When we bought the place, there was no copper in the basement. The water main had be capped off and there was no meter. The drainlines were all pvc and still there and the copper in the walls that ran from the basement up into the house still existed. As part of our division of labor, Em was responsible for doing the plumbing. She decided that we would install a pro-PEX flexible tube system to replace the missing intake lines. This system is really neat. PEX is a cross-linked plastic tubing. By that, I mean the plastic is made is such away as to be stretchy with the correct tools. So you can mechanically open the tube up at the end and then it will contract again. The basic idea with this particular type of PEX (there are several that function differently) is that you widen the tube end with a special mechanical tool and then it shrinks back down on your fitting, creating a water-tight seal. Traditional copper lines on the other hand, you cut with a pipe cutter and then solder together. It takes longer and there’s more possibility for user error.
Plus, PEX has the added benefit of being a flexible hose. While it doesn’t have a tidy appearance in the end like copper does, you can run it pretty much anywhere and very easily. You don’t have to worry about bending it around other mechanicals or notching joists or whathaveyou. You just string it up like a wire and tack it into place. Additionally, you can easily cut and splice the line pretty much anywhere for any reason, so there’s lots of flexibility over time to change your plumbing needs.
As we’ve been able to do more and more of the mechanicals ourse lves, I’m surprised at how relatively simple the basic ideas are. Take the kitchen for example. I think of water as being very important to your kitchen. You drink it, cook with it, clean with it. Rarely do you use your kitchen without using your water. But when you get down to it, most kitchens have three lines: hot and cold intake, and a drain.
Your dishwasher just plugs into the same line your sink uses.
If you’re really fancy, you might have a water line running into your fridge or for a pot filler over your stove. Most kitchens don’t. So while the carpenter might have to figure out complicated framing or the electrician needs to get like half a dozen circuits into the room, the plumber just needs to get those three lines to the general area the sink is going to be in. Our house, in total, has 2 toilets, 1 shower, 1 shower/bath, 2 bathroom sinks, 1 kitchen sink/dishwasher area, and 1 outside hose bib. We’ll probably add another hose bib this summer for the back yard and we might get complicated with fish tank setups down the road. But that’s what the plumber has to put together.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as simple as all that. You still have to design your pipe run, worry about pressure and valves, nail everything down, and drainage and venting is a whole other kettle of fish. But it’s accessible and really, anyone can do it if they want to. The other side of this system, the drains, in our house are all pvc. PVC is slightly messier than PEX in that you glue it together. You cut the lengths you need and use a 2 part glue to fit pipes into fittings. It’s tinker toys. Again, you have to smart about how you design the whole thing and there’s a lot of codes about how your vents work, but anyone can do it.
Additionally to Em doing PEX and PVC, she also learned how to solder copper (called sweating). I can do one of these three things (and it’s not copper). She and our good friend Steve spent a day cutting apart the main and building a fixture for the meter to sit into. Then on the other end of the meter is a copper line that plugs into her pex system. She also put copper to pex fittings on the lines running up into the 2nd floor. All of which required fire and melting metal. It was pretty cool to watch. In the end, when we filled the whole thing with water, the only places that leaked were couplings that we had hand tightened with plumber’s tape. Some rewrapping and wrenching fixed those up. All of Em’s copper and pex seals worked perfectly. All the drains drained. And when we pass the last stages of winter, we can running water all the time in the house.