When repairing, renovating, or upgrading, homeowners encounter a certain query. That question is, which pipe material is best — Copper or Pex pipe?
Copper has been in the industry for a long time. It is often preferred by homeowners and contractors, too. This is mainly because copper pipes have a longer lifespan and higher durability. Copper also has higher heat resistance and hence seems more reliable. While on the other hand, a newer option is Pex. It has become quite popular recently.
Pex is quite affordable as compared to Copper. It is also more of a flexible material, which has properties like resistance to corrosion and a greater chance of keeping intact in freezing temperatures. However, the question remains. Whether to choose Copper for your plumbing pipes or Pex? Here’s a detailed dive into which of these two will be best for you and live up to quality assurance!
Main Differences Between Copper and Pex Pipes
Copper and Pex are both excellent choices for a good plumbing system. Both are preferred by homeowners and contractors. But they have many differences. Therefore, they have one too many fundamental differences which make them stand out from each other.
Homeowners and contractors have been using Copper pipes for millennia. They prefer them because of their reliable nature and proven track record. Copper pipes have a longer lifespan than Pex pipes. They are best known for their resistance to
- High temperatures
- Pressure and
- UV rays
This is all due to such qualities that make them a perfect choice for outdoor use. However, copper pipes are slightly dearer and installation takes a toll, too, against Pex.
Copper pipes generate problems such as corrosion and scaling over time, thus leading to reduced water pressure and leakages.
Pex is significantly different from copper in a number of aspects. Pex is made of plastic, which is very flexible; therefore, pipes of this type can be curved or bent in any direction when necessary. As such, the fact that Pex pipes could be fixed in many of the small and constricted areas makes them easy to install. Being more elastic, they need less fittings and this fertilizes both time and cash.
Pex is not only very resistant to corrosion and lime buildup but also a very solid piping material. However weak and prone to UV ray damage, it is for outdoor use.
Copper Vs. Pex Pipes – Which Piping is Better?
Copper and Pex are both good piping materials. Each of them is distinctive in its positive and negative features.
However, Copper pipes are tried and tested, extremely durable, and a permanent fix to your plumbing problems. But they are also more costly and complicated to set up.
The option of Pex pipes carries a lower cost and is simpler to install, particularly since these pipes are more maneuverable and can be bent to fit into any given environment. However, they are very susceptible to UV lighting and might not be suitable for outdoor settings.
Therefore, the answer to this question varies based on factors such as your needs, requirements, budget, location, and the desired lifespan. In this regard, you can contact our plumbing professionals or a contractor for professional advice.
Where Should You Use Copper or Pex?
Plumbing pipes have different applications based primarily on their strengths. The uses and applications of Copper and Pex pipes are:
Copper Pipe Applications
- Underground water and gas services
- Water distribution systems
- Chilled water mains
- Drainage and vent systems
- Heating systems (including solar)
- Fuel-oil systems
- Oxygen systems
- Non-flammable medical-gas systems
PEX Pipe Applications
- Water, temporary distribution lines
- Radiant floor heating applications
- Heat transfer systems, such as ground cooling, snow melting system during winters, and permafrost control in winterized regions
- Radiator hot water
- Residential fire/sprinkler systems
Copper Vs. Pex: Environmental Impact
In general, the overall environmental impact of PEX is less than copper. According to the 2003 life cycle inventory report for the Plastic Piping Education Foundation, PEX, when used with brass, emits less GHG as compared to all types of copper. Below are a few factors that contribute to the environmental impact of each pipe:
Sourcing Pipe Materials
Miners do strip mining to rock the copper ore and make fresh copper pipes from it. In doing so, they also deplete finite natural resources from the Earth. In the United States, copper mining waste accounts for the highest proportion of metal mining and processing waste.
Polyethylene, however, is derived from oil or natural gas sources that have been used and are still being used to produce other forms of energy. In such a case, PEX does not necessarily need to have natural resources taken out of the ground purely to create the tubing.
In addition, the manufacturing of plastic pipes is eco-friendly, and it doesn’t require much power to produce PEX. According to the LCI report, copper has higher GWP because high volumes of process energy are involved—or rather, a massive burning of fossil fuels in the production of the pipe.
Copper pipe systems account for 97% of process energy. For polyethylene, it’s 26%.
Sustainable manufacturing, such as that allowed by using PEX for the purpose, can get certified under the Sustainable Manufacturing Conformity Assessment Program for Plastic Piping Components. This ensures that a manufacturer has derived requisite procedures and practices as per the Sustainable Manufacturing Standard (SMS-01-2012), which cuts on a given operational footprint of manufacturers every year.
