|Understanding and Installing Manufactured Housing Waterlines|
Sun 03/18/07 11:30:52 am
by Mark Bower
Plumbing in a manufactured home can be quite different than plumbing in
a site-built home. In fact different enough that plumbers in many areas
will not work on mobile homes. Why? Some plumbers don't like to work on
the new plastic waterlines. Others don't like the fact that things such as
tub faucets and drains aren't standard. Another reason is just plain
laziness -- too much work to crawl under a home to get at a waterline.
There is also, "You just never know what kind of plumbing mess I'll find,
so why mess with it at all?"
Today's plumbing in manufactured
homes can be described as on the cutting-edge of technology.' Because
codes for site-built houses are strict and hard to change, mobile-home
manufacturers are often the first to test new technology. Thanks to mobile
home manufacturers, this country is now seeing a shift towards plastic
waterlines -- more specifically, a shift to cross-linked polyethylene
Working with plastic waterlines is very simple, easy and fast. So why
would plumbers scoff at that? One reason is that in many areas, codes for
site-built homes have changed very little over the years. This has given
many plumbers a good reason for not wanting to learn anything new. In
fact, those same plumbers probably despise the new technology; therefore,
they refuse to work on mobile homes.
If your having trouble
finding someone to work on your plumbing and you don't want to attempt it
yourself, try contacting a manufactured home repair company instead of a
In the past
many mobile homes were built using galvanized pipe or copper for
waterlines. If you have an older mobile home, most likely you have the
metal galvanized pipes. Today, galvanized pipe has become the headache of
the industry as it tends to corrode shut. Galvanized pipes are no longer
used for waterlines, and homeowners who have galvanized will experience
loss of water pressure or rust particles in their water due to the
corrosion in the pipes. The only solution to that problem is to replace
Copper, on the other hand, is still occasionally used but
has become quite expensive and much more time consuming to install.
Although copper waterlines will not corrode, cold weather can be deadly on
them. If it freezes, copper either bursts or expands so no fittings will
fit, making repairs about impossible. Plus, both products are difficult
for the average homeowner to work with. This gave life to another
alternative -- plastic waterlines.
At first the most popular
plastic waterline was polybutylene, a flexible gray or black-colored
plastic waterline. In the late eighty's and mid nineteen-ninety's, many of
the plastic fittings (right picture) that were used to connect
polybutylene tubing were substandard; they would become brittle, crack and
break. A class-action suit resulted and today polybutylene is no longer
Anytime work is being done and plastic fittings are discovered, they
should be removed. Brass or copper fittings are used today with the pex
waterlines, polybutylene's suitable replacement. PEX
Between pex and
CPVC (hard rigid plastic) waterlines, pex provides the most resistance
against corrosion and has an ability to “remember” its shape. That feature
helps prevent the pipe from bursting under extreme conditions such as
freezing. CPVC, copper and pex are waterlines available on the market
today, and pex is by far the more superior. Both pex and CPVC products
withstand heat very well. One advantage of CPVC is that it can be glued
(solvent welded) which requires no tools for assembly. But like copper, it
cannot withstand freezing without damage. At the current time CPVC is
probably the most widely available, but pex is rapidly making its way onto
retailers shelves. When choosing your new waterline, consider using pex
and investing in the crimping tools necessary to do the job.
you want to know how to work with CPVC, copper or any other type of
waterline, numerous books are available. The rest of this chapter will be
devoted to working with pex.
No matter what type of waterlines
(galvanized, copper, black, polybutylene, cpvc, pex) your mobile home
currently has, you can easily repair leaks or do other plumbing projects
by using materials available at your home improvement center or hardware
store. For instance, several companies have available universal
compression-type fittings and couplings designed to easily connect
together about any type of waterline using only basic tools.
all homes have two sizes of waterlines -- ½ inch and ¾ inch (inside
diameter). ¾ inch waterlines are generally only used as the main waterline
leading in and out of the water heater. ½ inch is generally used
everywhere else in the home. One exception may be the risers leading to
the toilets or sinks which sometimes are 3/8 or 1/4 inch.
Today pex waterlines are pretty much the standard in the manufactured
home industry. In many areas pex is also the plumbers choice for new
conventionally-built houses. Probably the only turn-off with pex is that
it is installed with crimp rings which require a special crimping tool.
Not that long ago a crimping tool sold for over $150. Thanks to the
popularity of pex, crimpers now sell for well under $100 and the costs
will continue to fall. Investing in a pair of crimpers is a wise decision
for anyone considering tackling their own plumbing. You could save 1 or 2
calls to a plumber and the tool would be paid for (and your neighbors
would appreciate borrowing them!) You could delay the purchase of a
crimper by skipping the rings and using compression fittings, the only
other way to connect pex waterlines. But compression fittings aren't as
secure as crimped fittings and the damage you could get from a blown
compression fitting would pay for a whole box of crimping tools. The above
picture shows a pex crimper, pex cutter, go/no go gauge (page 14-4), crimp
rings and a few of the available insert fittings.
PEX to Polybutylene
As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, pex is polybutylene's
replacement. Once only available in clear or white, pex can now be found
in a variety of colors including red, blue, white and clear. Because so
many manufactured homes still contain the gray polybutylene, repairs are
still necessary. Since parts for polybutylene systems are no longer
available, repairs have to be made using pex. The repairs are simple, you
just have to remember that anytime you connect pex to polybutylene, you
need a pex to polybutylene' adapter (pictured right) available anywhere
pex fittings are sold. In the adapter kit, the gold ring is used on the
gray polybutylene line and the black ring is used on the white pex line.
