PEX Tubing vs. Copper Pipe: Which Is Better?
PEX tubing and copper pipe are the two of the most widely used plumbing materials today, and each offers advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take an objective look at some of the pros and cons.
Introduced into the US in the 1980s, PEX (crosslinked polyethylene) tubing has gained widespread popularity and become the go-to piping of choice for many.
Plumbers like it because it’s durable, reliable and flexible. It resists bursting, is comparatively easy to install, requires fewer joints, and both initial connections and repairs are easier to make. Homeowners like it because these same factors increase confidence, eliminate hassles and reduce costs.
PEX has its shortcomings. It resists cold but degrades under UV light, so it’s not used outdoors. The tubing can be permeated by outside contaminants, and some studies indicate the interior becomes coated with biofilm faster than any other pipe material in use. It’s free of bisphenol A (BPA), but there have been complaints it releases ethyl butyl ethers (MTBEs, ETBEs), which may pose health risks. It releases toxic smoke in a fire, and ASTM has assigned it an expected service life of just 25 years.
A tried and true material, copper piping has been a plumbing staple for centuries, and some trace its initial use to Egyptian palaces 5000 years ago.
It offers significant advantages: It’s flexible, durable and stable. It’s long lasting and has a proven performance track record. It can be used indoors and outside. It’s impermeable, so it protects water from external contaminants, and it creates a natural biostatic environment that resists bacterial growth inside. It resists corrosion better than other metal piping, and it has an estimated lifespan of 50 to 70 years. Copper’s reputation for reliability adds value to homes at resale, because homebuyers consider it a desirable feature. It can be safer than other piping methods because it resists burning, doesn’t release toxic gases in a fire and flexes under stressors like earthquakes.
The downsides are few but important. It can freeze and snap in extreme cold. Acidic water can cause corrosion and leach copper from the pipe, imparting a metallic taste and increasing copper levels in drinking water. It’s typically the most expensive piping alternative.
While up to 85% of existing homes have copper piping, many new homes are plumbed with PEX. To determine which is better for you, talk with your plumber. Instead of an either/or approach, many experienced plumbers will base recommendations on the specifics involved, such as suggesting copper for chlorinated water supplied by utilities and PEX for well systems and areas with acidic water.