Water & Energy Use
According to the LCI report, copper dissipates more energy in wastage compared to plastic pipes, which leads by 15% on average. Since copper is a good conductor, the heat energy of water flowing on pipes to the spout or showerhead escapes in cases where it loses more during its journey. However, being a non-conductor with insulation properties, PEX plumbing uses less energy than copper systems to attain an ideal water temperature.
Not to forget that as water heats, both electricity and water volume are wasted. The copper pipes used in housing waste about 32% more water than plastic pipes, according to the LCI report.
Copper is reputed to be recyclable. Scrap is also readily remelted for the fabrication of new pipes. In case of being cross-linked, PEX cannot be melted for reuse; however, it is possible to change its purpose. PEX tubing can be crushed, just like the end of its life, and placed as a moldable filler in composite lumber, playground equipment, traffic barriers, and so on.
Maintenance and Care – Copper Vs. Pex Comparison
Every homeowner and contractor wants their investment in plumbing pipes to be long-term. For that, it is essential to understand the proper maintenance and care required for best results.
Copper pipes require maintenance to some extent. Homeowners should:
- Check for leaks or corrosion signs daily and take steps to prevent it
- Be more cautious in freezing temperatures
- Avoid pipe exposure to harmful chemicals or acids to prevent corrosion
- While a preventive measure, it is always good to make sure that you protect your copper pipes from sunlight, thus preventing UV rays from damaging them.
The pipes made of Pex require a little maintenance, but it is an important factor for their lifetime use. Homeowners should:
- Make sure that pipes avoid direct sunlight exposure to prevent the negative effects of UV rays or bury the pipes to stop it
- Steer clear of exposure to solvents or chemicals that destroy Pex pipes
- Remember the limits of pressure and temperature
- Provide a proper design for the plumbing system.
Copper Vs. Pex Pipes – Lifespan and Durability
Pertaining to the plumbing system, the greatest challenge is pipe material lifespan and durability. The worse the piping material, the shorter its life span, and vice versa.
Copper pipes are widely known for their longevity. Proper installation and maintenance over time to last between 50 years. They have a longer lifespan than Pex pipes, but they are prone to:
Due to this, it is vital for a homeowner to adequately handle their copper pipes and constantly monitor for any issues.
Pex pipes can be used for 25 to 40 years. Their lifespan is based on their application, location, and their manufacturer. In general, they have a shorter lifespan than copper pipes, but they have:
- They do not corrode
- They do not scale
These make Pex pipes a great option. The lifespan of these pipes can be increased if they are properly maintained.
Copper Vs. Pex Pipes – Which is Expensive?
Another important aspect of setting up a sound plumbing system is the total cost of the piping. The main concern of homeowners or contractors can be the pricing of the piping. Based on that, they will decide which pipe offers the best quality assurance.
Overall, Copper pipes are more expensive than Pex pipes. The pipes themselves aren’t that expensive. However, other things related to them are costly, such as the installation process, maintenance, and repairs needed in the long run.
When Copper pipes leak, they can tear up drywalls when there is a need for repiping. First, a new drywall will be installed, and then the new copper piping will be installed. Furthermore, new pitching and painting will be needed, making the whole process even more expensive.
Pex pipes are pretty cheap compared to Copper pipes. They are around 20%-80% more affordable than copper pipes based on the applications. Labor costs for Pex piping are less as well. Installation and maintenance are also more affordable than Copper pipes
Pex pipes are being evolved to last longer than copper pipes and to withstand challenging weather and chemicals as well. So it can be a better option when the changes are completed.
Piping Installation Guide
The ease of installation is a deciding factor when choosing a pipe for your plumbing system. This is because
Copper piping, in general, is a more complicated and taxing process than Pex pipes. This is basically because copper pipes require complex tools and copper fittings as they are made up of a rigid material. Furthermore, copper pipes need a professional who can cut them with precision and solder together.
Copper pipes take a lot of time and effort. Still, they perform reliably in the long run after they are correctly installed. Because of that, several homeowners and contractors prefer copper pipes due to their longevity.
On the whole, Pex pipe installation is faster and easier in comparison to Copper pipe installation. This mainly stems from its versatility and the fact that it does not use many fittings. It is very easy to bend and curve pex pipes. This feature allows them to be inserted in small spaces. Without requiring complex tools and fittings.
Some of these can also be connected with the use of compression or push-fit fittings rather than soldering them. This saves time and makes it an easy task. Due to the ease of installation, Pex pipes are popular among DIYers and professionals.
Copper Vs. Pex Pipes: Pros and Cons
Both Copper pipes and Pex pipes provide significant value to any homeowner or contractor. But just because a thing has positives doesn’t mean its negatives don’t exist. So here are the pros and cons of Copper and Pex pipes:
Copper pipes are certainly rigid, but they still have a significant number of pros and cons:
- Shown reliability and resistance, predicted to persist beyond half a century.
