Copper or PEX for Water Supply Pipes - MAK Design + Build (2023)

The Big Trade-Off – Copper Plumbing vs. PEX Piping for Your Home Remodel

Copper or PEX for Water Supply Pipes - MAK Design + Build (1)

A proven material, with a long lifespan, copper has always been the first choice for homebuilders and remodelers. However, as this natural resource becomes increasingly expensive, copper plumbing for water supply pipes can significantly impact your plumbing costs by more than 25%.

The alternative to copper (and PVC) is PEX pipe – a flexible, extruded piping material made from cross-linked polyethylene. Both copper and PEX have their advantages, considerations, and caveats – outside of cost alone.

(Video) Don’t make this mistake on your next PEX install

We always take a “big picture” approach when selecting materials for your home remodeling project, including ecological impact, sourcing, sustainability, and long-term health concerns. For instance, how does water quality, like high acidity or mineral content, affect these materials? Will lead from soldered joints leach into the water? How do these materials biodegrade? Do they “off gas?” Are they recyclable?

Keep in mind, there are always trade-offs – and cost is only one consideration. So, if you’re thinking about a home remodeling project, and have concerns about either of these commonly used materials, let’s define the differences, starting with copper – a proven material with fewer unknowns.

Copper Advantages

  • Proven material with history and fewer “unknowns.”
  • Long lifespan; if installed properly, copper plumbing will last 40 – 60 years.

Copper Disadvantages

  • Expensive.
  • Reactive to other metals.
  • Susceptible to breakage in freezing temps.
  • Noisy.
  • Inflexible; requires numerous couplings which may leak over time.
  • Susceptible to abrading at mounting points and through joists.
  • Uses lead solder which may leach over time.

Given copper’s seemingly limited advantages, let’s look at its lower-cost alternative – PEX.

(Video) Is Copper Better Than PEX? (COMPLETE GUIDE) | GOT2LEARN

PEX Advantages

  • Durable and flexible.
  • Less expensive than copper by 25%.
  • Resistant to corrosive water e.g. high acidity “city” water, or mineral heavy water, and electrolysis.
  • Resistant to freeze-breakage.
  • Easier to install; requires fewer fittings.
  • Safer to install; no flame or soldering fumes.
  • Can be installed in long runs without coupling fittings. Fewer fittings mean fewer failure points.
  • Water flows quietly – eliminates “water hammer” noise associated with copper piping.
  • Manifolds installed at water source reduces pressure loss across branches.

PEX Disadvantages

  • Susceptible to rodent, pest, and UV damage.
  • Prone to abrading, must be securely attached to prevent excessive movement during water flow.
  • May impart odors or chemical taste.
  • Long-term health concerns are unknown.
Copper or PEX for Water Supply Pipes - MAK Design + Build (2)

PEX is tested rigorously before it can be certified to comply with plumbing codes including requirements that piping meets certain standards set by the global standards organization ASTM International.

Within the ASTM standards are yet more standards set by NSF International, an independent, non-governmental public health and safety organization that creates specifications for pipes made to carry drinking water.

Additionally, as part of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the U.S. Green Building Council offers design credit for PEX piping, since PEX avoids some of copper’s other flaws, too — including the potential for corrosion and related health risks, such as liver damage and kidney disease.” –Emily Sohn for The Green Building Advisor.

(Video) PEX vs COPPER for Plumbing - Which Should You Use and Why?

Regardless of which water supply piping you decide upon, MAK Design+Build only works with plumbers certified by the product’s manufacturer, and we’ll help you determine if copper or PEX is the right water supply piping for your remodeling project.

Need more information? Or, are you ready to get started on your bathroom remodel, kitchen remodel, or whole home remodeling project? Give us a call today to discuss your vision. 530-750-2209.

