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Unread 11-16-2019, 08:53 PM   #1
makethatkerdistick
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Repiping a slab ranch with copper through attic

On CX's advice I am starting a new project thread here, even though this is not a tiling project. Moderators, please move or delete if inappropriate.

I am in the process of replumbing my 1968 slab ranch. Currently, it has buried copper type L piping under the slab. I plan on replumbing with type K through the attic, running pipes down the walls.

Just not a fan of PEX and love working with copper. I'll be doing all the work myself. My current plumbing is 50 years old now, and I want to have the new infrastructure in place before I get leaks. So far, the piping has worked flawlessly but it's hard to predict the condition of the buried piping.

My water's pH is around 8 but has a certain degree of hardness. From cutting out my old showers, I found no considerable erosion inside those 1/2 in pipes, in particular the hot side. I conclude from this that installing copper in my area is generally ok. Ideally, I am looking for an installation that I don't have to replace again as an old man. I am 41 now.

Anyway, here's my question: Do you know how exactly typical sub-slab plumbing is laid out? My understanding is that loops are brought up at every service point where there is a manifold (usually just a "duo-fold" in my case) connecting them to the next service point.

Also, would the incoming line typically be run to the water heater first? My water heaters have 3/4 in lines whereas bathrooms, kitchen, laundry area and hose bibs are all 1/2 in. Main service line from the meter is 3/4 in.

Perhaps I am foolish considering replacement while everything still works great. I was thinking of putting the new interior piping in place and make it go online one by one. Once everything is in place, I would then run the new service line (sleeved soft copper type K) without a joint through the slab and into the wall to connect with my new hard pipe. I'll only have to go about two feet under the slab to get to my wall connection. Also, on copper.org I read that properly sleeving an underground pipe can shield it effectively from the soil.

Cost-wise, the copper is competitive. Material for the whole house runs around $1500 (including fittings, solder, pipe brackets). Entry-level kits for PEX that include the tools and everything start around $1000. I plan on putting tubular foam insulation around the pipes but they'll also be buried under a few inches of loose fill cellulose above the ceiling. I don't anticipate freezing problems.

Any suggestions, especially from those of you with construction and plumbing backgrounds? I'll be much obliged. I know it's gonna be painful work, but hey, I've been a bit bored since I completed my bathrooms (which I redid with 100% copper as well).
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Unread 11-16-2019, 10:25 PM   #2
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Moderator types may wanna move it to the Mud Box, Wolfgang, but I figger your waterpipes probably qualify under the "other things that are hard to cut and difficult to install" description of this forum, eh?

We (imperial we) have long used soft copper, typically Type L, for pressure water plumbing under our SOG construction in my part of the country, but I, for one, have long since vowed never to do that again after having to replace such copper many times under at least three of my houses and had one other customer have all her copper plumbing epoxy coated inside at great personal expense. All due to leaks. Said leaks presumed to have been caused by either poor quality copper or very harsh well water. Whatever the cause, I no longer run copper underground.

I'm curious just how you plan to run your new copper lines under your existing SOG foundation. And while use of Type K would lengthen the time required for the copper to be rotted sufficiently to start leaking, it still wouldn't eliminate the problem, best I can tell.

The customary "layout" of such new construction copper (I sleeved all mine in black polyethylene tubing) involved simply using a logical arrangement to accommodate the available length of 60-foot rolls. Yes, we would try to make the water heater the first point of the incoming line as it provided a good place for the more complex manifold required to split off all the fixture runs. Occasionally there would be runs involving more than 60 feet and those would simply be brought up into a wall where a splice could be made. No real rhyme or reason beyond that.

I have personally never had a failure in a Type L hard copper line above grade even in houses where the below grade Type L soft copper had failed more than once. Have never found an explanation for that.

As for PEX, it's currently the only way I'd put water lines under a SOG foundation. Above grade I'm still not opposed to using copper, but would still lean toward PEX for customers on individual water wells. There is a potential problem with the ID of the same nominal sizes of PEX being smaller than the ID of copper, but I have had not a single complaint from any customer for whom I've changed out copper lines for PEX. That includes service to kitchens, bathrooms, and elswhere. In one house more than 30 years old I now have the kitchen served by nominal 1/2" PEX where it was previously served by 3/4" copper. Still no complaint about insufficient water supply. And PEX has the further advantage of being available in any length needed. Common today to mount a large manifold in a garage or storage area and run homeruns to each fixture in the house. No individual manifolds in the walls at all and you can put individual shutoff valves for each of those homeruns at the primary manifold. I quit building before I ever got to do one of those, though.

