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 PE vs copper pipes
Author: Anonymous User

I have a rural vacation cottage up in Maine with a private well. It is not occupied most of the time and is only heated when we are there. It can get to -10 or lower in the winter. We drain the pipes each time we leave so they won't freeze. The pipes from the well up to the pressure tank are all black PE pipes, then it is copper for the rest of the house.

I've had nothing but trouble with these PE pipes. In addition to it being extremely difficult to force parts together, every joint in the system at the very least has a slow seeping leak. When we went up in January, one of the joints had a much faster leak, and the valve at the end of the lowest pipe that we use to drain the whole system just "popped off", depressurized the whole system, and that's the end of our water supply until I go up there on a warmer day to try to put the valve back on. Its not just stuff I've worked on; the professional contractor's connections all leak/malfunction too.

I want to solve this once and for all. Would it be unreasonable to replace all the PE pipe with copper pipe, all the way to the well? Some of this is buried so it'll be a pain. I do not know why PE pipe was used here in the first place and whether it may make more sense for them to all be copper (or even something else -- any better choices?) Keep in mind that it is often well below freezing when we go up there, then we turn on the pump and close all the valves - so for a while the water needs to run through PE pipes that are extremely cold and hard -- they seem to leak much more when it is cold. Or if there happens to be a better/correct way to work with PE pipes, that could be useful to know too.

Suggestions?? Thanks!

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: joed

Non plumber experience with PE pipe.
1. Use only metal fittings. Don't use the plastic connectors.
2. Heat the pipe when you install the fitting. Boiling water works well. So does a propane torch if you are careful.
3.Use all stainless hose clamps on the fittings not the ones with the screw that rusts out.
4.Once the fittings are on don't be taking them off. If you need to be able to disassemble the pipe put a union on the end of the fitting and take it apart there.

The valve probably blew off because of water in the line freezing.

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Anonymous User

Metal fittings? Hadn't thought of that; my fittings are all plastic. (I'm not sure I recall even seeing metal fittings at the "local hardware store" but I'll go have another look.) Although the valve that blew off was metal. If there was any water in there, it would just have been a residual coating of water since I'm very careful about draining everything... there used to be a "dip" and that froze and burst last winter but the dip has been removed.

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Anonymous User

Are your fittings insert fittings with hose clamps or are you using compression type fittings with nuts on the end. All metal (preferably brass) is the way to go with inserts and fittings. Double clamp any hose clamps.

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: North Carolina Plumber (NC)

And be sure to use a socket or torque wrench on the clamps. Its hard to get them tight enough with a screwdriver.

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Gary Slusser

PE tubing is the best choice. Copper is the worst if for no other reason than the cost of 1". Your plumbing sounds as if it isn't done right. The fittings could have been installed in cold tubing and not double opposed clamped and the clamps not properly tightened, with a torque wrench sold by most places where well supplies are sold. Or the tubing was damaged by too much heat if it was heated to enable fitting insertion. And the rating of the tubing may be 100 psi wich is way too low IMO, and I'd suggest 160 PSI rated. So IOWs, it's not the materials.

Sch 80 PVC fittings are a good choice and if you want metal, use stainless steel.

Gary

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: vic

Underground, protected from freezing, and not "stressed" at the fittings, quality PE is generally considered a decent product by most "experts" in the plumbing trade.

Be careful though.

It depends on the quality of and the grade and rating of the PE pipe.

Make sure it is rated for drinking water. I personally wouldn't use less than 160psi rated PE.

It sounds like that you might have had fitting problems. Use quality ALL stainless clamps and quality fittings (yes, there are different qualities of fittings). Double clamping is best and non lead brass fittings should guve the least problems.

---

Underground, protected from freezing, with no stress on the pipe, I like actually prefer schedule 40 pipe PVC pipe with schedule 40 fittings (except threaded fittings with schedule 80 males and metal female fittings is best in my view).

With PVC pipe be sure to use a primer and then solvent. That makes for a true solvent weld and is as strong as the pipe if applied correctly and allowed to dry for 24 hours before pressuring.

Tip: with PVC pipe be sure to put a little more pipe in the ditch than just going straight. In other words if the ditch is 100 feet long I like to fit at least 105 feet into the ditch. This is accomplished by having the pipe go from one side to the other and then back and forth, etc. and not in a tight straight line.

