Polar vortex burst my PEX

Skill level skill3

The voice on the other end of the line said, “Uh, Mr. Pardun? This is Security.” Conversations that start out like that generally do not bring good news.

“Your water pipes have sprung a leak. We’ve shut off the water to your house.”

It was cold last week. Really cold. The polar vortex swirled down out of Canada, through the Midwest and Northeast, and froze the pipes of our beach house all the way down in coastal South Carolina. That just ain’t right.

Total exposure

Beach houses in our area are built on top of large poles to keep them above any storm surge caused by a hurricane. This means that the main water line runs totally exposed from the ground up 10 feet to the house itself. If this isn’t a prime target for freezing, I don’t know what is.

When we arrived at the house, I asked my ever-loving wife, “Molly” (not her real name),  to watch the pipes while I turned the water main back on. It’s not that I wanted her to be the one to get sprayed, of course, but I had to be the one to kneel down in the dirt to turn the valve. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

When I turned on the main, the water sprayed out of the pipe feeding the outdoor shower in Molly’s general direction a few feet away from the main water supply pipe and not the main pipe itself. This was excellent news. We could easily turn off the shower shutoff without turning off the water to the whole house.

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The water pipes are PEX, which is a type of plastic, rather than copper or some other kind of metal. PEX has several advantages over copper, including the fact that you can join pieces of it together with simple mechanical connections rather than using a blow torch to solder them together. I’ve never had good luck soldering, a.k.a. “sweating” copper. “Sweating” is probably a good term for it since whenever I would try soldering copper I would be sweating whether it would leak or not. It almost always did.

While I was trying to figure out the best way to replace the burst piece of PEX our good neighbor, Nick (his real name), came over to check on us. He was the one who had turned off the water when his wife, Gilda (also her real name), discovered the water spraying everywhere. Nick said I could borrow his crimping tool for attaching the new piece of PEX. Everyone should have a neighbor like Nick.

I had a section of PEX from when I took out the shower in the master bathroom so all I needed was to cut out the burst PEX and crimp the new piece in place.

Oddly enough, it was almost that easy.

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I used a Dremel tool with a little cutting wheel to split the old crimp rings and then pried them off.


Then I used a utility knife to split the PEX itself to get it off the connectors.


A nifty pipe cutting tool neatly cut the new piece of PEX to the right length.


I slipped two crimping rings over the PEX and slid the ends over the barbs of the connectors. All that remained was to crimp them by squeezing Nick’s crimper around them.

I turned on the water and … IT DIDN’T LEAK!

Sometimes bad turns into even better

We’ve been having trouble getting hot water and twice I turned the temperature setting up on both water heaters to no avail. If you turned on the shower with the handle all the way to hot it eventually got warm enough to get in but it never got hot. But after this Vortex-PEX incident we had hot, hot water!

What happened?

My theory is that the loss of pressure due to the burst pipe combined with the sudden increase in pressure when I turned the water back on after the repair dislodged a blockage in the hot water pipes. Let me know if you have another explanation. We’re just glad to have hot water.

Now all I have to do is figure out a way to insulate those outdoor PEX pipes so that I don’t get any more calls that start with “Uh, Mr. Pardun? This is Security ….”


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