When something goes wrong with plumbing in your house, the “fixer” can be at your door within a couple of hours. But when you discover a leak in your plumbing, it’s that not simple.
Not too many plumbers make RV house calls. Whether you’re on the road as a snowbird or find a problem while prepping your RV for spring, getting a repair done at a service facility could mean days, even weeks, just waiting for an appointment. That’s an untenable situation, especially for snowbirds.
In many cases, a break or leak in an RV water supply line is often a literal snap to repair. That’s because the water lines in most RVs are plastic “PEX” pipe. They are not buried inside walls and are usually accessible for easy repair. PEX stands for cross-linked polyethylene.
Typically, this pipe is connected using a special tool and metal fittings that can complicate the fixing procedure for RVers. The good news is you can skip the tool altogether. Instead, use a variety of plastic fittings, some of which snap the stuff together, making repairs quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive.
What is PEX tubing for the plumbing in my RV?
PEX tubing in homes is color-coded for hot and cold. In RVs, manufacturers typically use translucent non-colored PEX for all plumbing runs. Further, two sizes are used, 3/8-inch and ½-inch. These are the standard size because the outside diameter of the tubing is about 1/8-inch greater than the called-for size. Also, PEX is inexpensive. At one hardware store bulk 3/8-inch may set you back 50 cents/foot.
Additionally, PEX is ideal for both cold and hot water (some up to 200 degrees) plumbing. Typically, the rating is on the tubing itself. Chlorinated water is not an issue in terms of tubing or health safety.
What tools do I need?
While working on water lines, you just need a tool to cut the PEX tubing itself. You can use a utility knife, but a tubing cutter designed for PEX ensures a clean, even edge.
This is also a requirement for a leak-proof connection. These cutters are less than $10. I usually go with a PVC pipe cutter, which makes a clean edge and can be used on PVC pipe as well.
Fittings that are required
When you need to change out your water lines, there are a variety of different fittings available. They range from simple couplers that allow you to fix a break to tees that are for jobs when adding a new run.
Others include adapters that allow you to shift from one size of tubing to another. Want to add a shut-off valve to turn the water off to your toilet (or whatever) without shutting down the whole RV supply? There are fittings for that, too. Here are a couple of styles particularly useful to RVers when it comes to plumbing:
- Plastic compression fittings: A brand found in many hardware stores is Flair-It. These are relatively inexpensive. We bought a 3/8-inch tee fitting in a small-town hardware store, but you can also find them on Amazon. Simply, cut the tubing squarely and ensure there aren’t any burrs on the tube. Unscrew the nut from the fitting, and slide it back over the tubing. Now, push the tubing over the fitting flare, rocking it back and forth until it comes to a full stop against the fitting. Then, tighten the nut by hand until secure. Need to take it apart? Just reverse the order of assembly instructions.
So, what are advantages of this? They are less expensive than quick-connect fittings. However, the disadvantages are when you are working in a cramped area. It can be a bit difficult to maneuver your hands in place to shove the tubing onto the fitting and to tighten the nut.
- Quick-Connect fittings: Made by Watts, these are a little more costly. A 3/8-inch coupler for joining two pieces of tubing is around $4.00. Using these fittings in a cramped area is much easier. Again, cut the tubing square and check for burrs. Slide the included “tube stiffener” into the end of the tubing until there’s resistance. Now, keep pushing until the tubing comes to a complete stop. Finish the job by inserting the included collet clip on the joint.
To take this connector apart, remove the collet clip. Then, push the collet firmly against the tubing face and pull the tubing out of the fitting.
Aside from an easier fix in a cramped space, there’s less water flow impediment in this design, as opposed to the plastic compression style. Both insert material into the flow, but the tube stiffener appears to block less water flow.
Additionally, the Watts fittings allow you to attach to a host of other plumbing materials, including copper and CPVC. What’s more is the quick-connect fittings and the plastic compression fittings will connect directly to polybutylene tubing.
You may find other brands of quick-connect fittings to meet your needs as well. Some of the larger stores sell other brands of fittings, and of course, price comparing is the order of the day.