Copper enjoyed a long run as the primary option for home plumbing systems. However, a more modern contender is now edging copper out of many projects. Cross-linked polyethylene flexible tubing, also known as PEX, is gaining traction as a top pick for residential plumbing projects. While PEX offers many benefits over copper, it has its limitations as well. If you’re planning a plumbing project for your home, it’s important to evaluate both options so you can make the right choice for your individual needs.
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PEX tubing was invented by German scientist Thomas Engle in 1968, but it didn’t make its way to the United States until the 1980s. This product links common plastic through radiation, which results in a more flexible material. The tubing was initially used for radiant floor heating systems. When PEX tubing was first used for plumbing in the U.S., it faced problems with deterioration due to the high chlorine levels in the water. Manufacturers had to add antioxidants to the PEX in order for it to stand up to common drinking water in this country.
Now that the initial issues with PEX tubing have been solved, this product has found a stable place in the plumbing industry. In fact, over 60% of new residential water supply systems use PEX.
PEX tubing comes in different colors, making it easy to distinguish hot and cold water pipes in an instant. White or gray tubing can be used for either hot or cold water while red tubing indicates hot water and blue tubing is used for cold. These pipes feed into a central manifold that makes it easy to turn off water to individual parts of the home.
You can get PEX tubing in rolls up to 500 feet long. The material’s flexibility means that you can use a single piece of piping to connect each water fixture to the PEX manifold. This is known as “home run” plumbing, and it eliminates much of the risk for leaks. This method of installation also eliminates soldering.
PEX’s flexibility allows it to expand and contract easily and quietly. These pipes allow water to flow through almost silently and don’t knock or hammer against the walls. Corrosion isn’t an issue with PEX pipes either, so you can enjoy a durable and long-lasting installation with this product.
PEX tubing is a versatile solution for indoor plumbing projects, but it should not be used outdoors. The ultraviolet rays in sunlight break down PEX material, leading to cracks and hardening within a matter of months.
PEX is susceptible to rodent damage as well. If you have problems with mice or other critters occasionally getting into your home, you may face some unpleasant situations with these pests damaging your pipes.
While PEX is generally easy to work with, it does require special tools and parts. You cannot approach PEX tubing as an identical counterpart to copper. While you can connect PEX to metal supply lines, you will need a special fitting to do so.
There currently isn’t any way to recycle PEX tubing. Its resistance to heat means that it cannot melt the way other plastics do. Some studies have shown that PEX releases a variety of contaminants into the water supply. Over 150 different contaminants have been identified, some of which cause the water to have an odor. There are many different brands of PEX piping that perform differently in this regard.
Copper has a long history of delivering water to civilizations. In fact, ancient Egyptians used copper pipes for water delivery as early as 2150 BC. By the 1940s, copper was the most commonly used plumbing material in the developed world. Copper is the material of choice for 80% of service lines. This has long been the traditional choice for plumbing projects, and it’s still worthy of consideration today.
Copper has a longer lifespan than PEX pipes. While you can expect PEX to last for 30 to 50 years, copper piping will outdo it by about two decades, with a typical lifespan of 50 to 70 years.
Copper is a more durable option that isn’t susceptible to rodents or sunlight. These pipes can easily handle water pressure of up to 1,000 psi. They deal with both hot and cold conditions well.
Copper pipes are an environmentally friendly option because the copper is completely recyclable when the pipes reach the end of their lifespan. Copper is also free from some of the chemicals associated with PEX pipes.
Copper pipes are more expensive to install than PEX. On average, copper water pipes are 58 to 68% costlier. The installation process is also more difficult. You need to solder fittings with a torch to properly connect them.
Water loses more heat while traveling through copper pipes, resulting in more energy use when compared to plastic piping.
The quality of the water in your home may play a role in your choice of piping material. Acidic water is hard on copper, while water with high levels of chlorine will cause PEX pipes to wear out faster. Extremely hot water that’s 180 degrees Fahrenheit or more will also shorten the lifespan of PEX.
If you have an older home with poor insulation or you live in a very cold climate, you may need to consider the risk of frozen pipes. In most modern homes, solid construction and ample insulation eliminate the risk of frozen pipes, but this isn’t true in every construction. PEX is more resistant if you’re concerned about your pipes freezing.
If you’re interested in planning an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly upgrade for your home, Energy Diagnostics can help. Our knowledgeable team is equipped to help you understand and compare your options so you can find the right fit for your home. A new plumbing project may seem overwhelming, but the proper choice of construction and materials will add value to your dwelling.