How do we spend our Saturday nights these days? Why, hanging out in our attic for six and a half hours of course!
Six and a half hours Katelyn?! Bloody hell! Why on earth would you hang out in a blazing attic for six and half bloody hours?
Oh imaginary British person, because we were working on the PEX piping project I mentioned in our last post of course! You’re so silly.
But I thought you so confidently said, and I quote: “it didn’t look all that hard or expensive to DIY your own PEX.”
…Yeah. Well. The PEX part WAS easy. It’s just that everything else took freaking forever. GOSH.
Don’t get testy with me you cheeky prat!
Don’t be such a turd!
Bollucks! Fish and Chips! Cheerio!
This is what happens when you work from home and hang out with your cat all day.
ANYWAYS, we successfully replaced our leaky old galvanized pipe with a fresh new piece of PEX piping! Remember this pipe with 2 leaks on it?
Well, that pipe is no more!! But let me back up a bit. Like I said in the last post, when our plumber mentioned replacing this pipe with PEX piping, we started doing research on PEX. Cross-linked polyethylene, commonly known as PEX, is made of plastic, flexible tubing. It’s an alternative to PVC or copper pipes that is being more and more widely used due to its low cost and ease of installation. The “low cost” and “ease of installation” parts of that sentence made our ears perk up, so we looked into how to install it ourselves.
We found several tutorials and sorta spliced together bits and pieces from each. We mainly used this one, this one, and this one. At the end of the post I’ll list the steps you SHOULD follow in case anyone reading wants to attempt this in their own home. We may have accidentally not followed some/followed them in the wrong order. Oops. So consider this kind of a “do as we say, not as we do” deal.
First off, we did what you’re supposed to do before ANY big plumbing project: we turned off the water supply to our house. There are two spots you can do this- at your main water valve where the supply line goes into your house (usually around one of your hose faucets outside) or near the street where your meter is. Since we didn’t have a water meter key to turn it off at the meter, we decided we’d just turn it off at the main water valve.
Next you’re supposed to run all your faucets, showers, etc until no more water is coming out. This is to drain any water that was hanging out up in your pipes. It took a few minutes and then no more water was coming out so we assumed we were good to go.
We gathered our materials and went up to the attic. Make sure to wear gloves and breathings masks! Here’s the supplies you’ll need (plus I’ve listed a few more that we didn’t know yet at the time of this picture… yes there were a couple trips to Home Depot that night)
1- PEX piping. We needed 25 ft of 3/4″ piping, so we got a 50 ft roll just in case. Just measure the diameter of your current pipes and the length of the pipe to find out what type of PEX you need. You can get white, blue, or red (the only difference is that red is used to identify hot water, blue is used to identify cold, and white can be either. We chose white).
2- Plastic sheeting. This was great to have under the pipes to protect your insulation and wood. Be generous and spread that stuff around.
3*- Pipe wrenches. We started with one (pictured). Then we had to get another. You 100% need TWO for this project!
4- PVC/plastic tubing cutter. This is to cut your PEX.
5- Flashlight. Or two. Or ten. Gather as many as you have, attics are dark.
6- Sharkbite PEX adapters. We got two 3/4″ male adapters because we were removing the two male ends of our 3/4″ galvanized pipe.
7- Teflon tape. You have to wrap the threading on the adapters, the same way you wrap a shower head when you replace it.
8- A saw that can cut metal. We used Evan’s jigsaw with a metal-cutting blade, but you could also use a hacksaw, a reciprocating saw, etc. Just talk to people at Home Depot or look online to make sure it can cut metal.
9*- Trays to catch water drips. We bought one painters tray, but luckily I had some disposable 9×9 baking trays because we ended up needing those too. You definitely need at least two trays that can catch water if you’re working on a project like this. And maybe some plastic cups too just to be safe.
10*- WD40. It’s not in the picture, but you 100% will need it if you’re trying to remove galvanized pipe.
