Why PEX Based Multipurpose Residential Sprinkler Systems Outperform Standalone CPVC Designs (2023)

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Why PEX-based multipurpose residential sprinkler systems outperform standalone CPVC designs

Known for its durability and builder-friendly efficiency, PEX pipe is installed in more than half of all new homes in the United States. As the IRC mandate for residential sprinkler systems approaches, contractors and installers are increasingly turning to PEX for site flexibility, installation efficiency, cost effectiveness and overall system reliability.

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As states consider passing the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC), which will require the installation of sprinkler systems in new homes built after January 1, 2011, builders and installers are stepping up their search for the most cost-effective fire suppression systems. and efficient. protection solution.

Many are turning to today's most affordable and reliable lifesaving technology: PEX-based multipurpose sprinkler systems. PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) is already a mainstay in new home construction, being used in nearly three times as many homes as rigid CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride).

Unlike self-contained sprinkler systems designed for commercial use that rely on rigid CPVC or metal pipe, PEX-based multipurpose systems combine the chilled water lines and sprinklers into a single, efficient system. As a result, a redundant piping system is eliminated, reducing material, labor and site planning costs, saving 35 to 65 percent in installation time over rigid, free-standing CPVC systems.1

In fact, installation costs for new multipurpose sprinkler systems average $0.57 per square foot less than traditional stand-alone systems.2That's a savings of $1,368 for a 2,400-square-foot home.

“The multifunctional systems are specifically designed to meet the needs of residential construction and the family lifestyle,” said Jayson Drake, Senior Product Manager, Plumbing and Fire Safety, Uponor North America. "Unfortunately, many installers cling to outdated commercial methods and miss out on the efficiency that home multifunction devices provide."

Studies show that PEX-based multipurpose sprinkler systems have "the lowest installation costs and the lowest ongoing maintenance."3for the owner of the house. However, lower cost is just one of the many factors behind the popularity of PEX-based general purpose flexible systems.


What is perhaps the biggest advantage of all for builders is that a multipurpose system only requires one subcontractor to do the work – usually the plumber who is already on site. This seasoned professional, usually a home construction veteran, is the one who combines the plumbing and sprinkler system into a single piping solution.

"Our existing plumber was able to install both systems at the same time, eliminating the need and expense of a separate sprinkler contractor," said Emil Wanatka, president of Durango, Colorado-based Timberline Builders, which specializes in residential development. “Anytime you can eliminate a trade, it helps the bottom line. There are always conflicts over planning, training contractors for your floor plans, and overall site harmony. In our case, when it comes to surrogates, less is definitely more.”

The reasons why PEX pipes outperform CPVC pipes are in the materials themselves:

  • More flexibility = less connections + less noise:PEX's flexibility allows installers to make changes in direction without the use of fittings - something not possible with rigid CPVC pipe. For example, ¾ inch PEX-a tubing4offers a 5¼ inch bend radius. As a result, PEX can be easily bent around corners and obstacles, saving up to half the gaskets required for rigid pipe. In other words, an actual design comparison with CPVC found that PEX can reduce potential leaks and resulting water damage in a home by 50%.

    Another benefit is that because water flows more quietly through PEX piping, it eliminates the “waterhammer” noise associated with rigid piping systems. Also, PEX does not amplify sound as easily as rigid tube.

  • Shape memory allows tight connections:Plumbers also appreciate the thermal shape memory of PEX-a tubes. This unique property allows installers to create tight, leak-proof connections without the use of potentially hazardous torches, toxic cements and solvents, or gauges.

    To make a connection, the installer uses a simple tool to expand the hose, which quickly shrinks around the connection to ensure a solid, watertight connection. Installers and inspectors can easily visually distinguish between complete and incomplete connections. In fact, these connections get stronger over time and can withstand 1,000 pounds of tensile stress.

    Contrast this with the common installation practice of "dry paving" or pre-assembling a CPVC system before actually grouting the joints. It can be difficult to determine whether these joints have been properly cemented. So if a plumber forgets to come back and apply cement to a dry-installed joint, the incomplete joint can result in an expensive leak... sometimes long after the house is finished. And the plumber must also be very careful to apply just the right amount of cement to each joint: too much can soften the inside of the pipe and cause it to break, while too little cement can leave gaps in the joint, also leading to costly leaks.

    In short, a PEX-based system is easier, faster and safer to install than CPVC and consistently results in stronger, more reliable connections.


In addition to the installation flexibility, watertight connections, and cost savings that homeowners and contractors enjoy from multi-purpose sprinkler systems, many law enforcement agencies and homeowners prefer multi-purpose designs for their reliability.

  • Easy verifiability:With multifunctional systems, homeowners cannot accidentally and unknowingly turn off their home's fire protection. With a stand-alone sprinkler system, the system can be turned off – for example, to perform routine maintenance – and forgotten about.

    "If the shower or bathroom works, the multipurpose sprinkler system works," says Drake, who notes that stand-alone systems don't have similar "verification" other than through annual maintenance inspections. "The most common reason for a sprinkler system to fail is when the water is cut off - a situation that is readily apparent on a multifunctional system."

    After installation, multipurpose PEX contractors typically use compressed air to check for leaks and verify system operation by measuring the actual volume of water at the specified flow rate (typically 15 to 18 gallons per minute).

    “Autonomous CPVC system installers typically don't do either of these simple tests,” says Drake, noting that Uponor requires both tests. “CPVC manufacturers do not recommend air testing because the material can break down and explode. I find it reprehensible when a contractor completes the installation of a lifesaving sprinkler system without performing a flow test to ensure the system is working as designed."

