Copper or PEX for Water Supply Pipes

The Big Trade-Off – Copper Plumbing vs. PEX Piping for Your Home Remodel

Copper Pipe vs PEX Pipes for Water Supply Pipes
Costly, and almost too pretty to cover up, copper water supply pipes remain the industry standard, but lower-cost alternatives are available.

A proven material, with a long lifespan, copper has always been the first choice for homebuilders and remodelers. However, as this natural resource becomes increasingly expensive, copper plumbing for water supply pipes can significantly impact your plumbing costs by more than 25%. 

The alternative to copper (and PVC) is PEX pipe – a flexible, extruded piping material made from cross-linked polyethylene. Both copper and PEX have their advantages, considerations, and caveats – outside of cost alone.

We always take a “big picture” approach when selecting materials for your home remodeling project, including ecological impact, sourcing, sustainability, and long-term health concerns. For instance, how does water quality, like high acidity or mineral content, affect these materials? Will lead from soldered joints leach into the water? How do these materials biodegrade? Do they “off gas?” Are they recyclable?

Keep in mind, there are always trade-offs – and cost is only one consideration. So, if you’re thinking about a home remodeling project, and have concerns about either of these commonly used materials, let’s define the differences, starting with copper – a proven material with fewer unknowns.

Copper Advantages

  • Proven material with history and fewer “unknowns.”
  • Long lifespan; if installed properly, copper plumbing will last 40 – 60 years.

Copper Disadvantages

  • Expensive.
  • Reactive to other metals.
  • Susceptible to breakage in freezing temps.
  • Noisy.
  • Inflexible; requires numerous couplings which may leak over time.
  • Susceptible to abrading at mounting points and through joists.
  • Uses lead solder which may leach over time.

 

Given copper’s seemingly limited advantages, let’s look at its lower-cost alternative – PEX. 

PEX Advantages

  • Durable and flexible.
  • Less expensive than copper by 25%.
  • Resistant to corrosive water e.g. high acidity “city” water, or mineral heavy water, and electrolysis.
  • Resistant to freeze-breakage.
  • Easier to install; requires fewer fittings.
  • Safer to install; no flame or soldering fumes.
  • Can be installed in long runs without coupling fittings. Fewer fittings mean fewer failure points.
  • Water flows quietly – eliminates “water hammer” noise associated with copper piping.
  • Manifolds installed at water source reduces pressure loss across branches.

PEX Disadvantages

  • Susceptible to rodent, pest, and UV damage.
  • Prone to abrading, must be securely attached to prevent excessive movement during water flow.
  • May impart odors or chemical taste.
  • Long-term health concerns are unknown.

 

PEX vs Copper
PEX Piping manifold allows micro-management of water household water supply.

PEX is tested rigorously before it can be certified to comply with plumbing codes including requirements that piping meets certain standards set by the global standards organization ASTM International.

Within the ASTM standards are yet more standards set by NSF International, an independent, non-governmental public health and safety organization that creates specifications for pipes made to carry drinking water.  

Additionally, as part of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the U.S. Green Building Council offers design credit for PEX piping, since PEX avoids some of copper’s other flaws, too — including the potential for corrosion and related health risks, such as liver damage and kidney disease.”  –Emily Sohn for The Green Building Advisor. 

Regardless of which water supply piping you decide upon, MAK Design+Build only works with plumbers certified by the product’s manufacturer, and we’ll help you determine if copper or PEX is the right water supply piping for your remodeling project. 

Need more information? Or, are you ready to get started on your bathroom remodel, kitchen remodel, or whole home remodeling project? Give us a call today to discuss your vision. 530-750-2209.

 

 

 

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