11*- Water meter key. This also is not in the picture, but you need it to turn off the water at your meter.
Notice all the asterisks. Those are all the things we didn’t buy/didn’t have enough of when starting this project. Learn from our mistakes.
Before we could add the PEX piping, we first had to remove our old galvanized pipe. We started by prepping the area- we picked an easy to reach section of the pipe we were removing, laid out lots of plastic underneath, and set a tray under where we were going to cut.
Before you can actually remove your pipe, you have to cut it somewhere in the middle so that you’re actually able to unscrew each end. So after the area was prepped, we took a deep breath, decided we had the balls to move forward, and Evan took his saw to it! Look you can see the blade going through the pipe!
It wasn’t necessarily a speedy cut, but eventually the saw made it all the way through.
…And already we were having a water problem. See the pool collecting in the tray?? Yeah, this is when we started to silently freak out inside. There was a steady stream of water trickling from our pipes filling up our tray surprisingly fast. Luckily, I remembered I had some throw away 9×9 baking pans so I ran down to the kitchen and got those, because our single tray was not going to hold out much longer.
We were able to scoot over the full tray and put one of the 9×9’s under the leak, but the first tray was so full that trying to remove it so that we could empty it would have made us spill water everywhere. So to try to contain the leak, we did what any resourceful 20-somethings would do- we duct taped the crap out of it.
This slowed the leak slightly, and it was enough to allow us to figure out why the water wasn’t stopping. Evan double checked our main water valve to make sure it was off all the way. It was, but he turned on our outside hoses to release more of the water in the pipes. Then we turned on the faucets again just in case… and there was water coming out of them! Somehow, even when our main water valve was off, water still got in.
So we decided to just keep all the faucets on the on position and Evan ran to Home Depot to get a water meter key so we could turn off the water at our meter too. Meanwhile, I hung out in the attic scooping water out from the original tray, having flashbacks to a previous plumbing experience that involved scooping lots of water with a plastic cup… I finally got enough out to move it, then Evan came back and shut off the water at the meter. From then on we were fine water-wise, yay!! No more almost-flooding our attic!
Now that we had stopped the leaking, it was time to be done with this pipe and remove each of the two ends from their old fittings. We busted out our new pipe wrench, clamped it on, gave it a tug and… nothing. The thing didn’t budge. At all.
We did some online research and found out that you need TWO pipe wrenches… one to turn the pipe you’re removing, and one to turn the threading it’s screwed into in the opposite direction. This keeps you from breaking anything and gives you a little more turning power. Whoops. It also said WD40 helps loosen things if you spray it into the threading and wait a few minutes. But it said the BEST thing to unscrew it is to heat up the metal by blowtorching it.
Yes. Blowtorching it.
Apparently warming the metal makes it malleable enough to unscrew. I mean, I’d take a culinary blowtorch to a crème brûlée given the opportunity, and my fiance will not deny that he’s a bit of a pyro, but NEITHER of us was about to bring a blow torch into our wood-filled attic.
So Evan ran to Home Depot again while I stayed here to keep an eye on leaks, and he picked up another wrench and some WD40. No blowtorch.
He came back, we tried the WD40 and the additional wrench… and still no dice. That pipe would NOT budge.
We started this project at 3:30pm. By this point it was about 9:00pm. We had no running water, no way to turn it back on since our pipe was cut in the middle, and no way to replace the pipe because we couldn’t get the dang thing off. So we decided to go have a snack (it seemed logical at the time).
As Evan laid on the floor in defeat and I perched on the counter eating wheat thins, we talked about how we could always stay the night at his parents if we had to. For a minute I thought we were going to give up. But then we decided to try unscrewing the other end of the pipe, just to see if it was easier to get than the first end we tried.
We sprayed it with WD40, waited a few minutes, then with just one wrench (because it was at a T-joint) Evan was able to unscrew it!! Oh happy day!!!!!!
