Cross-linked polyethylene tubing, better known as PEX, is a relatively new type of plumbing on the scene. The flexible tubing quickly became a popular pick, despite its downsides. The flexible, easy-to-use tubing is much more straightforward to install than traditional forms of plumbing, like PVC or copper.
Although PEX tubing requires a simpler installation than most materials, there are a few unique tools you’ll need. To prolong their longevity, consider storing them in heavy-duty storage drawers or hanging them on a pegboard. If installing PEX plumbing is on your to-do list, continue reading to find out what you’ll need.
Is PEX Plumbing Easy To Install?
Compared to other piping materials, PEX tubing is surprisingly easy to install. While you do need a few special tools to get the job done, you can usually complete it much quicker than with other materials, like copper pipes.
The flexibility of the tubing makes it easy to bring piping around corners and through tight spaces. Instead of carefully cutting copper or PVC to length and installing joints at every corner, the material effortlessly bends where it needs to go.
In addition, it usually comes in rolls of 50 feet or more (RIGHT), which translates to fewer fittings necessary.
Do I Need Special Tools To Install PEX?
Yes, if you’re tackling a DIY PEX plumbing project, you will need a few special tools. The basic tools in your toolbox likely won’t cut it for this project. Ultimately, the list of tools you’ll need hinges on your installation approach. There are four different types of PEX connections you may potentially use: crimping, clamping, expansion, and press.
Since there are a few different approaches, each requiring a unique tool list, we’ll take a look at each installation method one by one.
What Is Needed To Install PEX?
The list of items you’ll need depends on how you choose to install the PEX tubing. Regardless of the connection method, fittings and rings perform the same fundamental function. The process of getting to this point differs slightly due to the variation in the design of the fittings and rings.
As we examine the tools for each method, we’ll discuss the installation process briefly for a clearer understanding.
Among the four connection methods, crimping is the most commonly used option. The items needed to install PEX using this method include:
- Crimp tool
- Crimp fittings
- Copper rings
- Go/no-go gauge (optional)
- De-crimping tool (as necessary)
The process is simple: the copper ring fits over the tubing. Then, insert the crimp fitting. Use the crimp tool, equipped with the proper size tool, to squeeze the ring. The jaws of the tool compress the ring, securing the connection. While this method works well with standard PEX, including PEX A and B, it doesn’t work for PEX aluminum.
You can buy crimping kits with the necessary tools, including the crimp tool and go/no-go gauge. The gauge is a helpful tool to check the connection. After you make the connection, use the gauge to test it. Slide the appropriate gauge over the fitting. If it fits over the fitting but doesn’t slide all the way down, you did the fitting correctly.
If the gauge slips all the way down over the fitting or won’t fit over at all, the connection was made wrong. The de-crimping tool can help remove the connection to try again.
Compared to the crimping method, clamping isn’t considerably different. With that said, the rings you use are different, thus requiring a different tool. The beauty of the clamping method is the clamp tool can self-adjust.
So, if your plumbing project involves numerous PEX tubes in varying sizes, you would need different crimping tools for each tube size. With a clamp tool, adapters enable the tool to size up or down to match the tube size.
In addition, clamp rings are composed of stainless steel, while crimp rings are copper. Stainless steel resists corrosion exceptionally well, making it a better choice for long-term scenarios, like direct-burial applications.
Here’s what you need for clamp connections:
- Heavy-duty ratchet clamp tool
- Clamp fittings
- Stainless steel clamp rings
- Meets ASTM 2098 specification
- Used to clamp stainless steel clamps during Pex pipe connection
- Used with all (5) sizes of PEX Stainless Steel Cinch Clamps: 3/8, 1/2, 3/4, 5/8 and 1-inch
- Ratchet design releases when the Cinch Clamp tab is properly pinched
Like the crimping method, clamping PEX connections is equally straightforward. The concept is generally the same: place the ring over the tubing, then insert the fitting into the tube. Double-check that the metal tabs on the tool are in the upward position, then fit the tool’s jaws over the small tabs on the ring. Squeeze the tab to secure the connection.
Due to its staunch reliability in the field, this quick and easy connection method is a professional favorite. With this method, you’ll need tools made by the same company. Milwaukee Tools has perfected this tool setup, but it doesn’t come cheap.
While it’s an ideal method if you frequently work with PEX, the steep upfront price deters many DIYers. In addition, the process is usually best suited to experienced pros, as removing and reusing a fitting can be a nightmare.
Here’s what you need for expansion connections:
- Expander tool
- Propex fittings
- Propex rings
With the expansion method, a ½ inch Propex fitting won’t fit on a ½ inch pipe. In order to fit the connection, you need to expand the PEX tubing. To ensure a smooth expansion, lightly grease the head of the tool.
Slide the Propex ring onto the tubing until it hits its built-in stop. Attach the appropriately sized expander head to the tool. Insert the expander head into the tube, then expand it as needed. The number of expansions necessary hinges on the size of the tube and the temperature (colder conditions make the tube less flexible).
Once the tube expands, remove the tool and quickly insert the fitting all the way down to the collar. The tubing will shrink back to its original size, creating a secure, watertight connection.
The last method in our list is a press connection. This method is a popular option for optimal speed during the installation process, making it a common choice for professional plumbers.
Like the expansion method, you’ll need tools made by the same company for this connection. In addition, it’s best to use the same brand of PEX tubing. For example, Viega makes press tools and PEX tubing.
For this method, all you need are:
- PEX press tool
- Press fittings, collar attached
Press fittings come with the collars already attached, which simplifies the installation process. Slide the fitting into the sleeve around the PEX tubing. Select the right-sized tool, then fit the jaws over the fitting. Squeeze the tool closed until the handles click to create a secure, leak-free connection.
Although we examined the tools necessary to make the connection, you may need a few additional tools depending on where you install the PEX. A few miscellaneous tools that you may use may include:
- Pneumatic clip guns: Most commonly used for radiant heating installations, where PEX is secured to the subfloor
- Foamboard stapler tools: Used when PEX is installed in a concrete slab over the top of EPS or XPS polystyrene insulation.
- PEX pipe cutters: Helps make a straight, clean cut for proper connections between tubing and fittings