- Have a high tolerance against UV rays and are also resistant to chemical exposure.
- It is suitable for use in high-temperature processes and can be used on outdoor plumbing without the need for a unique casing cover.
- This particular type needs special tools and fittings; thus, it is not easy to install but takes longer compared to the Pex pipes.
- Tends to rust and scalp, hence requiring much maintenance work in order to avoid leakages, among others
- Higher embossed energy because of its manufacturing process and expensive when compared to pex piping
Pex pipes are more convenient, but they have other pros and cons, too:
- Its main benefit is its adaptability and simplicity of installation, which reduces the need for other tools and components in most cases.
- They are almost resistant to corrosion, scale formation, and freezing.
- It is commonly assumed to be more sustainable due to the lower amount of energy consumed in production and fewer leakage chances.
- Long-term reliability challenges due to the fact that it has not been used for as many years as copper piping.
- Under UV Degradation, chemicals and solvents
- They find application only in high-temperature connected fields and do not undertake direct sunlight protection unless explicitly stated for outdoor plumbing.
Home Resale Value
The resale value of your home might be significantly influenced by the type of plumbing system it is running on. Potential buyers will most likely note the plumbing system and its condition to identify realizability and durability when making their final decision.
Copper piping is a classic means of providing reliable plumbing that, for the most part, will be thought to have an advantageous effect on resale value. Copper piping may be viewed as the trademark of quality and longevity by potential buyers, which makes a home more valuable in terms of financial attractiveness. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the extent to which copper piping affects the value of a home will be different depending on various conditions, such as age and state of supply line systems, local market dynamics, or location, among others.
Pex piping is one of the conventional and trendy plumbing options and thus may be attractive to customers shopping for a modern residential building. However, longevity is also all about the uncertainty of pex piping, which means that some people think twice about buying a house with such piping devices.
In the end, the impact of pex systems on a home’s market value is determined by a number of factors such as market and area-specific dynamics as well as their condition and age.
What type of piping should be used for the pipes is one of the most important decisions you will make regarding your home’s plumbing system.
However, homeowners or contractors will go for the investment option that best relates to their requirements. Thus, all one can say is that Copper and Pex pipes are excellent choices. Still, the final decision will depend on your preferences, requirements, and needs. If you want to invest for the long term and you cannot eliminate bare pipes in areas they exist outdoors, select Copper pipes. Select Pex pipes in the process where you need a quick, less complicated, and low-maintenance process and do not worry about direct sunlight and UV rays.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the best pipe for house plumbing?
The best pipe for residential plumbing depends on how the consumers perceive it. Pex piping is one of the most common and relatively new materials due to its simple installation and low maintenance, ideally for quick replacement or repair of such pipe; on the other hand, copper as a time-verified material with high-quality standards usually has a positive effect on the price value of houses. Before making this decision, it is wise to consult with a professional plumber or contractor so that they can tell you the best solution for your specific situation.
What are the best fittings to use with pex pipe?
The choice of the best fittings to be used with pex piping is dependent on the application and type of pex pipes being installed. Among the most common are compression fittings, push-fit fittings, and crimp fittings.
Is PEX pipe better than copper?
Usually, it is much faster and easier to install Pex piping rather than copper pipe due to two specific reasons: its flexibility and the fact that it requires fewer fittings compared to rigid metal tube systems. It is a more convenient option for people who need a more straightforward installation process.
Does PEX burst like copper?
Pex piping is not as rigid as Copper pipes, but there are meager chances for Pex pipes to burst like Copper pipes. However, a freeze can still damage the joints, resulting in leakage.
What is cheaper, PEX or copper?
PEX pipes, apart from being cheaper, are also more reliable than copper pipes. PEX is resistant to corrosion and mineral evidence. as well it does not succumb to electrolysis but tends to cause steadfast small pinhole leaks in copper piping.
Why convert copper to PEX?
PEX is much more flexible and requires fewer connections and fittings. The minimized fittings needed in a PEX system also reduce leakage risk. Moreover, PEX does not corrode and will never suffer from pinholes that are generally found in copper piping.
Does PEX lose heat faster than copper?
Bare PEX pipe surprisingly has more heat loss than raw copper pipe. The PEX has 31.96 Btuh/ft of heat loss as opposed to copper, which is at 29.634 Btuh/ft. Different wall thicknesses of the pipes will vary in energy losses.
Is PEX good for hot water?
PEX pipes can resist high temperatures; hence, they are better suited for hot water supply systems. PEX pipes do not rust; they are long-lasting and will require minimal maintenance during their entire life span.