Pex Plumbing Fun

Plumber's Wrench

Our trailer, like virtually all trailers, has PEX plumbing. There are a lot of advantages of PEX. It’s flexible. It’s Cheap. It’s easy to get parts. It’s easy to modify or change parts. It is more freeze resistant than copper. It takes a lot of abuse. It does have one annoying fault though. When stressed, instead of breaking the joints come loose. This results in leaking. The leaking occurs silently and without warning. I showered today and as I went into our bedroom to dress, I noticed a puddle. I assumed it was just a spill from not having the shower curtain set right. As I started mopping up it was soon clear it was a lot more water than that. Following the puddle backward I located the leak. One of the PEX plumbing joints where it is hooked onto an adapter that connects it to the hot water heater was dripping. For reasons I’m unsure of, the leaks always seem to appear where the PEX connects to solid stuff. When we are bumping up and down the road, the PEX piping flexes and whips with the bumps but things like the solidly bolted down hot water heater don’t. The joint is the part subjected to the most stress. At least that is my theory.

Once located, such a leak is a really easy thing to fix. This time the joint had come so loose I could undo it further with just my fingers. I while ago a staff member at an Ace Hardware in Florida introduced us to a neat little tool for plumbing. We bought the little wrench thingie and we find we use at least once a month. The wrench has a flexible flip top with ridges so it fits everything from garden hose to our PEX joints. The tool is high up in my “Must have” for RVers list.

The tricky part about PEX is to tighten it just enough so it stops leaking but not so much that the plastic cracks. It’s a lot easier to tighten it compared to replacing the entire joint. Since I have the more delicate touch, I do the tightening. I have found I need to tighten it, leave everything open and running and watch carefully over the next 24 hours. Occasionally, I will find the joint I tightened is very slowly weeping and another twist is in order. PEX sells fancy calibrating wrenches to get the force exactly right. I have to wonder though, why bother? If it’s not leaking it’s not a problem and even at perfect calibration it is likely to come loose again anyway.

I have considered some sort of maintenance check to be able to avoid a small flood. I have yet to find a loose one in advance. The loosening seems to be a sudden and one step spontaneous thing without forewarning. Because of this bad habit of PEX, if we are not going to be in our trailer for a few hours we always turn off the water. It is such a simple step on the way out and it can prevent a lot of damage. We turn the water off as often as we lock the doors.

Our trailer interior is made of cheap press wood with plastic laminate. This is one way to keep the weight down enough to have living space without a semi to pull it. The interior gets wet and warps, expands and crumbles on prolonged exposure to water. It’s imperative to find leaks fast. It is equally imperative to clean up and dry everything as quickly as possible. So right now we have towels on all the places that got wet where floor meets walls and the dehumidifier going at full speed. The damage is also cumulative so a small leak one time may not cause a lot of trouble but a big leak or a small leak not quickly fixed or many small leaks, can degrade the walls.

I think we got lucky this time. We caught the leak early and the damage will be minimal. We’ll see.

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