What is PEX?
The full name for this product is cross-linked polyethylene, but it is more commonly known as PEX. This type of tubing is ideal for use in plumbing, including domestic water, and is also often used as insulation for high voltage electrical cables. It can even be utilized in the transportation of sewage and natural gas. This tubing is more flexible than the traditional copper pipes and is more resistant to chlorine.
History of PEX
Remarkably, the very first preparation of PEX material occurred back in the 1930s. At that time, an electron beam irradiated the tube, which was a huge advancement in technology back then. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the cross-linking was developed, by mixing peroxide with the HDPE before extrusion.
In the early half of the 20th century, almost all plumbing pipes were made of galvanized steel, which led to widespread rusting problems. Therefore, in the late 1960s, these pipes were replaced by copper tubing. PEX tubing was first used in hydronic radiant systems from the 1960s onwards, due to its ability to be used in heated water systems, including radiators.
It wasn’t until the 2000s that PEX became widely used in both indoor and outdoor plumbing settings. PEX was used to replace the old copper pipes as well as the more modern PVC pipes, and is exceptionally useful for high-pressurized water purposes.
What Are The Benefits of Using PEX?
The most popular benefit of using PEX is its flexibility. Instead of rigid pipes such as those made from copper and PVC, PEX can be used to bend around corners without needing constant rejoining. In some cases an elbow joint may be required, depending on the bend needed.
The ability of PEX to run directly from a distribution point to an outlet fixture without needed splicing or cutting is a great advantage. This results in a decreased need for joints, thereby lowering the costs involved in setting up your plumbing. Also, water pressure is not affected because of the flexibility of the PEX, meaning there are less sharp turns for the water to travel.
PEX is more cost-effective than the alternative plumbing pipes. Copper has soared in price in recent times, and the cost of using PEX is around 25% cheaper than other tubes or pipes. Another advantage is that is cannot rust, so it doesn’t need to be replaced, and it also is resistant to developing tiny holes and leaks.
Perhaps the most important advantage of using PEX for plumbers is that it is much easier to install than other types of pipes and tubes. There is no need to have to solder metal pipes together, and no glue required as there is for PVC pipes. All you really need is a special crimping tool and PEX connections. By removing the need for the use of soldering, there is also no risk of fire breaking out during installation. Its no wonder so many more plumbers are now opting to use PEX, seeing as it is less labor intensive and a much safer product to use.
Does PEX Tubing Last?
In short, yes. The life of PEX is much better than the original copper or PVC piping, with an average lifespan of around 50 years. The warrantable age range is 25 years however, but this is more to do with protecting the manufacturer than the longevity of the product. If you live in an area where you often suffer freezing temperatures, PEX tubing is a much better alternative, as it takes a lot longer for the tubing to freeze than it does with other products. This doesn’t mean that they won’t burst – every type of tube or pipe will eventually, it just means it takes a lot longer to get to the bursting point. If you are in a reasonably new dwelling, it is still recommended that you drain the pipes during cold seasons.
Are There Any Drawbacks?
As with any other manufactured product on the market, there is always going to be a drawback. The important thing to consider is whether the drawback outweighs the advantages when choosing what type of tubing or piping to use. An important problem to consider is exposure to sunlight. It is not recommended that you use PEX in an area where there is sun exposure as it can degrade the tubing. In some parts of the country certain insects can perforate PEX tubing, but this is not a common problem.
The fittings required to connect the PEX can be a little more expensive than those used for copper pipes. However, as there are fewer connections needed due to the flexibility of the PEX, and no soldering required, the connection cost is generally offset so there is no real added expense. Also, when you are having PEX installed, the labor costs will be much lower as they are a less labor-intensive product to install.
With radiant heating systems that contain ferrous radiators, there is some risk of rust developing over a period of time. To prevent this from occurring, a particular type of PEX that has an oxygen barrier coating is the preferred product to use. Nowadays this is standard practice when installing PEX tubing that connects to heating systems with metal parts.
The use of PEX was blocked for about a decade due to health risk concerns. Some were concerned about the leakage of chemicals into the water either from the pipe materials, or from outside of the pipes. After a lot of investigations and legal debates, it was found that there was no risk to the health of people whatsoever from the installation of PEX.
To summarize, PEX tubing or piping is an easy to install, cost effective method of plumbing both for domestic and commercial purposes. The benefits that have been found with using PEX far outweigh the possible drawbacks that may or may not occur. Plumbers find it extremely easy to use, and much simpler to install due to the flexibility and need for less tube connections.