Are you considering repiping your home?

Today, there’s a less expensive option than copper for repiping your home, and that’s thanks to flexible PEX pipe.

Not only will PEX piping save you money, but it will also be quieter in your home.

Remember back in the day when you used to turn on a faucet and hear an awful rattling in the walls? That sound was caused by liquid water rushing through the rigid metal pipes used when building a new home in previous decades.

Luckily, that’s not much of an issue anymore. Traditional copper and galvanized pipe and their subsequent noise are long over thanks to a modern invention called PEX plumbing.

PEX plumbing pipe is an ingenious discovery by German inventor Thomas Engle in the 1980s. Today, over sixty percent of new construction homes use PEX tubing.

But what is it, and why is it such a big deal in the plumbing industry? Here is what you need to know about PEX, including the various pros, cons, and types.

What is PEX Plumbing?

Cross-linked polyethylene plumbing, also known as PEX, is a common type of tubing for buildings worldwide. PEX piping is made from a flexible material that comes in various lengths and diameters ranging from 3/8-inch to one inch.

One interesting aspect about PEX plumbing that you might notice if you see it in a local home improvement warehouse is that it is available in various colors.

Red, blue, white, and gray piping indicate the type of water traveling through the lines. Red is used for hot water only piping, while blue is used for dedicated cold water lines.

You can use gray or white for either purpose. While the tubing itself has nothing to do with the color, the colors make it easier for future repairs.

The thing that sets PEX plumbing apart from traditional options is the flexibility. Instead of having multiple connections to run lines throughout your entire home, a single length of tubing can be run through the walls from one location to another. This greatly reduces the need for connections, which can break or burst over time.

pex pipe installation

Is PEX Plumbing Any Good?

In most cases, PEX plumbing is an excellent alternative to copper or galvanized steel varieties.

As previously mentioned, the vast majority of new construction buildings in the United States utilize this type of tubing.

There are even certain situations when PEX plumbing is especially efficient.

Originally designed for radiant heat flooring systems, PEX piping can be used below a concrete slab to carry hot water and heat a room. 

Those interested in geothermal technology or alternative home heating will enjoy the use of PEX plumbing.

Another reason why PEX is a good option for the average homeowner is because it eliminates the need for complicated plumbing repairs that require the intervention of a plumbing contractor.

For simple fixes, a moderately adept do-it-yourselfer might be able to buy PEX at a local hardware store and easily handle the project themselves. (We say this with caution, as it can be difficult to determine which repairs are simple enough based on your unique skills.)

What Are the Disadvantages of PEX?

While PEX is excellent for numerous reasons, including flexibility, there are certain times when using it is not advantageous.

For example, exterior plumbing that is exposed to the Sun cannot handle PEX plumbing.

The reason? Direct sunlight can cause the material to break down over time, which can cause leaks and flooding damage.

PEX also requires specific connectors and tools to install, which means it can be costly to take on if you don’t already have those tools.

In addition, specific fittings and connectors designed for PEX must be the exact size of the tubing diameter you’re using.

Where is PEX Not Allowed?

There are certain conditions where PEX plumbing is not allowed.

For example, buildings deemed commercial or industrial cannot use this type of tubing. In addition, climates that are extremely hot or extremely cold are usually not good candidates for this type of tubing.

Areas with high levels of chemical concentration within the water supply should also avoid PEX plumbing.

While it is great for most regions of the country, municipalities that use a high level of chlorine to make water safe to drink should avoid this type of tubing.

PEX pipe running in attic

Pros and Cons of PEX Plumbing

For most situations, PEX plumbing is an excellent alternative to traditional copper pipes in homes. The flexibility, price point, and resistance to breaking or cracking are huge improvements over other options.

To highlight this, we felt it was important to include a list of the benefits. A few of the pros of PEX plumbing include:

  • Less chance of freezing and breaking due to increased flexibility.
  • Running PEX pipe across your home is much easier to do than traditional plumbing.
  • The flexible pipe is less noisy than conventional copper or galvanized metal pipe.
  • PEX is easy for homeowners to install themselves or use in small plumbing fix scenarios.
  • PEX is reasonably affordable and comes in a wide variety of lengths and diameters.
  • Lower price point than copper tubing.
  • Lime or scale buildup does not accumulate within the interior of the pipe.

However, there are some downsides to using PEX plumbing. It’s important to know these factors before deciding whether to use this type of pipe on a project or search for an alternative. For example:

  • It cannot be used outdoors as exposure to ultraviolet light can break down the material.
  • PEX plumbing is not recyclable, although several manufacturers are currently looking at potential methods.
  • Certain types of PEX can leach BPA chemicals into the water supply, which can be unhealthy for your family.
  • The pipe’s flexibility makes it easy for pests and rodents to chew through, which can create leaks inside of walls.
  • PEX cannot be used in areas with high heat, such as water heater connecting lines or near recessed lighting.
  • Most professional plumbing experts advise sticking to the same manufacturer for tubing and fittings, which might not always be the most cost-efficient.
  • Requires special tools for connections, which not every homeowner has access to or already owns.

What is PEX A, PEX B, PEX C?

So, what is PEX A and PEX B, and PEX C? The various types of PEX plumbing on the market usually have different labels that indicate the materials they’re made of. They are identified as either PEX A, PEX B, or PEX C.

  • PEX A: Manufactured using peroxide. It is ideal for all types of home water supply usage and is the most flexible of the three options, and the least resistant to cracking in low temp weather. It’s also the most expensive.
  • PEX B: This type of material is made through a moisture cure method, making it a little more rigid than the previously mentioned variety. However, it holds up better in areas that have slightly chlorinated water.
  • PEX C: This tubing is manufactured using a unique irradiation method. It is super stiff and best used in situations where the required length of the tubing is short or minimal. In contrast to the other types, it is the least expensive of the three.

Choosing between PEX plumbing types comes down to the individual project, budget, and the climate where you live. Colder climates will often fare better with PEX A, while those in warmer areas might not need as much flexibility.

In addition, it is important to know the chemical makeup of the water in your neighborhood, as certain additives can cause this type of plumbing to crack or wear out faster over time.

Wrap Up: What You Need to Know About PEX Plumbing

While PEX plumbing is a great modern invention, it is essential to know that it isn’t ideal for all areas or situations. By understanding what it is, how it is made, and the pros and cons, you can easily decide whether it is a good idea to use it in your home plumbing project or not.

Of course, when in doubt, always consider talking to a licensed plumbing professional. Most will be more than happy to tell you if PEX plumbing is suitable for the area of the country in which you live and the type in which you should be looking to use.

To learn more about repiping your home, visit our repipe service page.

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Owner - Operator at RT Olson Plumbing
Bob Olson has over 18 years experience in all aspects of residential and commercial plumbing. He's a 4th generation plumber. With over 400 five-star customer reviews, he runs one of the best-rated plumbing companies in Riverside, CA.
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