PEX Piping: Speeding Installation

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Keith Peterson didn’t want to use copper for his plumbing because of the taste it can leave in the water. He selected cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) piping for its ease of installation and cost savings, and even tied a REHAU fire suppression system into his cold water pipes.

“PEX is quiet, it doesn’t scale, and you don’t get that copper taste.”

— Keith Peterson



“Traditional copper piping is a good product, but it’s not inert,” says Keith Peterson. “When water sits in it for a while, you get sediment build-up and that copper taste. You avoid all that with PEX. There’s also a smaller pressure drop than for copper piping, so the water pressure at different fixtures doesn’t fluctuate so much.”

“Some earlier plastic piping products made from butyl gave plastic piping a bad rap. But PEX doesn’t have the problems that butyl did. Neither does CPVC, but I had already chosen to use PEX for my radiant floor heating, and so saw its advantages –rapid and flexible installation and a more fail-safe, quality product — for supplying drinking water as well.”

“When I was installing PEX on my radiant heat system, I had to repair some kinks, which was really easy. You just use a heat gun to heat up the PEX until it turns clear, and then you let it cool and it’s back to normal. You can’t do that with any other piping.”

“The real challenge with PEX was getting objective information about the product locally. In the building industry, most people are into ‘tried and true’ technologies, so many plumbers use copper and nothing else. Fortunately, the plumber that I selected to do the waste and vent work was also familiar with PEX. He uses plastic piping almost exclusively because he likes how fast it is to install and he thinks it’s a quality product.”


“Installing PEX is like stringing electrical wire,” Peterson says. “It’s that fast. You just pull the PEX through the house, and you have hardly any fittings or splicing to do–way fewer than with copper. From your supply, you often don’t need any fittings until you get to a fixture or to your drop.”

“My plumber ran my lines from the mechanical room up the walls and then through the attic space or the floor joist space. They ran all of the tube for the integrated fire suppression and cold water system in 3 or 4 hours (that was including installing the 50 fire suppression sprinkler tees). Depending on the brand of PEX product you choose, you can pressurize or test a line either as soon as the fittings are installed, or after a short ‘reshaping’ time as the PEX fully compresses into the fittings.”


Most builders find that they can reduce their plumbing rough-in costs by switching from copper to PEX piping. Although material costs are about the same, the savings come from labor due to significantly reduced installation time.

“I found material costs to be roughly equivalent to copper,” Peterson says. “Depending on the manufacturer, the fittings are substantially more expensive than copper fittings, but a PEX system requires only 10 to 20% the number of fittings as traditional plumbing systems. And there is an obvious savings on installation costs with PEX because of how fast it goes in.”

“Each manufacturer has its own patented fitting system, requiring an investment in that manufacturer’s installation tools. However, many plumbing supply houses will rent the tools out to plumbers. Also, the technology uses no acetylene, solder, or glues, contributing to safer working conditions.”

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