Besides being a different diameter, the polybutylene side of the fitting
contains a lot more rings than the pex side. Do not use a regular pex to
pex' coupler as the inside diameter of polybutylene is larger.
the photo to the right, the top coupler is a pex to pex' adapter. The
bottom coupler is a pex to polybutylene' adapter. On the right side of
the pex to polybutylene adapter is the polybutylene connection. Notice how
its thicker and the ring spacing is tighter.
If you have a leak in the middle of a gray
polybutylene waterline, cut out the leak and install a piece of pex with a
pex to polybutylene adapter on each end.
Figuring out how to do
plumbing in your home using pex isn't rocket science. Notice that
everything is connected using fittings with rings. For instance, if you
need to add a line to install an outdoor faucet (previous chapter), you
simply cut in half an existing cold waterline and slip in a tee. A tee is
the fitting used when a waterline needs to branch off of another. Then
slip a ring over the end of each waterline that connects to the tee and
crimp. Unlike trying to solder copper or glue CPVC, the beauty of using
pex is that the pipes can be wet or still dripping and a successful crimp
can still be easily made. How much easier can it get!
|Installing New Waterlines |
As mentioned earlier, if you've got the old metal galvanized
pipes, you're probably experiencing loss of water pressure and
occasional chunks of rust coming through your waterlines. The only
way to repair it is to replace it. Making a crimp
When installing new pex
lines, never worry about removing the old waterlines. If they aren't
in the way, let them lie.
The toughest part of replacing
waterlines is working underneath the home in cramped space. But
before you start doing the back stroke, be sure you understand how
your home's plumbing system functions. Basically, there's not much
to understand. In fact it can all be summed up in one paragraph.
The ¾” main waterline comes into the house by the water
heater and makes a tee. One side of the tee goes into the hot water
heater which then feeds all the ½” hot waterlines. The other side of
the tee feeds all the ½” cold waterlines. Congratulations! Go pick
up your diploma as you just passed Plumbing 101.
Manufactured homes are built to a
HUD code. Homes built to a UBC or any other code have stricter
plumbing requirements. In most areas pex waterlines are acceptable
but all fittings have to be accessible. In other words, connections
cannot be made inside walls or underneath floors as they typically
are in a manufactured home.
For pex to meet codes under
those conditions, manifolds are used. Think of a manifold as a hot
and cold control panel. The hot side of your main line would flow
into the hot control panel. The cold side would flow into the cold
control panel. A separate waterline would run from the control panel
to each fixture in house. For instance, in your bathroom three ½”
cold waterlines would run from the cold panel to your bathroom sink,
tub and toilet. To accomplish that and meet code, each waterline
would need to be one long piece with no hidden fittings connecting
additional pieces of waterline. The beauty of this system is that
you wouldn't need to install shut-off valves at each fixture, but
rather simply turn off the valve for that line at the manifold.
Depending upon your area, your waterlines may need to be inspected
by a building inspector. Find out before starting any major work. If
your area is like most, building inspectors don't require mobile
homes to meet any code but HUD.
Step 1 – Using a pipe cutter, make a square cut. Remove any burrs
or jagged edges.
Step 2 – Slide the correct-sized crimp ring over the end of the
Step 3 – Insert the fitting into the pipe until it hits the
shoulder. The ring should be positioned 1/8 to ¼” from the end of
the pipe. If you encounter difficulty with keeping the ring in place
until crimped, gently squeeze the ring using a pliers. Do not
oversqueeze with the pliers or you may not be able to get the
cimping tool over the ring.
Step 4 – With a properly calibrated crimper, squarely center the
jaws over the ring and squeeze the handle one time. If crimped more
than once, the connection must be cut out and redone.
Step 5 – Remove crimper and check the ring using a GO/NO-GO
gauge. A GO/NO-GO gauge will tell you if you've made a proper crimp.
For each size of pipe the gauge will have two slots. The GO slot
will slip over the ring, the NO-GO slot will not. If both slots (or
neither slot) slip over the ring, then the connection must be cut
out and redone once the crimper has been recalibrated. To
recalibrate a crimper, one screw loosens and the other adjusts.
Since all brands of crimpers adjust a bit differently, refer to your
manual for more details
|Tips: When installing new waterlines,
here are some tips for making the job easier. |
A) Purchase pex waterline in 20' sticks or lay out rolls
several days ahead of time. Straight sticks are a lot easier
to feed through the belly than rolls of pex that won't lay
B) Help feed long lines of pex through the belly
by occasionally cutting an 8” slit in the belly and using your
hand to help feed it along. Patch the belly once the line has
reached its destination and has been tested for leaks.
Run both the hot and cold lines together. Tape them together
at the ends.
D) Before feeding the hot and cold lines into
the belly, label the cold line by wrapping a piece of black
electrical tape on it every 5 feet or so.
E) Never use a
crimp ring that isn't quite round.
F) Check the
calibration of a crimping tool before each project. Check by
crimping a ring on a scrap piece of waterline and checking
with the GO/NO-GO gauge.
G) When installing a copper to
pex adapter, solder the adapter to the copper before crimping
on the pex.
H) Properly support the pipe on long open runs
with fasteners every couple feet. Automatic fasteners make the
job a cinch as they work somewhat like a staple gun.
not expose pex pipe to UV light (sun) for more than 24 months.
J) When running new lines, leave some slack for any future
K) But any polybutylene waterline left in
your home in most cases will function properly if the plastic
fittings are removed and the pipe is kept straight.
Polybutylene with sharp bends in time will crack and leak.
Mark Bower owns Aberdeen Mobile Home
Repair and is the author of "The Manual for Manufactured/Mobile Home Repair and
Upgrade" available on this website.
The Manual for
Manufactured Home Repair & Upgrade
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Mark Bower can be reached at [email protected]
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