Ask the Builder: DIY
I’m blessed to be able to use this column to share my knowledge. It allows me to empower you to do many jobs you might never think of doing yourself.
In the past, working with water lines required a decent amount of experience. You had to know how to solder copper tubing. I recorded a step-by-step video of this process over 20 years ago and it’s still on my website. The great news is you can solder with a simple torch you purchase at a big box store. Or you can buy an expensive tool that eliminates the need to solder. You can use copper press fittings that seal the joint with a rubber O-ring.
That said, the advent of plastic tubing has revolutionized the installation of water lines in homes. You have lots of choices today. CPVC tubing is one option, and it’s decades old. When it first hit the market, it was the belle of the ball. Not so any longer.
In my opinion, the paradigm shift in residential plumbing happened with PEX tubing. Prior to this, every time you had to change direction using copper or CPVC, you needed a fitting. Installing those required time and expertise, and each fitting became a possible leak location.
PEX tubing installs just like Romex electric cables. Imagine running a 50-foot-long garden hose through the joists of your home from the mechanical room to a second-floor bathroom. PEX is flexible, and you can design your system like mine, where you just have a fitting at the manifold in your mechanical room and the other fitting is at the shutoff valve under the faucet. Female dogs, cats and other mammals have manifolds on their chests so lots of little animals can feed at once. Manifolds are wonderful things to have in a plumbing system.
While I’ve never done an actual side-by-side test, I’d say that PEX saves about 95% of the labor I’d have used to install a typical run of copper tubing from a mechanical room to a faucet.
What would you say if I told you that you can buy the hand tool to install PEX for less than $100? That’s what a plumber would charge you just to start up his truck and drive to your home!
Would you believe me if I told you I could teach you how to install PEX fittings in less than one minute? You’d probably think I fell off a ladder and hit my head. Truth be told, it’s extremely easy to do. I created that video too for you and it’s also at AsktheBuilder.com.
PEX can be installed similarly to an existing daisy-chain setup, as is often done with copper or CPVC. In this setup you do not use a manifold. Instead, you have lots of fittings throughout the house where you branch off a larger pipe that works its way through the house. Think of how branches extend off a tree trunk or how your blood vessels are in your own body.
I prefer installing PEX using a manifold system. This uses more PEX tubing, but it eliminates all the fittings hidden in the walls and ceilings of your home. Each hot and cold water line feeding a faucet originates in the mechanical room. On the manifold there’s a separate shutoff valve for each line. This allows you to turn off the water to a particular faucet while water flows to all other fixtures in the house. This is a dandy feature to have, trust me.
You can mix and match if you want. Let’s say you need to add a bathroom or a kitchen. If you have copper tubing in your home and want to use PEX, you just solder in a tee with a PEX adapter. The PEX attaches to the brass fitting and away you go!
Should you decide to run PEX yourself, be sure you always put a strong piece of tape on the cut end of the PEX. This prevents dirt, sawdust, wood chips, etc. from entering the pipe as you extend the tubing through your framing.
You can purchase all sorts of metal and plastic accessories that help you terminate the PEX under all your sinks. Be sure you read the installation manual that comes with the PEX and pay attention to hole sizes.
If you plan to run PEX to a bathroom rain-head shower, be sure to run dual hot and cold lines to ensure you have plenty of flow. The same goes for large tubs. Don’t forget to insulate around all the tubs so the bath water stays nice and hot long enough for you to fully relax!
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©2023 Tim Carter. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.