  • No antifreeze required:Multifunctional sprinkler systems do not use antifreeze solutions, even in the coldest of climates. Because standalone systems contain standing water, installers typically use antifreeze mixtures to ensure proper operation in cold weather. If improperly mixed, these solutions can even accelerate a fire and even cause explosions. Flammability concerns following a recent fatal incident led the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards Board to issue a safety advisory regarding the use of antifreeze:

    "For now, and pending further action from the NFPA consensus standards committees, NFPA sprinkler standards prohibit the use of antifreeze in new residential sprinkler systems."

  • Excellent frost resistance:The warmth of a heated interior and the correct insulation should allow PEX and CPVC systems to function as intended, even in colder regions of the country. But what happens when a severe winter storm cuts the electricity for too long?

    For example, a six-month-old home in Washington state lost power in 2009 and went without heat for four days, causing water in freestanding CPVC irrigation pipes to freeze and then rupture.

    It isPEX piping systemin the same house, however, he did not suffer stress fractures. This is because flexible PEX tubing is more resistant to freezing and can expand when frozen and return to its normal size when thawed - without breaking. The superior resilience of PEX makes behind-wall freeze fracture much less likely than rigid CPVC pipe.

    It should also be noted that CPVC is susceptible to environmental stress cracking when in contact with certain common building materials, such as leak detectors, thread sealants, pipe coatings, lubricants (e.g., WD-40®), and gaskets. general use. This cracking, which can occur regardless of the home temperature, can lead to leaks and ultimately system failure.


Another important difference between multipurpose and traditional self-contained sprinkler systems is that the latter require a separate disconnector, check valve and/or water meter.

Independent sprinkler systems keep toxic stagnant water out of the potable water system with check valves or backflow prevention devices, making these installations more expensive and labor intensive. To avoid contaminating a home's potable water supply, some communities (Tacoma, Washington) prefer multipurpose designs, while others (Nolensville, Tennessee) require them and do not allow stand-alone systems.

Many states, concerned about the return of contaminated water to domestic plumbing, require a set of dual check valves (DC) or reduced pressure backflow preventer (RP) valves. In addition to the costs of purchasing these additional components, they must also be regularly inspected and maintained. Likewise, the strength of any antifreeze mixture in an autonomous system requires annual checking, as antifreeze degrades over time and needs to be replaced.

In contrast, multipurpose sprinkler systems contain only potable water and therefore require fewer auxiliary devices for maintenance, inspection or breakdown. An all-in-one system is as good as it is maintenance free, except for regular visual inspections.


First used in waterworks in the 1970's, PEX piping systems quickly gained popularity due to their ease of installation and durability, allowing contractors and builders to meet tight deadlines and even tighter budgets. In recent years, PEX has proven to be a highly effective alternative to CPVC pipe in residential sprinkler systems.

For the past 15 years, PEX-based general purpose sprinkler systems have been listed in NFPA 13D, the sprinkler industry standard for installing single-family and two-family residential sprinklers. The International Residential Code (IRC) lists multipurpose residential fire protection systems in Section P2904 and recognizes compliance with NFPA 13D.

PEX-based plumbing systems have a 40-year track record of success in millions of installations in homes and businesses worldwide. One of the most tested plumbing materials on the market today, PEX has proven to be the most efficient and cost-effective material for home plumbing and sprinkler systems.

Multipurpose sprinkler systems: benefits at a glance

Contractor from a single source.A multi-purpose system only requires one subcontractor to do the work – usually the plumber who is already on site – eliminating the hassle and expense of a separate sprinkler contractor.

Watertight connections.PEX's unique shape memory allows installers to create tight, leak-proof connections without the possibility of uncemented, dry-installed connections. Additionally, the flexibility of PEX tubing reduces the number of connections and potential leak points by 50%.

Reliable performance.One of the main benefits of these interconnected multifunctional systems is reliability – homeowners cannot accidentally turn off their home's fire protection. In fact, homeowners know that water is available to their sprinklers every time they use a faucet or flush the toilet.

cost benefit.Because multifunctional systems eliminate a redundant piping system, builders reduce material and labor costs and site planning effort. These flexible systems can reduce installation time by up to 65% over standalone CPVC systems.

Low maintenance.An all-in-one system is as good as maintenance-free. In a stand-alone CPVC system, the check valve or check valve needs professional and regular maintenance, as does the antifreeze resistance. Studies show that PEX-based multipurpose sprinkler systems “have the lowest installation costs and lowest ongoing maintenance requirements for the homeowner.3

Specially designed for the living room.Unlike stand-alone sprinkler systems designed for commercial use and based on rigid CPVC or metal piping, multi-purpose fire protection systems are specifically designed to meet the needs of residential construction and a family's lifestyle.

1US-Handelsministerium and National Institute of Standards and Technology, NISTIR 7277http://www.fire.gov/newsletter/fall2006/EconAnalResidSprink.pdf

2Setembro de 2008 Research Foundation Fire Protection,http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/Research/FireSprinklerCostAssessment.pdf, p. eleven

3“Comparison of Service Options for Residential Sprinkler Systems,” Washington Water Utilities Council, October 2008, p. 16. A similar 2007 study entitled "Cost-Benefit Analysis of Residential Sprinkler Systems" by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that PEX-based general purpose sprinkler systems had the lowest service life. NISTIR 7451.http://fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/build07/PDF/b07025.pdf

4PEX-a pipe is the preferred manufacturing process for making cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) pipe as it produces the highest percentage of molecular bonding.


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