(Video) How to Choose Water Supply Piping | This Old House
(Video) PEX vs COPPER vs CPVC plumbing pipes

FAQs

Which is better for water lines copper or PEX? ›

PEX pipe is not only cheaper than copper but more durable too. PEX is immune to corrosion and mineral build-up, and it's not affected by electrolysis, which can cause small pinhole leaks in copper piping. Copper pipes can last anywhere from six months to the life of a building.

What is the ideal material for water supply pipes? ›

Copper pipes are popular for both hot and cold water pipes because they are heat resistant, resist corrosion, and have natural anti-microbial properties. They are more expensive than plastic pipe options.

Should I replace copper pipes with PEX? ›

Coupled with low production and shipping costs, the savings resulting from installing PEX instead of copper pipes can be significant. Better Energy Efficiency – PEX has a lower thermal conductivity rate than copper. As a result, PEX pipes can help keep hot water hotter for longer periods of time.

Do professional plumbers use PEX? ›

PEX is the plumbing industry's go-to, but many still have questions about the popular piping product. Get quotes from up to 3 pros! Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you. All water piping used to be metal.

What are the disadvantages of using copper pipe in water lines? ›

Disadvantages of Copper Pipes

It can cost 10 to 15 times more when compared to other types of pipes. Copper may also freeze easily. If your home runs on well water, copper pipes could have problems if the water is acidic.

When did they stop using copper pipes in houses? ›

Copper was the plumbing pipe of choice from the 1950s until 2000 and was widely used both in new construction and to replace the galvanized steel water supply pipes that had been the standard into the 1950s. But copper's use has gradually faded, due to the introduction of PEX plumbing tubing.

What type of pipe is not recommended for water line? ›

Whereas plumbing issues are the main concern with polybutylene and galvanized steel pipes, lead pipes pose a different and much more serious threat. Lead is a toxic material to ingest. If your home is equipped with piping or plumbing fixtures that contain lead, this poison can end up in your drinking water.

What is the best pipe for main water line? ›

Copper Pipes

Copper pipes remain popular among plumbers and homeowners alike because they are corrosion-resistant and best suited to protect the quality of the water. Copper pipes are able to handle high water pressure and are tolerant of both hot and cold water temperatures.

What is a common material used for water supply in residential construction? ›

PEX. PEX stands for cross-linked polyethylene. It is sometimes known as XLPEl. With good resistance to both hot and cold temperatures, PEX is commonly used for both hot and cold water lines in homes, and for hydronic heating systems (such as radiant under-floor systems).

What lasts longer copper or PEX? ›

Additionally, long-term testing programs on PEX have shown that it has a potential lifespan of more than 100 years. So, while copper systems may have to be re-piped every few years or decades due to corrosion and pinhole leaks, a PEX system can last 10 times longer — or more.

Where should you not use PEX? ›

PEX cannot be taken anywhere outside the house where it is directly exposed to UV for a long period. The synthetic material of the pipes can slowly disintegrate due to the light of the sun. Even light bulbs have been known to affect the lifespan of PEX water lines.

Do PEX pipes freeze easier than copper? ›

And when it comes to preventing these headaches, PEX pays off. Not only does it add value to the installation because it's more freeze resistant than pipes like CVPC and copper, but it's also superior in every season, cold or not.

Can mice chew through PEX pipe? ›

PEX Pipe Is Vulnerable

Rodents Chewing Through PEX Pipe is a common problem in our area. It doesn't matter how old your home is, if you have an attic, you need to watch for rodent damage to PEX Pipe or PVC. If you're hearing rustling noises coming from the attic, it's time to do an inspection.

What is the life expectancy of PEX plumbing? ›

PEX: Due to its flexibility and durability, PEX piping should last at least 50 years. PVC / CPVC: Under typical conditions, these pipes should last up to 100 years. Keep in mind that PVC pipes are often used for drainage because extreme heat can damage them.

Why did Plumbers stop using copper tubing? ›

Copper Pipes and Corrosion

er eats away at the walls of the pipe, causing pinhole leaks and leaks at seams and joints.