All that to say, "Do what you wanna do," but I wouldn't run copper of any thickness under a SOG foundation for any reason in my area. Your mileage may vary.

Does cost a few hundred bucks for the special crimping tools, which seem to be unique to each manufacturer, and the fittings can seem a bit pricey. I think I got each set of tools (two different PEX brands) for about 300 dollars and the learning curve is not real steep. Does require some attention to detail, but no more than sweating copper. Requires a bit more planning of joint placement, too, in my experience. I can sometimes solder in places where I cannot crimp a PEX fitting. Mostly it just requires a little different mindset.

Another advertised advantage of PEX is that it is more freeze tolerant than copper. I have thus far only ever seen one PEX pipe split from freezing and that pipe was fully exposed in one of my own shops. All the replacement PEX I have installed in customer attics under the attic insulation has done fine for the past 15 years or so. Gets a bit colder in your area than in mine, though.

I'll be curious to hear other opinions from other parts of the country.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 07:06 AM   #3
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Following up on CX nicely detailed post of the pro/con of PEX versus copper; if you want the simplicity of straight lines and no crimp fitting, you should consider CPVC. PEX and CPVC are easier than copper with a much higher freeze tolerance and without the hazard involved with sweating pipe.

For a new large scale job like yours I’d avoid copper and even when using copper I would never pay for K type thickness unless required for a specific application. Most plumbers using M type so L is already an upgrade.

Having said that, I’m currently using L type copper for a large addition because a significant portion is supply lines for ten old school type radiators which require piping with oxygen barrier (and copper is much easier than either iron or PEX-AL-PEX).

Because of the scale of the project and and my increasing aversion to sweating pipe I recently purchased a Ridgid ProPress system which can do piping up to 1-1/4” inch. The tool uses Viega fittings (or equivalent) to create no heat joints in about 30 seconds including reaming, cleaning and two crimps. Much better time per than the 3-5 minutes (sometimes longer) it typically takes to clean and the fitting joists, flux and sweat the pipe. Best parts are no more burns and works perfectly fine even on wet pipe both of which always been a PITA for me when sweating.

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As a ending note; the Sharkbite brand PEX crimper is about $100 at Home-Depot and has worked well for me the few times I’ve had need for it.

Last edited by PC7060; 11-17-2019 at 07:14 AM.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 07:31 AM   #4
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Hi Wolfgang. Sounds like you’re a real glutton for punishment. I’d have to agree with Cx on not going unprotected copper within a slab, especially new concrete. Cement is very alkaline and will gradually react with the copper. True, a thicker, harder copper will be more resistant, but eventually chemistry will win. Depends on how many years you’ll be there. I’m old and will probably spend my last days in this house, and the last thing I want to be doing when I’m 90 is replacing pipes (well maybe not the “last” thing, but it’s on the list).
We were on a well here and had a copper run from the well head to the house and all copper inside. When we went to municipal water the inground pipe was thinned out on the inside from the acidic water and on the outside from reactivity with the soil. Lots of pin holes. I always wondered why the pump ran so much. The new waterline is the black poly. No complaints so far.
When I did the bathroom remodel, I went with PEX for most of the lines except for copper inside the walls or in inaccessible spots. I used the stainless crimp clamps and was concerned about leaks where the PEX joined the copper so all the clamps are accessible. Haven’t had any issues with leaks or clamp failures, but I tend to worry about stuff. The clamps and the tool were not a big expense.
One thing I did notice (I was new to PEX at the time) was some brands of PEX left a smell to the water for quite some time (the white Sharkbite did - not so much the red/blue stuff from the local box store).
Since we’d been on a well for many decades, I know there’s a high risk of pinhole leaks in the remaining copper in the walls over the coming years. I installed a water monitoring system on the main that measures flow rates and turns of the water to the house if an unusual water use pattern shows up. Part of my paranoia I guess.
So going buried copper is your choice, but it would keep me up at night; knowing it’s just waiting to get me.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 08:18 AM   #5
makethatkerdistick
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Thanks ALL for their detailed advice.

However, just to make one thing clear (which I said in my post):
I want to repipe THROUGH THE ATTIC, NOT IN THE SLAB!
I think you misread my post.

