Copper vs. Pex Plumbing Supply

In most cases there is no right answer for every house or building. Most building materials and methods have pluses and minuses, and water supply line materials are no exception. Regions of our country have different climates, soil conditions, and water chemistry. The goal in all cases is to find is to find what is right for your home in your location.

Copper is a durable soft metal and has the following advantages:

  • It can be installed relatively quickly due to its high volume of usage.
  • Copper is also bacteriostatic, meaning that bacteria won’t grow in the pipes.
  • Copper pipes are resistant to corrosion under most conditions and won’t rust or degrade in the elements.
  • Chlorine, Fluorine and other contents of water don’t react with copper.
  • If your water has sufficient (but not too much) mineral content, you can effectively line the piping with a mineral layer that keeps water quality high.
  • It is fully recyclable.

But copper also has some serious disadvantages, namely:

  • Copper piping has little tensile strength, and can therefore burst easily if water freezes in it.
  • If your water is acidic, it will corrode the copper piping over time. This causes a few problems:
    1. The copper ions that are in the water are a health hazard to you and your family.
    2. Copper ions are extremely toxic to aquatic life, acting much like mercury does for humans, and the copper ions can end up in our rivers and lakes.
    3. This thins the copper walls over time, making the pipes likely to burst after 30 years or so.
  • Copper mining causes terrible environmental damage in several areas of the world.
  • The raw material is expensive, and prone to large price fluctuations.
  • Copper is harder to plumb with a water-saving manifold system.
  • Hard water can cause mineral build-up in copper lines that will restrict water flow over time.
  • Water does not flow smoothly in copper pipes, causing more water use.
  • Pipes can “hammer” by sudden water stoppage
  • Copper is thermally conductive, and can lose heat quickly from the pipe.

PEX stands for cross-linked polyethylene. It is a type of plastic tubing made from high-density polyethylene. It is used for radiant floor heat tubing and for water supply. PEX has a lot of advantages over copper piping, such as:

  • It is far less expensive as a raw material.
  • It has a much lower carbon footprint.
  • It is completely resistant to acids.
  • It does not allow mineral scaling to build up.
  • Creates far less water turbulence inside, and therefore less water provides equivalent performance.
  • It is very tough to damage mechanically and doesn’t break down over time.
  • It is an ideal piping for a water-saving manifold system.
  • Does not cause “hammering” when water is shut off
  • PEX is not as thermally conductive, so hot water stays in the pipe longer

But PEX does have a few disadvantages as well:

  • It degrades rapidly when exposed to ultraviolet light
  • It is not recyclable.
  • It can react with chlorinated water to make toxic chemicals at extremely low levels.
  • Plumbers may charge more for installing it due to unfamiliarity with the product.

So which is right for your home? It depends on where you live. Testing your water can be a good idea. As a rule of thumb, if your water has a pH below 6.5, definitely don’t install copper. Beyond that merits a discussion of your goals for your home.

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