PEX Piping vs. Copper Piping
If you are like the rest of us homeowners, there is a good chance that you don't know which plumbing pipe is better. You may not even know what a PEX pipe is. Relax; not many of us do. We're not plumbers, but maybe it's time to increase our knowledge so that we know what we are getting and whether it is something we truly want. Once you're familiar with the basics, you'll feel more comfortable to find a professional plumber for your piping needs.
What is PEX Piping?
PEX piping is a short way to say "cross-linked polyethylene pipe." The polyethylene material is processed so that it becomes resistant to:
- extreme temperatures (hot or cold)
- creep deformation from long-term exposure to stress
- chemical attack from acids, alkalis and the like
All this makes PEX an excellent piping material for hot and cold water systems, especially since it is flexible and well adapted for temperatures below freezing all the way up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. PEX is easy for plumbers to install and has fewer joints, bringing your costs down.
About Copper Piping
Copper piping, which has been around for decades, is durable and flexible, making it easy to install -- especially compared to iron pipes. Copper piping also provides a bio-static environment, where it's difficult for bacteria to grow, an important health consideration.
Copper also resists corrosion and unlike PEX, is unaffected by ultraviolet rays, meaning it can be used outdoors. However, copper can corrode due if the water is too acidic. Some copper may leach into the pipes, although there are measures available to limit this.
Advantages of PEX
- Adaptable and easy-to-use plumbing system
- Can be used with hot and cold water
- Can also be used with metal and PVC piping
- Has fewer fittings, making it faster to install and with less of a chance to leak
- Is more burst-resistant due to its flexibility to expand and contract
- Has a shutoff valve at each supply line, making it more convenient when you need plumbing repairs
- Can have a pressure balanced system
- May be bent around most corners and usually won't need a coupling or fitting
Disadvantages of PEX
- Cannot be used outside
- Cannot be recycled, due to its shorter lifespan
- Provides an impermeable membrane that may allow the possibility of water contamination
- May be damaged if left outside for a long period of time
Advantages of Copper
- Durable and flexible, making it easy to install
- Safer in natural disasters
- Weather and bacteria-resistant
- Resists corrosion, more so than other metals
- Unaffected by ultraviolet rays, so it can be used outside
- Does not release toxic gases in a fire because it resists burning
- In earthquakes, the slightly elastic pipes flex so that they don't snap
- Is recyclable, making it a more sound environmental choice
Disadvantages of Copper Piping
- Can corrode
- Has become expensive
- With higher levels of copper from corrosion, water can have a metallic taste
- Copper can freeze and break during cold water
We Asked Plumbers: What do you think about PEX vs copper piping?
Master Plumber Rick Marquette answered: "There really is no comparison. I like my copper pipe because with PEX pipe, you have to have the right tools. It's convenient if you have all the tools...and that really matters when on a job site. I find copper easier to install because of this, and that is the main difference."
Carol Jones replied: "It [PEX] is obviously superior, and easy to install. Copper will break, and then there are all the elbows that must be installed. Every spring, with copper, I have breaks from the cold winters. The polyethylene pipe (PEX) will give a little, so it's not as likely to break as copper. PEX is faster and easier to install and it is easier to drain the system since each line is independent to the incoming source of water. You can turn off each segment. Copper runs all together and is a lot harder to install since you have to know how to solder, and not everyone knows how. With PEX, the only thing you have to do is buy the expensive crimper, which pays off after having to have the copper fixed every spring because of breakage. PEX is more for do-it-yourselfers and it isn't hard to splice, plus it is cheaper to install."
Updated December 4, 2017.