PEX: crimp or compression fittings?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by miamicanes, Oct 23, 2009.

  1. miamicanes

    miamicanes New Member

    Messages:
    103
    Location:
    Pembroke Pines, FL
    I'm getting ready (after a ~4-month detour that included a new roof, new central A/C, and numerous other problems) to finally replace my bathtub and the PB plumbing in my bathroom. Up until this afternoon, I thought I had everything more or less under control... then I encountered two employees at a plumbing store who vehemently disagreed with each other about whether crimps or compression fittings are preferable.

    One argued that crimp fittings were 99% of the reason why PB plumbing fails in the first place, and blamed the problems Americans have with PB on the fact that crimping was a nearly universal practice here, while Europeans (who apparently still use PB) have always used compression fittings.

    The other argued that PB plumbing failed in America because they used brass fittings that corroded, or used plastic compression fittings that cracked or leaked unless they were flawlessly installed. THAT employee claimed crimping was the professional way to do it, and compression fittings were a crutch so Home Depot could sell fittings normal homeowners could use without having to buy expensive tools first.

    The first then countered by arguing that the only reason professionals crimped was because it was faster and cheaper (in the long run) than using compression fittings.

    At that point, the store's owner (apparently, a retired plumber) came out of his office, and said he'd never use anything besides copper or CPVC in his own home... but that anything was better than PB... then went back into his office.

    I then discovered that they don't have fittings explicitly designed to join PB to PEX, and that the PEX they sell is apparently "hard" PEX (I guess "normal" PEX is softer?).

    Argh. Help. Is there a good info site somewhere that tells the whole story about PEX and make an informed choice between plastic-vs-metal fittings, crimping vs compression fittings, hard-vs-soft PEX, and the rest of the issues I stumbled over this afternoon?

    The plumbing books I've read gave me the impression that PEX is wonderful to work with and problem-free... they said nothing about the fact that Lowe's apparently doesn't sell PEX, 2/3 of Home Depot's PEX fittings ("Sharkbite"?) are special-order only (great... so when I realize I need ${something not in stock} I can be without a working shower for a week waiting for it to arrive), or that even "normal" non-bigbox plumbing stores might not sell everything I need. Is this typical? Or did I just manage to find Broward County's one seriously messed up plumbing supply store?
  2. North Jersey

    North Jersey New Member

    Messages:
    107
    Have you considered using Wirsbo/Uponor's expander tool (and the corresponding PEX tubing)? The expansion fittings seem to be preferred by the pros. The tools also have great resale value, and you can easily find them used. The connections are really easy to make and they're rock solid. Uponor sells EP fittings, but their brass fittings seem to be really high quality, as well.

    The Zurn Qpex stuff stocked at my Home Depot had (at least at one point) dezincification problems due to substandard brass coming from China. The problem fittings were produced several years ago, so I assume Zurn has probably solved the problem by now.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,279
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    fittings

    Sharkbites are an expensive and bulky way to make an installation. They are fine for a repair and one or two connections. Pex had problems with the acetyl plastic fittings, but the tubing itself would also split, and not necessarily near a fitting. It was just a bad material. There are PB to PEX couplings, and you have to have a special crimp ring for the PB side.
  4. miamicanes

    miamicanes New Member

    Messages:
    103
    Location:
    Pembroke Pines, FL
    Well, at this point I have a brand new PEX Pocket Crimper, mainly because the reviews for it seems to be pretty uniform: not the most efficient way to do lots and lots of crimps, but perfectly fine for doing a half-dozen or so. Supposedly, the crimps are no worse than what you'd get from the cheapest professional crimpers (the main difference being that expensive professional crimpers are easier and more efficient to use). So... I have a crimper at my disposal, but it was cheap enough (~$30) that I won't be traumatized if I end up not using it and have to sell it on craigslist unopened.

    You say Sharkbites are expensive. Here's what I'm doing:

    * replacing the shower stack with a new one (including PEX)
    * replacing the PB pipe that continues past the tub to the sink, toilet, and around a corner to feed the master bedroom dressing area's sink on the other side of the wall, as well as the two sinks and toilet, and the plumbing to connect them to the new PEX.

    How would you compare the cost of doing it with PEX and Sharkbites if it works without leaks on the first try, to:

    a) Hiring someone from craigslist whose skills probably aren't on par with a professional plumber, but who's nevertheless several orders of magnitude more experienced than I am, and having HIM re-do the PB with copper or CPVC.

    b) Doing it myself with non-Sharkbite PEX fittings, but probably screwing up about 25%-50% of the pipe and fittings & having to do them over (with new fittings and pipe). Assume there's no collateral damage from leaks, just waste from damaged building supplies.

    ... assuming, of course, that Sharkbite IS sufficiently easy to work with that I'd be reasonably assured of getting it right on the first try?

