Are you doing some retrofitting and remodeling for your home’s plumbing system? Do you want to know what material is more sustainable? Then you have come to the right place! Let us find out which plumbing material you should choose for your application in this article.
Copper has been the widely chosen option when it comes to refrigerant piping and water supply plumbing systems for many years. However, cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) piping materials have also been increasing in popularity over the past years. There is a reason why a lot of residential plumbing systems in the US are shifting to PEX piping materials. That is what you will be learning here.
Today, we are going to compare PEX and copper as plumbing materials in terms of their economic and environmental impacts along with other factors.
Let us start with what PEX and copper pipes are.
Cross-linked polyethylene, or PEX, pipes are semi-unbending pipes that are made of plastic materials. They are known for their bright colors:
- White – for any temperature
- Blue – for cold media
- Red – for hot media
However, take note that the above colors are only for installation purposes and do not represent the pipe’s temperature characteristics.
Moreover, PEX pipes come in 3 main types:
- PEX-A (fabricated using Engel or peroxide technique)
- PEX-B (produced using the Silane method)
- PEX-C (made using the E-beam or Electronic Irradiation method)
can offer you industrial-grade PEX-A pipes, PEX-B pipes, and PEX barrier pipes with EVOH.
Copper pipes have been used in both commercial and residential plumbing/piping systems for decades. This is why most plumbers prefer copper pipes to PEX pipes because of the familiarity of copper pipes. They are the most common types of materials found in the plumbing systems of water supplies in homes. You can normally find them in almost all home tools and enhancement shops.
|● Requires less labor to install, so it is less expensive|
● You will only spend around $4,000 to $6,000 for replacing the piping system in a 1,500-square foot home with 2 bathrooms
● Manufactured through an extrusion process and stored and shipped on spools. This makes them lighter, so they have lower handling and shipping costs.
|● Initial price plus installation expenses are around 58% to 68% higher compared to PEX|
● They are heavy and require more labor. This is why they are more expensive to install.
● You need around $8,000 to $10,000 for replacing pipes in a 1,500-square foot home with 2 bathrooms
● They need to be cut into lengths for easier storage and shipping, so they have higher shipping and handling costs
● Although they are more expensive, you will get your money’s worth if your manufacturer gives you at least a 50-year warranty
|● Estimated to last between 30 and 50 years|
● Their lifespan will be less if used with extremely hot water (at east 180° F) or with water containing high chlorine levels
|● Proven lifespan of up to 50 to 70 years, but can also last up to 100 years|
● Their lifespan can decrease when used with highly acidic water
● They can surpass the lifespan of PEX pipes by around 20 years under normal conditions such as in municipal water systems
#3 Resistance to Environmental Factors
|● Can be used with both cold and hot temperatures|
● They do not corrode or degrade because they do not allow the buildup of sediment inside the pipes
● Temperature fluctuations do not cause the pipes to burst, so they are exceptional options for all water systems
● More resistant to freeze-breakage because it can expand when the water inside the pipe freezes
● Ideal in cold regions where there is not enough insulation
● Susceptible to UV and rodent damage, so you should not use them outdoors
● Since PEX is made of plastic, it can soften and release harmful vapor when burned
|● Corrosion-resistant, but can still corrode when used with high water pH levels which can cause catastrophic failures such as pinhole leaks|
● Extremely durable because it can prevent the growth of bacteria inside
● Cannot be damaged by the sun’s UV rays, so they are ideal for outdoor applications
● Frozen water can cause them to expand and burst. The risk of breaking and freezing can be reduced though when properly insulated
● They have higher melting points and do not produce lethal vapors
● Ideal for areas that are prone to natural disasters
We decided this to be a tie because PEX and copper both have their own pros and cons when it comes to resistance to environmental factors. Copper pipes are more recommended for outdoor and fire-prone applications while PEX pipes are ideal for indoor applications and extreme media temperatures.