The best of luck,


Vic

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Anonymous User

I'm quite untechnical with this so I'll try to describe them: with the exception of the metal valve, the fittings are these pieces of plastic (white colored if put there by someone else, gray if bought by me at the "hardware store";) with these ridges sticking out like every 1/4" over the section of them that the PE tube needs to slide over. All the clamps are just single clamps, the ones I did were not done with a torque wrench -- sounds like a good idea, I'll go buy one. (What torque do I set it at?) Much of the work was probably done when things were rather cold -- I'll try the boiling water too.

BTW, I'd like to go fix the whole system. Is there anything unreasonable about removing every clamp, pulling out all the fittings, then putting new ones with new clamps back in?

And someone at the hardware store said that the brand of the tube should match the brand of the fitting, otherwise they won't fit well -- is this true?

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: akamon (GA)

why the extra pipe, what's your reasoning? (i might learn sompthin)

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Gary Slusser

They sound like Nylon fittings, which for above ground are an excellent choice.

To stop your leaks, make sure the fitings are pushed inside the tubing until the tubing hits the stop on the fitting. In other words, all the way on the insert fitting. Then put a clamp on the tubing with the nut pointing either directin, then another with the nut pointing the opposite direction. Then tighten the one at the end of the tubing first and then the other with the nut part across (on the other side of the tubing) from the first and up all but touching the first clamp. Tighten with a T handle ratchet type torque wrench meant for the clamps. I think it's 7 inch lbs but check on that; I have that wrench which is not adjustable.

If you replace a fitting.... you must heat the tubing to get the old one out and then heat the tubing before pushing the new on it. It is critical to not overheat or kink the tubing. That is more art than science but the no overheating is science/fact not just a personal preference. See:
[www.endot.com]

Gary
Quality Water Associates



Post Edited

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Gary Slusser

Unless the fittings have been pulled out of the tubing without heating the tubing, and then a couple times, there shouldn't be anything wrong with the tubing. And PE tubing is the best choice, it can freeze without breaking and it's flexible, can't corrode or add anything to your water and there's nothing found in water that can harm it. Name me another product that can claim that serviceability; and it will be a plastic.

Insert fittings are all the same as is the tubing from various manufacturers, so no brand to brand silliness, fittings are fittings.

Gary
Quality Water Associates

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Dunbar (KY)

The plastic piping is the very reason for your troubles.


The copper piping in your home is not providing any trouble, a good reason to stick with what works.


Not what is the cheapest thing on the market, or easiest to work with.


You are thinking along the right lines of copper.

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Anonymous User

The extra pipe may be the solution to my well problems, duh cold contracts, hot expands, had not thought of that, so I guess it's really paying off finding this site. I have gotten more help here just reading other's posts, than anywhere else. Thanks!

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Anonymous User

It'll often be tricky for me to try to heat the pipes with boiling water (some pipes are up in the air and near electrical things). I'm thinking a hand-held hair dryer except that's probably not very hot. Would the following do:

- 1000 watt halogen work lamp? (I've thawed frozen drains this way.)

- hand-held device used to heat and strip paint? (probably too hot???)

- Any others? A torch seems rather risky; I'd prefer to use that only for copper pipes.

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Gary Slusser

Is the tubing all the way onto the fittings up to the stop? If so you don't have cold temp contraction problems.

Gary
Quality Water Associates

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Gary Slusser

Naturally you heat with no water in the tubing but a hair dryer on high will do it, albeit slowly. You only heat the tubing where it is on the fitting and don't hold it in only one place, heat all the tubing untill it's hot to the touch.

Gary
Quality Water Associates

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Anonymous User

Good call... not a single connection has the tube all the way up to the stop. Almost, but not quite. Perhaps whoever put them all together in the first place didn't heat them and just forced them as far as they could go? I'll have to see if I can do better.

I just thought of another idea: radiant electric heater... they get really hot an inch or so from them.... that should do it.

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 Re: PE vs copper pipes
Author: Gary Slusser

It doesn't take much heat to be too much heat which damages the tubing and probably those fittings. I suggest only using a heat gun or hair dryer on high.

You can by insert x insert couplers and a roll of tubing if needed due to no slack in the line(s).

Gary
Quality Water Associates

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