On average, residential and commercial piping can last between 25 and 100 years. As a result, many owners never have to replace the piping during their tenure at a property. When a piping refit is necessary, however, it can be a huge project.
Owners often agonize over the question of using PEX vs copper piping for the job. But which one is better? How do you decide which one is right for your project? Here’s how to tell if a copper or PEX repipe is right for you.
The Pros of a PEX Repipe
When it comes to major repiping projects, PEX is copper piping’s biggest competition. PEX, a type of flexible cross-linked polyethylene tubing, offers plumbers and property owners a host of attractive benefits.
PEX tends to be 30 to 40 percent less expensive than copper pipe. It also requires fewer fittings and less labor to install. Since it weighs less than copper, it costs less to transport, as well. All of this saves plumbers time and saves property owners money. These cost savings have become even more relevant in recent years as copper prices rose. For projects on a budget, these savings can be a deciding factor.
Copper is rigid and requires high heat to seal fittings and joints in place. This can make it challenging to work with in small or complex spaces. Often, entire sections of walls, floors, and ceilings must be opened for a copper repipe to take place.
PEX, by contrast, is incredibly flexible. It can be threaded through tight spaces quickly and easily. Plumbers can often do a full repipe with far less disruption to existing infrastructure.
Cold Weather Friendliness
Flexible pipes like PEX can expand to up to eight times their normal size without bursting. They do not corrode and are resistant to sediment buildup. This makes them ideal for use in areas prone to extremely cold temperatures and other rough conditions.
Other benefits of PEX include that it:
- Is suitable for use with hot and cold water
- Is better at holding onto heat than copper
- Has shutoff valves at every supply line for easy maintenance
The Cons of a PEX Repipe
PEX is not perfect for every job, of course. It is:
- Not appropriate for outdoor use
- Possible for PEX to sustain damage if the water running through it is heavily chlorinated
- Susceptible to rodent damage
PEX piping also cannot be recycled when it is no longer of use, which negatively affects a building’s carbon footprint and “greenness.”
The Pros of a Copper Repipe
Copper has long been plumbers’ medium of choice for residential and commercial projects for good reason. Although copper costs more than PEX, it also substantially outlasts it. Most PEX tubing carries a 25-year warranty and an average useful life of between 25 and 50 years. Copper, on the other hand, routinely lasts between 50 and 100 years. Installed properly, it requires very little maintenance.
Unlike PEX piping, copper piping:
- Holds up well even when carrying water that contains high levels of acid or chlorine
- Is resistant to rodent damage
- Is resistant to the growth of harmful bacteria
- Is suitable for outdoor use
- Is ideal for both standard home water supply pipes and HVAC systems
- Is user-friendly in that pipes come with color-coding to distinguish hot and cold water lines
Copper is also a very eco-friendly choice. It is recyclable and does not generate toxic gases in the event of a fire.
The Cons of a Copper Repipe
The primary drawback to copper piping is its cost. Although it can be highly cost-effective long term, a major plumbing project using copper pipe requires property owners to come up with much more cash upfront than a PEX project. Depending on the owners’ financial situation and plans for the property, this can be daunting and undesirable.
The second major drawback to copper is the amount of time, energy, and disruption involved in pipe installation. Copper takes more time, more fittings, and more effort to install. This can be a key factor in both property owners’ and plumbers’ decisions about which type of piping to use.
Finally, copper can corrode over time, resulting in pinhole leaks and may burst in extremely cold weather.
Choosing the Right Material for Your Project
Both copper piping and PEX piping are safe and appropriate for use in residential and commercial plumbing projects. This means that in most cases there isn’t a “wrong” choice. However, one may be better than the other for your specific needs.
Location and Use
When repiping small, complex, or hard-to-maneuver areas such as corners or crawlspaces, flexible pipes are usually the best choice. In these situations, installing PEX can be faster, safer, and result in easier maintenance down the line.
On the other hand, if you need to repipe outdoors or in an area prone to rodents, you need copper pipe because PEX won’t do. Before choosing a material, consider where the piping will run and what it will be exposed to. Take into account how accessible the space is, as well.
The quality of the water supply the pipes will carry is another critical factor. Any time that the water running through your pipes will be heavily acidic or chlorinated, copper pipe installation is necessary. You should also consider copper the better choice when the pipes will routinely be used to run water over 180 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature.
Type of Project
Copper piping is ideal for new construction. Since most walls, floors, and other obstacles have not yet been constructed, it is easy to lay. With a 100-year lifespan, it is also the most cost-effective option. Copper piping can be an ideal choice when a property is enduring a major overhaul for the same reasons.
During smaller remodeling projects, PEX water supply pipes can be a better choice because they require:
- Less space to maneuver
- Less demolition of walls, floors, and ceilings
- Less time and cleanup
The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing between a PEX repipe and a copper repipe, it’s hard to make a poor decision. Both materials are superb. Looking at the details of your project and your budget can make it easy to see which one is best for you in any given situation.
Check out our blog for more about the complexities of plumbing and the best tools to get the job done.