#4 Ease of Installation
|● Flexible and require fewer fittings and connections, so they are easier and faster to install|
● They use special fittings that are easier to install (they do not require elbows)
● They do not need soldering
● You can easily bend them around corners and walls without additional connections or cutting out drywall
● PEX systems are easier to drain because they can be installed in such a way that each line is not dependent on the incoming water source
|● Heavy and require more fittings and connections which require more labor to install|
● Require you to use torches for soldering and sealing the fittings
● They are rigid, so you need to cut them and install elbow fittings for corners
● The plumber may need to remove drywall to make connections
Note that though PEX pipes are easier to install and require fewer fittings, you will need the right materials for the installation. Tubomart supplies different PEX fittings to make your piping system installation easier. Our PEX fittings include the following:
- Pex Compression Fittings
- Pex Press Fittings
- Pex Crimp Fittings
- Pex Sliding Fittings(Spanish Style & Russia Style)
- Pex Push Fittings
#5 Environmental Impact
|● Polyethylene has good insulation properties and is not a conductor. This means that PEX piping systems need less energy compared to copper systems when it comes to achieving a specific water temperature|
● They emit less toxic gases compared to copper pipes in the manufacturing process
● Sourcing PEX materials does not need the extraction of natural resources
● The manufacturing process requires less energy so it does not have a considerable impact on our environment
● Though they cannot be reused, you can repurpose them into fillers, traffic barriers, playground equipment, and more
|● Copper wastes approximately 32% more water and uses around 15% more energy than PEX|
● Copper materials are conductors, so the hot water traveling through the pipes will lose heat once it reaches the spout
● Copper pipe manufacturing contributes to global warming and uses a lot of energy
● Miners need to extract copper ore to make copper pipes which endangers our natural resources
● Copper mining produces a lot of processing wastes
● They are recyclable and can be remelted to make new piping
SUMMARY: Pros & Cons of PEX and Copper
To better help you decide which piping material is best for you, below is a summary of the pros and cons of PEX and copper pipes based on our comparisons:
|Pros||● More environmentally-friendly|
● Cheaper to buy and easy to install
● Fewer fittings
● Lightweight and flexible
● Can reduce your energy consumption
● Faster water flow
● They do not require soldering so they are safer for the health
● Ideal for DIY-ers because they can be installed from scratch
● Quieter flow; eliminates water hammer
● Ideal for tight or small areas
● Fewer chances of leaking due to fewer fittings
● Can withstand extreme temperatures
● Do not need replacements
● Can retract and expand, so they do not burst at freezing temperatures
● You can instal them in existing piping systems
|● Corrosion-resistant in most conditions|
● Extremely durable
● Can prevent the growth of bacteria
● Ideal for outdoor applications
● susceptible to rodent damage
● Not recyclable
● Not for outdoor applications, unless the pipe has a special insulation
|● Expensive to buy and install|
● Difficult to install because they are rigid
● They react to different metals and are prone to corrosion
● Not ideal for extreme temperatures
● Can burst when the water inside freezes
● Not environmentally-friendly
What Did Professional Plumbers Say About PEX vs Copper?
Below are some of the statements from professional plumbers in the industry:
- Mark Weilhammer (Weilhammer Plumbing owner): Most people choose PEX materials because they are far cheaper compared to copper. Also, Weilhammer prefers copper over PEX because you do not know what will happen to PEX pipes after 30 years. On the other hand, the reliability of copper materials has already been proven over the past decades. They can last for up to 60 years given that the plumber soldered them correctly.
- Rick Marquette (Master Plumber): He likes copper pipes better because they are easier to install. You need the right tools for installing PEX pipes and having the complete tools is important when on a work site.
- Robert Taylor (Kenworthy Plumbing general manager): Prefers PEX over copper because PEX pipes are not prone to corrosion and can expand 8 times their sizes before they freeze. On the other hand, copper pipes are prone to leaks and react to different metals which causes electrolysis and creates small holes in the pipe.
It is clear that PEX materials are better options when it comes to more sustainable plumbing and piping systems. They are cheaper, safer and easier to install, more durable, and more environmentally friendly.
However, the catch here is that the lifespan of PEX materials can only be maximized when they are used under the right conditions. The biggest advantage of copper pipes is their time-tested durability. But all in all, PEX piping systems beat copper pipes based on our comparisons. In fact, PEX piping is already becoming the industry standard in plumbing systems.