Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?

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Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?

Clients often ask me “should I use PEX tubing or copper pipe?” when considering a home repipe.  Here is what I tell them:

  • If you are looking for a longer-term solution, a new PEX Plumbing system will be your choice.

  • Looking for a cheaper solution, a new PEX Plumbing system should be your choice.

  • Live in Freezing Cold Temperatures, PEX will most likely be your choice.

  • Residing in an area where Copper theft is a possibility, PEX should most likely be your choice.

  • If you need to use a plumbing system outside of the house, Copper Piping should be the choice.

Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Irvine, and other South Orange County California communities are notorious for slab and pipe leaks.  These leaks are costly and always seem to occur at the most inconvenient times.  If you live in one of these communities, you should seriously consider re-piping your home. The risk of waking up to the downstairs being flooded is much higher for you.  Certainly, and most definitely if you are remodeling your home!

Which is better for your home?  Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?  PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) or copper water pipe?  If you’re like most folks, including a lot of plumbers, there is a good chance that you don’t know which is better.  You may not even know what a PEX pipe is!

Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?

PEX Pipe

So, what is PEX piping?  Well, it is cross-linked polyethylene pipe. After going through several processes, the material becomes durable for extreme temperatures (hot or cold).  It’s highly resistant to creep deformation, which happens from long-term exposure to stress.  PEX also has excellent resistance to chemical attack from acids, alkalies and the like.  All of this makes PEX an excellent piping substance for hot and cold water systems.  This is especially true since PEX is flexible and well adapted for temperatures below freezing all the way up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

As mentioned above, PEX is a good plumbing material because it is flexible and easy for plumbers to install. PEX is also resistant to breaks in cold weather and has fewer joints, bringing your costs down.

Copper Pipe

Since copper piping has been around for decades, we know that the metal is durable and flexible.  This makes copper easy to install – especially compared to iron pipes.  Copper piping also provides a biostatic atmosphere; making it difficult for bacteria to grow inside of it, which is an Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?important health consideration.

Copper also resists corrosion and is unaffected by ultraviolet rays. This means it can be used for outside needs.  This is unlike PEX pipes, which are affected by ultraviolet rays and therefore should not be used outside. However, copper can corrode due to the pH of the water if it is too acidic or too basic for the pipes.  However, just because it corrodes doesn’t mean that the water is bad for you.  Try to think of it like this: the Pacific Northwest region of the US and, of course, Canada, has some of the best drinking water in the world. But that very same water has a corrosive effect on the pipes.

Copper piping has long been a standard for plumbing across the U.S. and has a good track record in both residential and commercial construction.  Copper pipes offer superior chlorine, cut and puncture resistance, allow for higher flow rates and unlike PEX, can be installed outdoors, exposed to the elements.  A copper installation has a nicer, more professional finished look.

The major downsides of copper are its price, rigidity (requires more fittings) and requirements for specific water purification conditions, the latter being the most controversial.

Since copper is thermally conductive, hot water inside the pipes will cool down quicker, which means longer hot water wait times and increased energy bills.

PEX or Copper Pipe?

The choice between PEX and copper is solely yours. Keep in mind a few of the advantages and disadvantages of each system before you decide.

Under normal conditions, both PEX and copper systems are expected to last between 20-50 years.  When analyzing the table below, it can clearly be seen when compared against each other, advantages of copper become the disadvantages of PEX piping and the advantages of PEX, become the disadvantages of copper piping.

Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?

  • Looking for a longer-term solution, a new PEX Plumbing system will be your choice.
  • If you are looking for a cheaper solution, a new PEX Plumbing system should be your choice.
  • In areas with Freezing Cold Temperatures, PEX should most likely be your choice.
  • Living in an area where Copper theft is a possibility, PEX should most likely be your choice.
  • If you need to use a plumbing system outside of the house, Copper Piping should be the choice.

To help you compare PEX and copper piping and understand the differences between the two, I have compiled the most important (in my opinion) factors in a table below so you can make a better and a more informed decision.  Keep in mind, I do not advocate the use of one over the other, but rather believe in a decision where pros and cons have been carefully weighted.

Copper Pipe

PEX Pipe

Advantages

Disadvantages

Advantages

Disadvantages

  1. Last about 50 years.

  2. Superior chlorine resistance in typical plumbing conditions.

  3. Can be used or stored outdoors, unaffected by sunlight (UV light).

  4. It’s fireproof and doesn’t release toxic gas in case of fire.

  5. Copper is 100% recyclable.

  6. Overall has a good performance history.

  7. Has larger ID (inside diameter) than PEX pipes and allows for higher flow rates.

  8. Approved by code everywhere and has decades of proven performance.

  9. Copper is bacteriostatic (prevents growth of bacteria).

  1. Average cost of copper pipes is 4-6 times (300-500%) higher than that of PEX tubing.

  2. Water could have metallic aftertaste if copper corrodes.

  3. Copper pipes are highly likely to burst when water freezes in them.

  4. Requires more copper fittings and connections than PEX tubing because of its rigidity.

  5. Possible pinhole leaks, corrosion and leaching of copper.

  6. Requires soldering skills.

  7. More time-consuming to install.

  8. Hot water cools quicker in copper pipes.

  9. Water purification methods can reduce the life by more than two-thirds.

  1. Last about 25 years.  However, PEX systems that DAD’s installed are still going strong with no leaks after more than 30 years.

  2. Flexible and requires fewer PEX fittings, which reduces chances of leakage.

  3. Inexpensive and requires less labor.

  4. Can have long continuous runs without the need for couplings.

  5. Is able to expand and contract making it more burst-resistant than rigid copper pipes in freezing temperatures.

  6. Has decades of proven performance, good chemical resistance, and Reduces scalding.

  7. Pipes can be bent around most corners without use of elbows.

  8. Quieter, reduces “water hammer” effect.

  9. Meets stringent Type X fire code requirements.

  1. Can’t be used outside except in underground installations.

  2. Non-recyclable.

  3. Cracks may form in over-chlorinated or overly acidic water.

  4. Possible leaching of chemicals.

  5. Can be chewed by rodents.

I hope this information helps answer “Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?”

How Can I Receive More Information?

If you would like more information on enjoying the best home re-pipe, bathroom, kitchen, and interior remodeling experience in Orange County, call DAD at (949) 380-0177 or at dan@dadsconstruction.com for a free in home consultation (DAD’s serves all of South Orange County California including Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Foothill Ranch, Portola Hills, Ladera Ranch, Irvine, San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto de Caza, Dove Canyon, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Newport Beach, and Aliso Viejo).

Should I Use PEX Tubing or Copper Pipe?

“Taking Care of Your Home . . . The Way We Would Our Own”

Daniel A. Derkum is the owner of DAD’s Construction, a leading South Orange County, California design-and-build remodeling and renovation contractor, https://www.dadsconstruction.com.  © DAD’s Home Services & Construction, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.