    I have to admit, though, that the Home Depot I went to on Wednesday night spooked me pretty badly. I don't know whether their Sharkbite section was just unusually wiped out by someone doing a big project, or whether it's the Home Depot norm to have so many Sharkbite parts either non-stocked or out of stock, but let me put it this way: I could have put every single Sharkbite product they had in stock in my shopping cart, and had enough room left for a toilet tank or two boxes of cat5 cable without even bothering to use the area underneath the main basket. Plus, I didn't see ANYTHING remotely resembling PEX pipe with the three specific letters "PEX" on it -- colored, clear, straight, coiled, or otherwise. Come to think of it, the only thing I saw that resembled pipe or tubing with the word "PEX" on it were some grey toilet connectors that were nowhere near the Sharkbite section.

    To be honest, I almost felt like the target of a cruel practical joke being played by plumbing book publishers... praise some particular product, extoll its virtues, then send the hapless DIY'er on a futile quest to actually BUY it ;-)
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2009
  5. jeffeverde

    jeffeverde New Member

    Messages:
    79
    Location:
    L.A.
    In my area, HomeDespot carries the SharkBites (in limited selection), but they've stopped carrying PEX. My local Lowes' *do* carry PEX - but it's on the very top shelf (15' up), and most the employees don't know they have it. You have to find it yourself and tell them "I want that white (or red, or blue) plastic hose stuff up there" :p
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,279
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    options

    Option A is about as effective as putting a sign out on your yard, "plumber wanted". IF he is NOT a plumber, why would you trust him to do even a halfway decent job. Option B is not much better since you are probably not even as proficient as the hack you would get with option A. If you want an installaton which you have to secure in every direction, because Sharkbite fittings allow things to spin around the pipe, and do NOT have to put two pipe close together, then spend the money on Sharkbites. Otherwise use the money you would waste on them, AND on redoing your mistakes, on hiring someone who will do it right the first time and in an expedient manner.
  7. miamicanes

    miamicanes New Member

    Messages:
    103
    Location:
    Pembroke Pines, FL
    > In my area, HomeDespot carries the SharkBites (in limited selection), but they've stopped carrying PEX

    So... does anybody know which SharkBite coupler I'd use to connect 1/2" PB to 1/2" PEX?

    Also, is all PEX pipe available today equally good, or are some brands known to be significantly better or worse? Thinking back to yesterday... is "hard" PEX (like they had at the plumbing supply store I went to yesterday after lunch) better or worse for Sharkbite?

    (if anyone hasn't guessed, I decided to postpone my tub replacement until next weekend and spend the next few days doing more research)
  8. miamicanes

    miamicanes New Member

    Messages:
    103
    Location:
    Pembroke Pines, FL
    Jackpot! I went to Lowe's (a different one than I went to on Wednesday) to check out their PEX pipe, and THAT one had what appeared to be a brand new, fully-stocked PEX section... pipe, fittings, tools, and all. They even had proper PB-PEX connectors!

    I then went to a different Home Depot. The one by my house is a Home Depot superstore/design center that's bigger than some large malls used to be, so I just assumed it would be the best-equipped of them all. It was missing at least half of the Sharkbite fittings. The one I went to today is smaller and older, in an area that's kind of off the beaten path of recent local development. Of course, THAT Home Depot seemed to have the complete set of everything Sharkbite makes, neatly organized and fully-stocked. I swear, Home Depot is just plain weird sometimes...

    That said, I'm still undecided about what to do with the PB-PEX connection. On one hand, it's a relief to have finally found someplace that has the proper fittings. On the other hand, I *also* went to a regular plumbing supply store, and had the matter blurred again. The guy at the plumbing store said that PB-to-PEX is an awkward situation insofar as crimping official fittings vs Sharkbite is concerned. Basically, he said that Sharkbite isn't certified (nor officially compatible, even though everyone uses it anyway) for PB, but all things considered, it's probably a better option for connecting PEX to old PB because it puts less stress on the old PB than crimping a new fitting would, and is less likely to cause problems in the long term than crimping because stress fractures are the #1 cause of PB-related problems. Sigh. Thoughts?
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2009
  9. jeffeverde

    jeffeverde New Member

    Messages:
    79
    Location:
    L.A.
    Thought -- take this opportunity to homerun your PEX line to the water service entrance outside the house and eliminate a big section of PB, so that when your PB junction fails, it will at least be outside the house. :D

    Just curious -- were you not eligible for the PB class-action settlement?
  10. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,279
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Sb

    Sharbites are for use on any copper tubed sized material. They may have left PB out because it has not been used for a decade and is no longer available.
  11. HoracioO

    HoracioO New Member

    Messages:
    26
    Location:
    NV
    SharkBites come in two forms, one type is the slip on fittings that are expensive, and the other are the "barb" fittings that are very similar to Que-Pex that clamp on.
    http://www.cashacme.com/prod_sharkbite_barb_fittings.php

    Home Depot seems to be transitioning to SharkBite, so you are getting this mix of stock at stores, and there doesn't seem to be a logic in the stocking beyond putting out the SharkBite fittings but not having a full set—mix-n-match mode. Also Home Depot isn't listing the SharkBite barb fittings on-line so I'm not sure of the exact pricing

    At Home Depot you can buy the clamping tool for about 30 bucks, the straight 1/2" to 1/2" barbs are around $3.50 for a pack of five and the 90° bends the same. so that works out pretty cheap.

