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PEX Pipes vs. Copper: Everything You Need to Know

For many Texan homeowners, the devastating February cold snap and subsequent Texas power grid failure left them with a plumbing Armageddon on their hands as frozen pipes burst across the Lonestar State.

State Farm alone received nearly 19,000 property claims within days of the frigid storm, most of them related to broken water pipes. The largest home insurer in Texas, State Farm said it had received more claims due to frozen pipes in the state than it has from across the entire U.S. in all of 2020.

All of this left many homeowners pondering the choice between copper and PEX piping for repairs or repiping. While both the more traditional copper and newer flexible plastic PEX are fine choices for water pipes inside your home, each comes with its own set of pros and cons.

“While copper still plays an important role in water pipes for new construction, PEX pipe is quickly becoming the choice for remodeling and retrofitting,” says BobVilla.com.

PEX Pipes Gain Market Share vs. Copper

Starting in the 1960s, copper pipes became the go-to piping to replace outdated galvanized steel pipes which tended to rust. While PEX (short for cross-linked polyethylene) was first experimented with in the 1930s, the modern version was “invented” by Dr. Thomas Engel in Germany in 1968.

By the 1970s, PEX was being used in Europe and made its way to North America during the Reagan Administration, mostly for radiant floor heating. PEX started to become competition to copper for residential water lines by the 1990s and all 50 states have approved it, with California the last hold out in 2009. Some estimates have PEX at 63 percent market share of single-family construction and globally the PEX market is poised to grow from $5.5 billion in 2020 to $7.9 billion in 2025.

A 2020 report said that factors driving PEX growth were installations in the automotive and solar industries as well as the fact that “PEX has also become the preferred option for use in the water plumbing application because of its flexibility … moreover, installing PEX is much less labor-intensive than the traditional pipes since fewer connections and fittings are needed in a PEX installation.”

Copper Pipes: Pros and Cons

Despite the growing popularity of PEX, many plumbers and homeowners prefer the traditional copper pipes. “Many plumbers remain wary of trading copper for PEX,” says HGTV.  

Why do plumbers like copper? Here are some its pros:

  • Copper comes in both soft and rigid forms and plumbers have been working with it for years on home water and HVAC systems installations.
  • Copper is a great choice for heat pumps and air conditioning pipes.
  • Copper is long-lasting with most manufacturer’s including a 50-year warranty and many copper pipes lasting 70 years.
  • Since Copper can be recycled it can be considered a green choice.
  • The fittings for copper pipes rarely, if ever, leak.
  • Exposure to sun or UV rays does not affect copper.
  • In the case of a fire, copper pipes will not create toxic gasses.

Copper pipes, however, do come with some negatives:

  • The biggest drawback for copper is that it is more expensive than PEX and can run 58 to 60 percent more to install.
  • In extreme weather events, as many Texas homeowners learned in February, copper pipes can freeze and burst.
  • Installations are more difficult with copper pipes as they require elbow fittings to move around corners.
  • Copper can corrode over time.

“While the initial cost of copper water pipes may be higher, its durability makes it an excellent long-term value,” says Hunker.com.

PEX Pipes: Pros and Con

The flexibility, ease of installation and price point of PEX has made it the choice for many homeowners.

The main advantages of PEX:

  • PEX piping works on hot and cold water.
  • Easier to install as it can bend around corners and not torching is needed.
  • In regions with frigid weather, PEX is less likely to burst as it is able to expand and contract in freezing temps.
  • There are shut off valves located for all PEX supply lines, making repairs easier.
  • PEX is non-corrodible. 
  • PEX costs less than copper to install.

Some of the drawbacks to using PEX:

  • PEX is not suitable for outdoor use and exposure to UV rays can damage it.
  • PEX is not recyclable.
  • Some with PEX install do not like the taste of the water at the tap.
  • Plumbers and homeowners have reported rodents that have chewed their PEX pipes creating damage.
  • PEX, on average, will last 30 to 50 years, which can be less than copper pipes.

“I’m a big believer in PEX. And because it’s so easy to install, I’d use it in any new home I’d build,” a plumber told the Chicago Tribune. “I just installed over 6,000 feet of hePEX in my daughter’s home for radiant heating, and I installed about 1,500 feet of PEX for her hot and cold water lines.”

Contact Pilot Plumbing today to discuss your PEX and copper pipe options. Our family-owned and operated company since 2005 can help you take care of everything from a leaky faucet to an entire home re-pipe.

References

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/21/us/texas-plumber-frozen-pipes.html
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-19/texas-s-brutal-winter-storm-to-bring-a-glut-of-insurance-claims
https://www.bobvila.com/articles/pex-vs-copper/
https://www.huduser.gov/portal/pdredge/pdr-edge-trending-091018.html
https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-market-size-of-pex-was-usd-5-5-billion-in-2020-and-is-projected-to-reach-usd-7-9-billion-by-2025–at-a-cagr-of-7-7-301126631.html
https://www.hgtv.com/design/remodel/mechanical-systems/comparing-plastic-piping
https://www.hunker.com/12315057/why-is-copper-used-for-water-pipes
https://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-201910071805–tms–askbildrctnab-a20191011-20191011-story.html