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PEX Aluminum-Plastic Pipes – An Industry Overview

The Benefits, Applications, and Best Practices for Working with Aluminum-PEX Plumbing Systems

PEX, or crosslinked polyethylene, is a flexible plastic piping material that has become increasingly popular for use in residential and commercial plumbing systems over the past couple of decades. PEX pipes are made by modifying polyethylene through a chemical process called crosslinking, which improves the strength, temperature resistance, and flexibility of the material.

One of the main benefits of PEX is its flexibility compared to traditional rigid metal piping. PEX tubing is highly flexible and can bend around corners and fit into tight spaces easily. This makes installation much simpler than copper or galvanized steel pipes requiring soldering or threading connections. PEX is also more resistant to freeze-breakage than metal pipes.

PEX is available in three main types: PEX-a, PEX-b, and PEX-c. The categories refer to the different manufacturing processes used to produce crosslinked polyethylene. PEX-a uses peroxide to induce crosslinking, PEX-b uses silane, and PEX-c uses electron beam processing. All three types result in crosslinked polyethylene tubing with similar performance characteristics.

PEX is available in three main types:

PEX-a, PEX-b, and PEX-c. The categories refer to the different manufacturing processes used to produce crosslinked polyethylene. PEX-a uses peroxide to induce crosslinking, PEX-b uses silane, and PEX-c uses electron beam processing. All three types result in crosslinked polyethylene tubing with similar performance characteristics.

Aluminum-plastic PEX piping has emerged in recent years as an alternative to copper, CPVC, or pure PEX piping. Aluminum-PEX combines an aluminum outer layer with an inner PEX plastic tubing core. The aluminum outer layer serves several important functions:

  • Provides rigidity and structure to the piping, making installation easier
  • Serves as an oxygen barrier to prevent corrosion within the system
  • Conducts heat efficiently, improving thermal performance
  • Offers increased resistance to UV rays, abrasion, and punctures

The flexible PEX tubing inside enables the piping to still bend and contour as needed during installation. Together, the aluminum and PEX layers create piping that aims to provide the benefits of PEX along with the advantages of rigid aluminum pipe.

Aluminum-PEX piping first appeared in Europe in the 1970s but was relatively slow to gain adoption in the United States. Through the 1990s and 2000s, manufacturers continued to refine aluminum-PEX manufacturing processes and materials. Major brands such as Uponor, Rehau, and MrPEX now offer aluminum-PEX products in the US market.

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Plumbing Applications of Aluminum-PEX Pipes

Aluminum-PEX piping has a wide variety of plumbing applications in residential and commercial settings. Some of the most common uses include:

  • Hot and cold potable water supply lines – Aluminum-PEX is approved for carrying drinking water and withstands temperature extremes.
  • Radiant heating systems – The aluminum conducts heat efficiently from boilers and heat sources to in-floor PEX tubing grids.
  • Snow and ice melt systems – Durable aluminum-PEX tubing can be installed below outdoor surfaces and withstand freeze/thaw cycles.
  • Compressed air lines – Aluminum-PEX handles compressed air while resisting corrosion better than metal pipes.
  • Fire sprinkler systems – Approved for use in commercial fire suppression systems thanks to reliability and pressure ratings.

The aluminum layer resists corrosion and performs well under pressure, making aluminum-PEX suitable for diverse single and multipurpose piping systems. The flexible PEX core enables it to snake through structures and adapt to shifts or settling.

Benefits of Aluminum-PEX Compared to Other Pipe Materials

Compared to copper, PEX, or CPVC, installers cite several advantages of aluminum-PEX:

  • Lightweight and easy to install compared to rigid metal pipes
  • Ability to bend and curve during installation
  • Maintains inner diameter over long runs; avoids scale build-up
  • Resists pitting, corrosion and freeze-breakage
  • Allows for faster installation compared to soldering or gluing joints

Aluminum-PEX piping is connected via push-fit or compression fittings that grip the pipe externally. Proper installation technique is important to create secure joins and prevent leaks. Installing aluminum-PEX requires some specialized tools for cutting and fitting the piping. While the material costs more upfront than PEX, the faster installation time can result in labor cost savings in many cases.