We didn’t lay out plastic beforehand, shame on us! At least we remembered the tray. Luckily there was pretty much no water to deal with this time.
Then we got to actually attach our new PEX! First off, we prepped the adapter by wrapping it with Teflon tape the same way you’d wrap a shower head before installing it. You have to wrap it in the same direction that you screw it in, so clockwise if you’re facing the threads (see in the picture below).
Then you screw the adapter into the joint that you unscrewed your pipe from.
Now that the adapter was in, it was time for us to bust out our new piping! You know I love a man with nice PEX…
We cut the PEX with our PVC cutter to make sure we had a nice clean edge.
Then we marked 1″ from the fresh cut (this marks how far you need to push the PEX into your adapter).
But before we pushed it into the adapter, we needed to straighten it the best we could. Luckily it’s pretty flexible.
As we straightened it we fed it under the boards on the floor along the length of the original pipe.
Then we just pushed the end of the PEX into the adapter and it was done! No clamping, no adhesives. Just pop it in and stop at your inch mark.
With new confidence and one end of our piping complete, we decided to tackle unscrewing that first part of the pipe again. But we used a slightly different technique this time (after spraying again with copious amounts of WD40). Instead of Evan holding onto both of the wrenches, I pushed the one on the joint counter-clockwise as hard as I could while Evan used his body weight to push the one on the pipe clockwise with his foot.
And that did it!!! We loosened it enough for Evan to do the rest by hand! It only took two pipe wrenches, a buttload of WD40, and two adult humans using all their force to unscrew this pipe, but we did it! PS doesn’t Evan look like a giant trapped in a doll house in the below pic?
From here you pretty much do the same thing as you do on the other end. Teflon the adapter, screw it in, cut the PEX, mark an inch from the cut, and pop the PEX into the adapter. Easy easy.
And then of course, rip out the old pipe with your bare hands and growl at it. Grrrrrrr!!!!!!!
So there it is, we did it! By the time we finished it was 10pm and we had officially spent 6-1/2 hours replacing one pipe in our attic. But it was worth it! All together, we spent about $100 on these supplies, which may seem like a lot. But to get it fixed by a professional it was going to cost $800, so in comparison $100 was small change. Plus we will be able to use most of the items again for future projects.
As promised, here is a quick guide to all the steps you SHOULD follow:
STEP 1: Turn off your water. To be safe, do it at your main water valve AND at the meter using a water meter key.
STEP 2: Run all your faucets and showers to empty them of water. Don’t forget your hose faucets outside too! Leave them open til you’re done with the project, just to be safe.
STEP 3: Prep your area. Lay down plastic wrap and a shallow tray under the spot you’re going to cut. Make sure you have at least two trays on hand to catch water.
STEP 4: Using a saw that can cut metal, cut your galvanized pipe. Some water will come out, don’t panic.
STEP 5: Bust out the WD40. Spray it onto the joints where your pipe is connected, and try to get some of it to go into the threading. This helps break up any rust in there. Please don’t bring a blowtorch into your attic.
STEP 6: Unscrew the pipe ends. Use two pipe wrenches pulled in opposite directions, one gripping the pipe you are unscrewing and one gripping the joint you’re unscrewing it from. Don’t break the pipe, but use your body weight to unscrew it. Having two people helps.
STEP 7: Prep the PEX adapter. Wrap it with Teflon tape clockwise (the same direction you turn it).
STEP 8: Screw adapter into the joint you unscrewed your pipe from.
STEP 9: Cut a nice clean edge on the PEX with your PVC cutter and mark one inch from the end.
STEP 10: Straighten your PEX and run it along the length of the pipe you’re replacing.
STEP 11: Push the end of your PEX into the adapter until you reach your one inch mark.
STEP 12: Do the same thing on the other joint and you’re done! Celebrate with late night cheeseburgers!
Hope this helped and made DIY plumbing a little less scary!