The only run underground would be from the meter to the house. The whole run is about 40 feet. And only two feet max. would be buried under the slab until I can reach a spot in an interior wall to send the main line up into the attic. As CX mentioned, I plan to sleeve that section for extra protection.

Also, I am on municipal ground water with a slightly alkaline pH of 8. I've read that unless your pH goes lower than 6.5, this will not eat out copper from the inside.

I've read extensively on PEX. What I don't like is the potential leaching over decades for which extensive data is missing (but we know it actually happens). If you dig deeper into PEX, you'll also see it's not the perfect tubing that it's made out to be, either. For example, it's susceptible to the effects of chlorine in the water etc. I've also heard of pinhole leaks with PEX. Plus, in an attic it could be gnawed up by a rodent (if such creature ever managed to get up there). I really hate the flimsy nature of PEX, too. If there were lots of examples around of PEX lines holding up after 50+ years, I'd be more inclined. Plastics usually get brittle after decades. Maybe PEX is an exception? Hot water is hard on such piping (or any piping for that matter).

CPVC is out of the question. There are lots of horror stories out there, most notably of hot water runs getting brittle and failing prematurely.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 09:29 AM   #6
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Duh! Through the attic- missed read that part. You should be fine with copper in that case so long as it doesn’t get be freezing temperatures up in there. Same with heat; otherwise your cold water will be warm all day in the summer.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 09:31 AM   #7
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Not sure how I missed that part about your new plumbing being in the attic, Wolfgang, but the edited bold print certainly helps.

For such installation I'd be even more inclined to use a PEX-Al-PEX tubing rather than copper. I've never used Type K copper in that application and don't really know if it fares better in freeze/thaw situations than does Type L copper, but I have tested one brand of PEX-Al-PEX tubing (Kitec) against Type L copper for freeze damage and found that it definitely seems to give at least a small margin of extra protection. When I lived many years in your area of the globe, back before I started building houses for a living, I've had water lines freeze and rupture in exterior walls. Would more carefully installed insulation have prevented that? Maybe, but if I could have had something even a little better able to resist the problem I would have chosen to do so.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfgang
I really hate the flimsy nature of PEX, too.
I can understand that feeling, but the PEX-Al-PEX versions are far more robust than the single-wall PEX tubing. I've used some of the single-wall stuff in the interior walls of one major remodel and several repairs, though, and found it to be pretty easy to get used to. None of those applications is more than about 6 years old so no long-term durability results available.

All I can tell you is my experience with the various products. My plumber since 1985 has switched to PEX for nearly all his new-construction and many of his repairs. He (and therefore I) started using the Kitec on and off back before the recall (2005?) and to date I know of no failures due to the product itself. And no customer complaints about either the Kitec or the current Viega brand that I'm aware of. Again, your mileage may vary, but I'd be recommending Viega PEX-Al-PEX for at least all your runs in or near unconditioned space. Solder a male adapter to your copper and crimp a female adapter to your PEX to connect the two and you're on your way.

[Edit] Jeff, he definitely gets freezing temperatures "up in there."

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 10:04 AM   #8
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CX, by "that area of the globe" do you mean North Texas? If so, where did you live? I am about 15 miles from the Oklahoma border and about 60 miles north of downtown Dallas.

Yes, we occasionally see temperatures dip into the mid twenties, but only for a short time. Extended hard freezes are extremely rare. I have R-60 worth of cellulose attic insulation up there. Plus, I'll put pipe insulation around all my runs. Regardless, those pipes will be buried in insulation with the heat from the ceiling below just inches away. I just can't see freeze damage happen with the house interior temperature never falling below 65 deg. at night.

CX, you're right. I don't think that type K will give freeze protection with water in it. I wouldn't want to test it.

All my hose bibs are the deep-seated valve variety. Even now, with the pipe coming out of the foundation just an inches away from the exterior, I've never had freeze problems. I anticipate being able to run piping in exterior wall such that I can ensure freeze protection. I put closed-cell foam between the pipe and the exterior wall sheathing whereas I leave a little cavity between pipe and the interior drywall, allowing for heat transfer.

I am not too concerned about freezing. If I were, say, in Michigan, I would be, though.

Jeff, yes, the heat problem in the summer! I suppose it'd be a problem with any type of piping even though the copper has more thermal mass, of course. This will be mitigated by my reflective white roof which keeps attic temps close to ambient outdoor temperatures, actually. But yes, this is the biggest downside to attic replumbing.

