Among building system components, piping stands out for its installation and maintenance complexity. Pipes and their accessories are often bulky, and they must be connected with care and precision to prevent leaks. For comparison, electrical conduit is normally easier to install, since it is lighter and there is no water involved.
Piping reparations and modifications are also complex: pipes and their fixtures are often in hard-to-reach places, or embedded in walls and floors. A cracked pipe or damaged fixture produces an immediate water leak, requiring an urgent reparation. On the other hand, electrical conduit and air ducts can continue performing their function when they suffer minor damage.
PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene, is a very promising piping material. It eliminates many limitations of copper and PVC, while being easier to install and service. The applications of PEX include plumbing, hydronic HVAC, and even fire protection systems.
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How PEX Piping Simplifies the Installation Process
A key advantage of PEX piping is flexibility. Being easy to bend, PEX eliminates the need for elbows. This not only reduces the number of accessories, but also installation costs. Contractors also have more freedom when installing the system, since they are not limited to a set of elbows with predetermined angles.
With conventional piping materials, contractors must often cut pipes to install elbows and other accessories. This process results in a large number of wasted pipe segments, since they are too small to be used. Even if the material is recycled, there is a transportation and reprocessing cost.
PEX piping is available in long rolls, which means it can be cut at the exact lengths required for each installation. This saves material while lowering the installation cost. By reducing the number of fixtures and connections, PEX piping also minimizes the potential leak points.
The Physical Toughness of PEX Piping
There is a common misconception that PEX piping is physically weaker and less reliable than copper and PVC. The reality is quite the contrary, since PEX is unaffected by conditions that normally damage other piping materials.
Since PVC piping does not bend, it may seem tougher than PEX at a glance. However, PVC piping is very vulnerable to cold weather:
- Water expands when it freezes, but PVC piping cannot expand accordingly. As a consequence, it cracks open and expensive reparations are needed.
- On the other hand, PEX piping can expand to up to three times its nominal diameter, and is not damaged when water freezes inside.
Copper piping is affected by scaling and wear, especially when the water has a high chemical content. However, since PEX is an unreactive material, this issue is eliminated.
PEX not only resists conditions that damage PVC and copper; it can also be repaired more easily. Minor damage on PEX piping can normally be repaired with a heat gun, fusing the material back to its original shape and condition. The savings achieved with PEX don’t end with installation costs, since maintenances is also simpler and cheaper.
PEX piping is a great option for plumbing and hydronic HVAC systems, saving time and installation costs. The simplicity of PEX also makes it a great option for fire sprinkler systems, and the NFPA 13D standard allows its use.
Regardless of the application, ease of maintenance is a common benefit when using PEX. There are less connection points where leaks and occur, and minor damage can be easily repaired by applying heat.