When should you avoid copper water? ›

If you have been drinking water that has been constantly stored in copper bottle or vessel, chances are high that you might be at the risk of copper toxicity. It can cause severe nausea, dizziness, abdominal pain and can result in liver and kidney failure.

Is it OK to drink water from copper pipes? ›

A high level of copper usually leaves a metallic or unpleasant bitter taste in the drinking water. This water may not be safe to drink and you should contact your drinking water provider or have the water professionally tested—see 'How do I test for copper in my drinking water? '

Why many homeowners are replacing these pipes with copper pipes? ›

By the time many of these replacements became necessary, copper had become the material of choice due to its corrosion resistance and longstanding durability. As a result, many homes throughout Florida and the country as a whole now use copper piping.

What is the best material to repipe a house? ›

Cross-linked polyethylene, or PEX, is the new standard when it comes to repiping your house. Since it is made of plastic it is a more cost-effective alternative to copper. Pex is easier to install and lighter in weight, reducing shipping costs too.

Why is PEX not allowed? ›

Rodent Risk Factors

While pest experts don't know whether rodents chew through PEX to get to the water inside or simply because it's there, PEX and rodents can be a dangerous combination. Local building codes in some communities may not permit the installation of PEX if rodent infestations are common.

Can I use PEX for main water line? ›

This type of PEX is the most flexible of the three types and is suitable for use in all home water-supply plumbing needs. It expands to the greatest degree when subjected to freezing water, so it's the most resistant to cracking in frigid temperatures.

What is the most common pipe material used for water and waste water system? ›

PVC pipe is the most widely used plastic pipe material.

Which pipes are not prone to leaks? ›

Copper pipes have been the proven standard of reliability for over 50 years! They are not prone to leaks, are extremely durable, stay fitted tightly, have a long life span and can be recycled, are resistant to heat, and won't pollute your drinking water.

What is better than PEX pipe? ›

PEX pipes and copper pipes are both viable options for your water supply line. While PEX pipes are easier to install, cheaper, and more flexible, copper pipes are sturdier and tend to have a longer lifespan.

What water pipes are used for new homes? ›

Copper Pipes are usually utilized in the construction of water supply lines and for heating, cooling, and air conditioning systems. This kind of pipe is corrosion-resistant, making it reliable connections, too. There are three types of copper pipes used in residential homes and they are Type K, Type L, and Type M.

What three materials are used for water lines in a house? ›

Main Types of Pipes by Material
  • PVC Pipes. PVC pipe is easier to work with than galvanized steel pipes and can be cut using a mitre saw or hacksaw. ...
  • PEX Pipes. PEX pipes often replace copper for hot and cold-water pipes in residential remodelling. ...
  • ABS Pipes.

Can PEX handle hot water? ›

PEX is totally great at handling hot water! PEX does not melt (analogous to elastomers) and is thermally resistant. The maximum heat temperature of the PEX tube is 200 degrees. The maximum heat of the PEX can be up to 180 degrees.

What color PEX is best? ›

There are no performance differences between red, white, blue and white PEX and all are intended for use in potable water systems. The colors can be used to easily distinguish between hot and cold distribution lines. Orange PEX pipe is an oxygen barrier PEX pipe used only for hydronic heating applications.

Can bacteria grow in PEX? ›

PEX pipe showed a higher growth of coliform bacteria than copper pipe [42]. The levels of released metal from plastic pipes were monitored in five pipe systems, PB, PVC, PP, PE, and cPVC.

Do PEX fittings ever leak? ›

Defective PEX fittings can cause extensive damage to your plumbing and require expensive repairs if the issues aren't identified and replaced before the pipes completely fail. If your home or business has PEX pipes, watch for signs that your pipes may need to be replaced or repaired, such as: Any leaking.

Do PEX pipes freeze and burst? ›

Don't Believe the Myth of Freeze-Proof Pipes

Whether you're working with copper, CPVC or PEX – you are not automatically protected from frozen and burst pipes. All of these materials can and will burst when frozen, under the right conditions.

