When it comes to plumbing materials, you are typically faced with a choice between copper and PEX. In this article, we’ll explore the advantages and downsides of each material to help you make a more informed decision. It’s important to make a smart choice for your home’s plumbing system and prevent any leaking problems. Replacing and installing pipes takes a considerable amount of time and effort, not to mention the large expense. This kind of project requires careful planning so it’s best to opt for the correct type of piping that matches your needs.
Advantages of Copper Pipes
1. Longer Lifespan
Copper plumbing offers an average lifespan of around 60 years which is superior to PEX that can only last for approximately 40 years. Highly acidic water can reduce the lifespan of copper but it’s safe to say that in typical conditions this is the superior material in terms of longevity. Owners of private wells should consider testing the water quality to figure out whether copper plumbing would be a more suitable choice.
Copper is more environmentally friendly because it’s easy to be reused. Most parts of pipes and fittings built from copper in the US are derived from recycled copper. It’s also a superior choice in terms of toxicity because it doesn’t create harmful fumes in case of a fire. The extended melting point makes it better than PEX whose associated chemicals can produce toxic vapors when burnt.
Thanks to its more durable qualities, copper can last longer because it’s not as vulnerable to sunlight or rodent damage. Compared to PEX, copper tubbing performs better when facing intense water pressure and can withstand hot and cold conditions more easily.
Drawbacks of Copper Pipes
Copper pipes are typically more expensive than PEX alternatives mainly because the installation process itself poses some extra difficulties when connecting the fittings, especially considering the rigidity of copper. As opposed to the fixed cost of PEX, copper prices can fluctuate quite often making it a considerable investment in some cases.
2. Water/Energy Waste
It’s estimated that copper piping is on average more wasteful compared to PEX. It loses around 30% more water volume. The conductive properties of copper make this material likely to waste around 15% more heating energy as hot water travels through the pipes.
3. Vulnerability to Freezing
Although copper pipes are reasonably durable overall, the main weakness they have is freezing water. The piping can crack under the pressure of expanding water in extremely cold temperatures. However, this shouldn’t be a huge issue for new constructions because the vulnerability is usually countered through modern insulation techniques.
Advantages of PEX Tubing
1. Easier Installation Process
Cross-linked polyethylene or PEX is a reliable plumbing material when it comes to a simplified installation. Thanks to its superior flexibility, PEX pipes don’t require as many connections as copper. That translates to reduced labor costs. This is a convenient material choice for dealing with corners considering how it can bend around them. PEX is overall more DIY-friendly because not a lot of special equipment is needed.
2. Central Shutoff Availability
Another solid advantage of PEX tubing is the ability to connect to a central water-distribution manifold. Individual pipes can be turned off conveniently from here. Traditional copper pipes have more difficult-to-access individual valves. Cutting off the water supply for any particular fixture can become a chore whereas PEX pipes are much more practical in that sense.
Although copper can provide superior durability in some cases, PEX stands out through its more efficient kink repairability. This can be a significant advantage in terms of long-term maintenance. Copper pipes are notoriously difficult to fix in the case of kink. PEX pipes can be quickly repaired with just a heat gun in most cases.
Copper has the advantage of more efficient recycling but PEX still represents the more sustainable choice when you take into account the manufacturing process. Copper needs to be extracted from mines, the whole process consuming a lot of energy and producing significant waste. PEX, however, offers a fairly low environmental impact because polyethylene is a byproduct of natural gas or oil.
Drawbacks of PEX Tubing
1. Vulnerability to Sunlight
Due to its weak resistance to UV rays, PEX tubing is not a suitable choice for outdoor plumbing projects. To avoid cracks or other issues, it’s important to stick to PEX pipes for indoor applications only.
2. Susceptibility to Rodent Damage
As previously noted, copper is more durable overall. That makes PEX susceptible to pest problems such as rodent damage. If you live in an area with mice or other critters, it’s probably best to go for copper plumbing instead.
3. Water Supply Contamination
While copper isn’t exactly perfect in terms of keeping the water supply free of contaminants, PEX could be a worse choice in this case. This type of plastic tubing might affect water quality by releasing some unwanted chemicals. Unless you choose high-quality PEX pipes, you might have to deal with unpleasant water odors.
Now that you’ve seen the main advantages and drawbacks of both copper and PEX, it’s time to make your plumbing choice. Some aspects can play a larger role in your decision than others. Overall, PEX seems like it can outperform copper in most situations. Metal piping used to be the norm but now more modern solutions such as PEX tubing can provide a superior alternative worth considering. Regardless of your preference, it’s strongly recommended to consult a plumbing professional to figure out the best match for your project’s needs.