copper vs pex pipe tubing

Copper vs PEX Pipe: Make Sure You Choose The Right One!

When making repairs, upgrades, or renovations, many homeowners are left wondering which type of plumbing material is best for their home. The choice often comes down to the two most popular and common types of pipe materials: Copper vs PEX.

But choosing between the two can be difficult.

Copper is great for water supply lines and heating systems but not as good for drain or waste lines because it corrodes over time. PEX is easier to install than copper but isn’t as strong (the tradeoff is that it’s more resistant to corrosion).

Let’s tackle the great copper vs PEX debate head-on. We’ve created this ultimate guide so you have all of the information you’ll need to make the decision that’s right for you and your home.

copper vs pex - with boxing gloves
What’s the difference between PEX and copper tubing? Let’s find out.

Copper vs PEX: The Differences

1. History of Copper vs PEX

Copper is the most prominent plumbing material used throughout history being traced all the way back to ancient Egypt.

While plumbing has come a long way since the Egyptians, copper is still a durable plumbing material that can be found in countless homes throughout the country.

In the 21st century, copper pipes, as well as plastic PVC pipes, are being replaced with PEX.

One estimate states that residential use of PEX for delivering drinking water to home faucets has increased by 40 percent annually. And there is evidence that PEX will become the dominant technology for carrying water into homes and businesses in the years to come.

2. Lifespan of Copper vs PEX

There are three types of copper pipes; M-Type, L-Type, and K-Type.

  • M-Type copper pipes are the thinnest copper pipe used in residential plumbing lasting 20-50 years.
  • L-Type copper pipes are the most durable home piping and last between 50-100 years.
  • K-Type copper pipes are the thickest copper piping and are used for water mains in cities. The K-Type copper pipe lasts for at least 100 years. It isn’t necessary to have this durable plumbing in your house because it is expensive.

PEX pipes have a potential lifespan of over 100 years. This makes them much more durable than the lifespan of the average copper plumbing in the home.

3. Health Concerns of Copper vs PEX

Consumption of high levels of copper can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, gastric (stomach) complaints and headaches. Long term exposure over many months and years can cause liver damage and death.

There are no health concerns affiliated with using PEX pipes.

4. Costs of Copper vs PEX

The following costs are for a 1/2″ x 10′ feet pipe at today’s rates. You can see that while copper has some great benefits, it is definitely more expensive.

Where Should You Use Copper or PEX?

1. 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

2. PEX Pipe Applications

  • Water supply lines or portable distribution systems
  • Radiant floor heating applications
  • Heat transfer applications, such as floor cooling, snow melting, and permafrost protection
  • Water distribution for hot water applications, including radiators
  • Residential fire/sprinkler systems

The Pros & Cons of Copper vs PEX

1. Advantages of Copper Pipe

  • Copper pipes are durable
  • Resists rust
  • Can be recycled
  • Antimicrobial properties that kill bacteria, viruses, and other microbes upon contact

2. Disadvantages of Copper Pipe

  • Copper is expensive
  • Low resistance to acidity
  • Adds a slight metallic flavor to drinking water. Many people are turned off by this as the taste may be unpleasant
  • Can become toxic

3. Advantages of PEX Pipe

  • PEX is more resistant than copper to breakage caused by freezing.
  • Conserves energy by reducing the loss of heat through pipe wall.
  • PEX tubing can be bent and can curve around structural framing and other obstacles making installation easier
  • PEX doesn’t corrode.
  • More resistant to scale buildup
  • Much less expensive compared to copper
  • Requires fewer connections for installation making chance of leaks decrease

4. Disadvantages of PEX Pipe

  • Must be installed only in approved locations where it is protected from damage
  • It must be kept away from contact with flame or extreme heat
  • Must not be exposed to direct or indirect UV light, which damages the pipe over time
  • Can be damaged by high concentrations of chlorine

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is PEX really better than a copper pipe?

There are a few reasons why we think that PEX plumbing systems deliver superior performance over more traditional plumbing materials like copper. For one thing, PEX is cheaper than copper by about 60 percent.

PEX plumbing systems are also faster to install, won’t corrode, and are less affected by acidic fluids.

2. Does PEX require special installation tools?

In most cases, PEX plumbing systems do not require special installation tools. Crimp rings, cinch clamps, and cutting tools are necessary for PEX installation, but these are standard plumbing tools.

Although it’s not required for PEX installation, we also recommend adding a PEX GUN to your arsenal of plumbing tools. This tool is designed to help install a PEX pipe 5 times faster than hand installation. Learn more about PEX pipe installation here.

3. Can you connect PEX Pipes to a water heater?

We do not recommend connecting PEX tubing directly to the water heater. Exposure to heat has negative effects on PEX piping. Instead, it’s best to use at least 18 inches of copper piping up from a water heater. Then connect the PEX tubing directly to this pipe.

4. Is there a difference between the different colors of PEX pipe?

PEX piping comes in three different colors (red, blue, white). These colors have no real effect on the pipe. They are used as a reference for plumbers: red for hot water, blue for cold water, and white for miscellaneous use.

5. How do you cut PEX pipe?

Watch this video to learn how to cut a straight, smooth line with your PEX tube so it fits snugly and doesn’t create leaks or slippage. We’ll also show you how not to cut PEX.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, both types of pipe have tremendous advantages and even disadvantages. However, after reading this article, we hope you now have the knowledge and tools to help you choose the type of pipes that fit your needs and budget.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Never hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) for help with your pipe repairs, replacements, or installations.

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain, or water damage problem, including excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even holidays.

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