How likely is it for PEX to burst? ›

It has also been overtaking copper and CPVC because of its flexibility compared to copper and although PEX might freeze, unlike PVC, it would not burst.

How deep does PEX have to be buried? ›

Underground. Normally, you would bury your underground insulated PEX pipe 2 feet deep (24 inches). This is the right depth for burial for most ground types. Just be diligent enough to backfill it with soil that is not rocky or preferably sand.

Does SharkBite work better on copper or PEX? ›

SharkBites are rated for CPVC and copper. These fittings work great with copper, whereas, some other push-to-connect fittings work better with plastic connections. SharkBite fittings also work with PEX tubing.

Should I use PEX or copper? ›

PEX pipe is not only cheaper than copper but more durable too. PEX is immune to corrosion and mineral build-up, and it's not affected by electrolysis, which can cause small pinhole leaks in copper piping. Copper pipes can last anywhere from six months to the life of a building.

Can I use PEX for shower plumbing? ›

Use threaded PEX water line fittings for shower valves. Tighten the fittings before crimping the PEX water line. A plastic bracket forms the sharpest 90-degree angle permitted for this brand of PEX.

Does hard water affect PEX? ›

While copper, PVC and PEX pipes are more resistant to hard water buildup and corrosion, they can still get clogged or completely blocked by scale deposits.

Should I replace copper with PEX? ›

While copper is an excellent material, no material is perfect. You can develop some problems with your copper pipes, and PEX is often a great replacement that can eliminate these problems. Keep hot water hot: PEX keeps the water warmer as it flows through the pipe so that you get hotter water on the other end.

Does PEX slow water pressure? ›

At a rate of 8 feet per second, the CPVC fitting will cause less than 1% restriction in flow while PEX fittings create a 23% to 54% reduction in flow, depending on the fitting used.

Can mice chew through copper pipe? ›

Sharp Little Teeth

Yes, they can. First of all copper is a relatively soft metal, and it is actually possible for mice to chew through it.

Do plumbers recommend PEX? ›

Most plumbers prefer to work with pex pipes for this reason. These pipes come in a variety of sizes, from ¼-inch to 4-inch. The flexible pipes are constructed from polyethylene that is cross-linked to make it flexible. Copper piping has been the norm for most home plumbing for years.

Do PEX pipes need to be insulated? ›

The general rule of thumb: you do not need to insulate your PEX piping if it is passing through interior walls or insulated external walls. However, if you reside in a region with cold winters, you should insulate any exposed pipe that is outside or inside of unheated places like a basement, crawl space, or attic.

What is the best pipe for drinking water? ›

Copper pipes with lead-free joint materials are the best choice for water pipes. They are long-lasting and won't leach chemicals into your drinking water.

What is the best water line to use? ›

Copper pipes are probably the most traditional plumbing pipe used due to their extensive duration and reliability. They provide superior corrosion resistance, great material to be used for hot and cold water, and it can be managed easily.

What are the best water lines for home? ›

Copper and PEX are the most common pipe materials used in homes. Copper pipes are durable, corrosion-resistant, and can be used for hot and cold water. PEX seems to be replacing copper pipes at a high rate since it is less expensive, more flexible, and easier to install.

Does PEX freeze easier than copper? ›

And when it comes to preventing these headaches, PEX pays off. Not only does it add value to the installation because it's more freeze resistant than pipes like CVPC and copper, but it's also superior in every season, cold or not.

Videos

1. How to Do a Whole House Re-Pipe Using PEX [The Original Plumber - Open 7 Days A Week]
(The Original Plumber)
2. PEX vs. Copper Plumbing
(Matt Risinger)
3. PEX Pipe Installation - ALL Connections To Fittings In A WHOLE HOUSE!
(The Excellent Laborer)
4. How to Protect PEX Underground
(No More Leaks)
5. How to Size Your Water Lines (PEX & Copper)
(Williams Plumbing & Heating)
6. How to Protect Copper Plumbing Underground
(No More Leaks (Just Needs Paint is moving))
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