    The PB connection is MIA
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2009
  12. miamicanes

    miamicanes New Member

    Messages:
    103
    Location:
    Pembroke Pines, FL
    > Thought -- take this opportunity to homerun your PEX line to the water service entrance outside the house
    > and eliminate a big section of PB, so that when your PB junction fails, it will at least be outside the house.

    > Just curious -- were you not eligible for the PB class-action settlement?

    It's a two-story townhome with reinforced concrete suspended slab for the second floor (where the bathroom is), and the PB is embedded in the slab. It's not coming out, and there's no good route for new water lines.

    The house was built in 1982. The deadline for claims was ~13 years after construction. I bought the house last year, so I'm about 12 years too late.
  13. CountryBumkin

    CountryBumkin New Member

    Messages:
    86
    Location:
    Orlando, FL
    My house was built in 1990 with PB. When I looked into the class-action lawsuit a few years ago, it turned out that in order to receive or participate in the settlement (whatever value it was) you had to have had a PB failure. I have not had a failure and didn't want to lie so I did not join the suit. I think the suit ended in 2005 or 6 but I have not heard (or read anywhere) before about the "13 years after construction" deadline. Regardless, that ship has sailed.
  14. Marty53

    Marty53 New Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    New York
    my 2 cents here on the pex issue. I may be taking a leap of faith in assuming that after all of the brass pex fittings busted and the lawsuits a few years back, the PEX manufacturers have taken whatever action to improve the material in these fittings.

    That said, I used the sharkbite branded regular pex (not compression) they just started stocking at my local HD. The seem to me to be of higher quality than the older qest pex stuff they had. I got a crimp tool on **** and a couple hundred crimp rings. I've redone 2 bathrooms all the way back to main main 3/4" copper branch lines with no problems, I never even had a leak after pressure testing with open walls. It is VERY easy, and I can definitely see why it makes copper master plumbers uneasy. I don't think I will have any problems, but if I do... I know how I did everything so I'll know what to fix
  15. Gary Slusser

    Gary Slusser That's all folks!

    I have used many QEST compression fittings over 20 yrs and have never heard of any failure. You follow instructions how to tighten them, hand tight plus a turn until the nut squeaks and stop, and they don't fail. And they can not come apart unless someone loosens the nut. They are CTS (copper tubing size) and mate any type material that is CTS.

    Attached Files:

  16. nhmaster

    nhmaster Master Plumber

    Messages:
    3,189
    Location:
    S. Maine
    When we first started having issues with polybutlyne we would buy those quest fittings by the case. Sharkbites seem ok and they are approved but I'm not really comfortable with them yet. The preferred method would be pex x poly crimp fittings but they require a special tool. This thread will no doubt draw all the copper guys out of the wood work but it is what it is and like the stuff or not, it's code approved.
  17. Gary Slusser

    Gary Slusser That's all folks!

    Funny how much plumbers/electricians etc. just love codes until one comes along approving something they don't like, like PVC, CPVC, PEX or Sharkbite fittings huh. :D
  18. nhmaster

    nhmaster Master Plumber

    Messages:
    3,189
    Location:
    S. Maine
    Many moons ago a state inspector said to me

    " Kid, the code is the code " thought he was a few fries short of a happy meal back then. Turns out he had the order correct. :D
  19. miamicanes

    miamicanes New Member

    Messages:
    103
    Location:
    Pembroke Pines, FL
    Another question... what's the story with cross-brand PEX (in)compatibility? I've read in multiple books that different brands are completely incompatible, but every store I've gone to has basically said that "PEX is PEX". *ARE* different brands utterly incompatible, or is it more a case that the big manufacturers made a point of making tools that only worked properly with their couplings, and couplings that only worked properly with their tools... then at some point over the past couple of years, PEX patents started expiring, and thirdparty manufacturers started making couplings and tools that were more or less brand-agnostic and worked with just about everything (ie, Sharkbite, whatever brand they sell at Lowe's, etc)?
  20. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,279
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Pb

    quote; I have not had a failure and didn't want to lie so I did not join the suit.

    I had a customer who did have a second failure, so I had her call the servicing agency. When the representative came out, he said she had to have had THREE failures, but he was sure she would "have the third one by tomorrow". Guess what, she did.
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