re-plumb do not blindly copy the existing arrangement. On a friends 100 yr old house we relocated the water heater to the other side of the basement and ran supply lines to the second story by a more direct route. Saved a lot of pipe, time and ultimately hot water.

    Reply
  • Phil Lamb July 6, 2014, 1:22 pm

    Any concerns with hard water when using PEX? I’ve had copper fail from being eroded away. Is PEX immune to that?

    Reply

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