Copper was and still is, the real deal when it comes to plumbing. It stands out as a top choice for water supply pipes for many reasons. It looks like soon cross-linked polyethylene or PEX for short, will nudge copper to the side.
While copper still plays a vital role in water pipes for commercial and residential properties, PEX pipes are quickly becoming the industry standard. Plumbers now recommend them for retrofitting and remodeling. Which of the two is better? Which one should you choose? The answer is relative, as you’re about to find out. Both come with pros and cons. Your best bet is to weigh your options before making a choice. Read on to learn more.
Copper Pipes and PEX Tubing Have Longevity
It is hard, almost impossible, to beat copper pipes for longevity and durability. They can last for as long as 50 years or more, but the same is true for PEX, 50 years. Although it’s important to note that PEX’s lifespan can be shortened if regularly exposed to sunlight and untested use of extremely hot household water (180 degrees Fahrenheit or higher). High chlorine levels can also take a toll on PEX’s lifespan and shorten it by ten years.
When installed under ideal conditions, copper can extend its life expectancy. Ideal means that your home is connected to a municipal water system with a whole house water filtration system. However, PEX seems to perform better with hard water or highly acidic well water. With that in mind, you may have to consider PEX piping if you’re on a private well. Be sure to have your water tested before retrofitting your water supply system. Contact your local authority to test your well water to determine whether it’s acidic or rich in chlorine.
PEX Cost Less But You Can Recycle Copper
Copper’s cost has risen dramatically in recent years, mostly because of its increased recycling value. The increase in value has had a ripple effect on copper products, which are now costlier from a decade ago. On average, installing copper water pipes is 58% to 68% more expensive than installing PEX. For instance, you could part away with anything $8000 and $10,000 to have a plumber replace old pipes with new copper pipes in a standard two-bath,1500sq ft home. You’d spend anything between $4000 and $6000 on the same home if you choose PEX.
PEX Has Fewer Connections
PEX requires just a handful of connections, which is hardly ever the case with copper. Copper is rigid. It must be cut to size and have precise elbow fittings installed each time it comes to a corner. You’ve probably seen this where copper pipes turn from verticals between studs to horizontal runs to meet a sink. There is no problem with it, but it does require more labor, which translates to high installation costs.
Unlike Copper, PEX runs continuously from the water distribution panel (manifold) to each plumbing fixture (sink, tub, etc.). Its flexibility allows it to bend around corners with ease, so no additional connections are necessary. This is a big plus during remodeling projects because PEX pipes can be manipulated through walls without cutting out drywall. With copper, you have no choice but to remove the drywall before making connections.
Many water fixtures like sinks, showers, and tubs have individual shut-off valves located not too far from where they’re installed. For the sink, you can usually locate the shut-off valve inside the vanity cabinet. For showers and tubs, the shut-off valves are often located behind access panels held in place with screws. Accessing them is always an uphill task. With PEX, each pipe connects directly to the water distribution manifold. Each pipe has its own, separate shut-off valve on the manifold. The manifold features clear labels for each shut-off valve such as ‘Laundry Room,’ ‘Sink,’ or ‘Bathtub.’ It makes turning the water supply on and off for any fixture simple.
The Bottom Line
PEX appears to have a slight edge over copper. But like your plumber will tell you, PEX also comes along with some pros. Choose what lasts longer and what is easier to maintain. Then, by all means, settle on a competent plumbing company. That means finding out whether or not the plumbing company you intend to hire has skilled, experienced, and well-trained plumbers who understand copper and PEX fittings well.