PEX-a Tubing at the Core of Most Aluminum-PEX Products

Most aluminum-PEX piping utilizes PEX-a tubing, chosen for its temperature resistance and pressure ratings. PEX-a has a long track record of performing well in hydronic heating applications. The cross-linked structure gives it flexibility while retaining good memory and resistance to deformation over time.

PEX-a is produced using peroxide to induce crosslinking of the polyethylene molecules. This creates a solid, three-dimensional molecular structure that cannot unravel. PEX-a has outstanding freeze-thaw durability and can withstand temperatures up to 200°F at 100 PSI pressure.

These performance attributes make PEX-a tubing the preferred choice for the inner layer of aluminum-PEX piping systems. The durable PEX-a core enables the piping to endure years of hot water flow, freezing temperatures, pressure fluctuations, and movement without fail.

Standards and Certifications for Potable Water Use

Aluminum-PEX is approved for potable water applications and certified by NSF International. To conform to NSF-61 standards, only approved non-toxic chemicals can be used in processing the aluminum and crosslinking the polyethylene.

The inert characteristics of PEX and aluminum make it suitable for drinking water without impacting taste or quality. Chlorine treatments and water additives will not degrade aluminum-PEX, enabling it to maintain water purity.

Aluminum-PEX tubing meets Uniform Plumbing Code standards for potable water delivery. It also complies with ASTM F1281 and F1282 for PEX tubing and ASTM F2846 for PEX fittings. Compliance with these standards ensures consistent manufacturing quality and safety.

Proper Installation Techniques Are Critical

As a newer product, some plumbers and contractors may still be unfamiliar with proper installation techniques for aluminum-PEX. Manufacturers offer training programs and certifications to ensure correct methods are followed. When joined correctly, aluminum-PEX is considered a durable piping material expected to perform reliably for 50 years or longer.

It is important to use manufacturer-approved fittings and tools specifically designed for aluminum-PEX. Self-sealing push-fit connectors create secure joints without requiring glue or soldering. Proper pipe cutters are needed to get clean, perpendicular cuts that will integrate with fittings.

Bends and curves in aluminum-PEX piping need made smoothly, avoiding kinks that could create weak spots. The minimum bend radius is approximately 5 times the outer pipe diameter. The pipe should properly anchored and supported per code requirements.

While DIYers can install aluminum-PEX, training is highly recommend to learn the nuances. License, certified contractors should be used for any aluminum-PEX plumbing project to ensure proper techniques are followe. Taking the time to correctly join and support aluminum-PEX will maximize safe performance and lifespan.

Extensive Warranty Coverage

Most manufacturers provide extensive warranties covering their aluminum-PEX products. This includes warranties against failure due to defects, corrosion, or leaks. Warranties up to 50 years are available.

However, improper installation or excessive pressure may void the warranty coverage. Using unapproved fittings or bends that stress the pipes can compromise performance. Careful workmanship and following manufacturer specs allow installers and property owners to have confidence in realizing the full warranty protections.

Maintenance Tips for Aluminum-PEX Systems

Ongoing maintenance of an aluminum-PEX plumbing system focuses on exercising valves to prevent build-up and corrosion. Periodic inspection of connections and joints is advised to check for any leaks that may arise over time.

Flushing the system annually removes sediment and scale, maintaining flow and performance. With routine maintenance, aluminum-PEX can provide many years of reliable service.

In cases where leaks occur, the PEX tubing core enables small punctures to be easily repaired with clamps rather than requiring the replacement of an entire pipe section. Localized repairs are straightforward and do not compromise the surrounding piping integrity.

Aluminum-PEX Offers an Appealing Piping Choice

For its flexibility, corrosion resistance, and fast installation, aluminum-PEX offers an appealing piping choice for plumbers, contractors, and homeowners. It competes well against traditional rigid metal pipes while avoiding some of the challenges of working with pure plastic PEX. With growing adoption and an improved understanding of how to install and fit the pipes properly, aluminum-PEX stands poised as an emerging solution for modern plumbing challenges. If you want to know more about our products, please feel free to contact IFAN. And we will provide you with the best choice!


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