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Plumbing - Materials and Usage

The first thing that should come to mind when planning the plumbing system of your home should be the experience and skill of the actual plumber who will be performing the installation. This consideration is the most important aspect of plumbing by far and should receive the highest priority. You can read all of the latest, greatest, greenest, and most modern methods regarding which application would be best for you project, but if you don’t have a skilled, experienced craftsman on the job, ongoing and potentially serious plumbing problems will occur throughout the life of your home. We won’t dwell on the details of what can go wrong when this rule isn’t observed, but simply put, make sure that your plumber has the credentials and skills to deliver a quality finished product. Whatever material (cpvc, copper, Pex) and system design you decide upon, your success will be maximized by following this simple rule.

One of the most commonly asked plumbing questions is, “Which type of piping material is best, copper or cpvc?” Both are acceptable materials in most cases and can provide many years of trouble free service. Copper piping can withstand temperature fluctuations, is malleable, and can be made to traverse longer areas while using fewer joints. Exterior diameters are also smaller in comparison to cpvc, allowing a better and easier fit in tight places. The negatives with copper are the problem of pinhole leaks when water ph is less than 6.5 (acidic), calcium formations leading to obstructions, and thermal loss requiring insulation in some areas. Copper can also be noisy at high water velocities. It must also be mined, which is not a desirable “green” goal.

In comparison, cpvc piping is less expensive, less susceptible to corrosion, and is inert (and not mined) allowing it to be resistant to more corrosive soils and water. The more smooth nature of cpvc allows for quiet water delivery. It also has thermal insulating properties, higher impact strength, and can withstand temporary pressures of up to 200 psi.

Another “plastic type” pipe option is “Pex” pipe. Pex is recognized and certified for all North American and Canadian building codes and contains many of the properties of cpvc (inert, quiet, and corrosion resistant). Pex is a polyethylene pipe made via several processes, one of which cross-links the molecules of polyethylene forming a durable pipe resistant to high temperatures, corrosion, and chemicals. Pex has been used in Europe since its development in the sixties and has gained momentum in the US since its introduction in the eighties. Pex has become more popular due to its flexibilities in usage.

The major advantage of using Pex is that it can be “snaked” throughout a house allowing a limited number of joints, thus reducing the propensity of a leak and vastly simplifying the pipe runs. This can be accomplished via standard “trunk and branch” systems (main 3/4 inch lines from the source with servicing 1/2 inch lines per room or application), a partial manifold system (where two or more manifolds off the main line or lines direct water), or what is referred to as a “home run” system (where a main manifold directs water to each individual application or plumbing fixture). In this application smaller diameter lines that distribute water directly to each fixture will reduce wasting water while waiting for hot water. This system can reduce energy costs and save water, but will initially be more expensive due to the additional pipe and labor involved.

As an energy saving tip, and requirement of LEED, all hot water pipes should be wrapped with pipe insulation, especially when they are travelling through semi-conditioned areas (most basements) entirely from the water heater to the fixture.

Based upon your specific requirement and preferences, every homeowner will find one of these plumbing systems to be best suited to their project over the others. Whatever your final decision, always remember to stick to our first rule. Always employ a qualified, reliable, experienced plumber!

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