Let me let you in on a little secret here... I've already ordered all the the type K hard pipe I need, 240 ft of 1/2 in and 200 ft of 3/4 in. Cost me just shy of $1000. Really not too bad. I could have saved $300 for type L but the type K was worth the extra cost for me. It's a negligible upcharge for the extra wall thickness you get in my opinion.

I really love the workmanship aspect of a good copper installation. It looks pleasing. I know I'll suffer for it in terms of time spent installing it. But you gotta enjoy the process and embrace it, right?

I personally have never seen a sweat connection installed inside a house that leaked. Usually, they last decades. It's so simple and so durable. Plus, to me water from copper pipes just tastes "good."

CX, I had heard about that aluminum core PEX. Thanks for bringing it up. I suppose that would be a good rodent deterrent. I think if my copper plans were not viable, that'd be the default material I'd use.

Jeff, yes, gluttons for punishment we are!
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Unread 11-17-2019, 10:10 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfgang
I suppose that would be a good rodent deterrent.
I doubt that, Wolfgang. The aluminum is so very thin that I don't think any self-respecting rodent would even notice it as he chewed through.

Not that I've ever heard of rodents chewing on PEX tubing at all, but I certainly don't doubt that it could happen.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 01:44 PM   #10
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CX, a few years ago on this very forum, okay, maybe 10 years ago, we had a contractor that had problems with rodents chewing thru pex. He said that the mice would try to get from the attic to the walls by going thru the hole he had drilled thru the top plate. If it was too tight to go thru, the mouse would chew the pex causing a leak. The main reason I remember this is because he said that he eliminated the problem by drilling two holes, one for the pipe and one for the mouse. The mouse will leave the pex alone if given his own hole to travel. Anyway, that's what the contractor said.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 03:39 PM   #11
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The plumber I worked with would build a box around the pipes and fill it with insulation. Secure the top with screws so it can be accessed later. That'll keep the heat in, keep the insulation from getting knocked off the pipes, and keep someone from stepping on the pipes.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 06:06 PM   #12
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Davy, that mouse hole is a funny story. If the guy was serious about it, then I am not sure I'd want a thermal leak in my top wall plate. Sealing all wall penetrations in the attic has considerably improved heating and cooling costs at my house. It all adds up.

Kevin, that's a good tip. Might not be able to do it easily as I will be running pipe by other stuff in the way or parallel to other service lines (electricity, gas).

Not as sturdy as Kevin's idea, but I might build cover boxes from sheets of 3/4 in foam and put them on top. Currently, my favorite option is good pipe insulation. Supplyhouse.com has a fair selection of all thicknesses. I doubt they'd ever come off.

I looked at some old piping previously leading to a shower and sink. I took the joints apart and was suprised that the material was in great shape with no diminished wall thickness or noticeable corrosion. On the outside, however, the typical green corrosion around the joints from not wiping off flux. Whoever did this job, was sloppy and lazy. Still, I am impressed that these have been holding up so well.
Then, again, under the slab the scenario could be very different. Impossible to tell!

With a water bill between $50 and $80 a month and no high-flow demands (all of our shower heads are water savers), I decided that I don't need to go larger than 3/4 in for the main supply line. 3/4 in has been serving us just fine. I think it can safely deliver up to 11ish gallons per minute. Doubt that this situation would occur much at all.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 06:58 PM   #13
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I've never installed a water service line larger than 3/4" copper to any house I've built, Wolfgang, be it individual water well or municipal service. My plumber likes to increase that to 1" when using PEX, but I don't think even that would be necessary on most residential construction. 'Course I've never built one of those 10,000 square foot+ houses, either.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 11:23 PM   #14
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For what it’s worth, I’ve been learning to size residential plumbing systems lately. While your house configuration/pressure/elevation changes probably varies from what I’m working with, code around these parts would typically have us start with 1”. But it usually drops to 3/4” after at least one hose bib is piped.

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Unread 11-18-2019, 08:22 AM   #15
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FYI, my house has its own well and 1in pipe feeding the pressure tank and water softener. The water heater is 3/4in and 2 of the three showers are fed with 3/4 and the shower valves are also 3/4in.

3/4in for incoming water seems small for any modern, single family home.

For reference:

http://www.balkanplumbing.com/requir...ply-line-size/
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