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Copper versus Pex Plumbing

PEX plumbing is being used more frequently in today’s construction, tell us about your experience with it. Have you used it in existing construction or new construction and does its advantages outweigh copper pipe?  From a cost perspective, which is less expensive.

I have used it in vacation homes that have experienced freezing problems in the past. And yes we know to drain pipes, but homeowners don’t always flush  their systems and how often have we heard a homeowner explain that they really had planned on winterizing but it got cold quicker than normal or some other reason as to why the pipes weren’t drained before closing the house up for winter. It happened to me many years ago. I hated draining the system in the old house. The basement was muddy and cold. I thought I would just set the heat to a low setting and that would protect the pipes.  Two things happened, the power went off during an ice storm our interior pipes froze and the pipes that were in the basement, froze due to homeowner stupidity.

I was more comfortable using copper until the past year. I replaced an existing copper plumbing installation with PEX.  Several things I liked about the PEX system, not the least was the manifold I built and installed that allowed me to control flow to each  outlet.  The other benefit was using the  home-run system. I don’t know that the hot water gets to the spigot any faster, but I do have better water pressure and flow in the baths and showers.  Also by using the flexibility of PEX  pipe I cut down on the number of fittings used. However in a professional job I am observing now, I see where the plumber used 90 degree elbows at every turn where I used tracks that didn’t require any fittings.

One drawback of PEX is its inability to withstand UV, and that means it should not be used where sunlight may reach it and certainly should not be used outdoors unless steps are taken to prevent exposure to sunlight. I avoided leaving PEX where even light coming in from a basement window could reach it.

Have you experienced rodents chewing through PEX?  Did you have any problems crimping the rings onto the fittings? Have you used PEX in areas where using a torch to solder copper would have created dangers?

– Hal Jones

27 comments

  1. Pete Linge says:

    I think I will stick with copper pipe

  2. Kevin F. Hibbert says:

    I have used both copper and PEX. In fact I have used them in conjunction with each other.

    I had to put a UV Filter in combination with a .25 micron filter and created my own manifold from copper. I connected the main valve to the micron filter with 3/4 PEX and the same from the micron to the UV Filter. The manifold was off of the UV filter.

    Approaches to the hot water heater are also copper due to code.

    I did not use the crimp type connections and went directly to the Shark which have proved not only dependable but very fast to use. The Shark fittings are also easy to remove and reuse when modifications are necessary or you really want to drain the system.

    The PEX also has a great ability to bend without the use of expesive copper elbows getting around obstructions or fishing through wall cavitys etc. This means less locations to leak due to breakdowns in soldered fittings.

    Last but not least is no fire. You do not have to worry about setting fires or making up speccial protection to prevent torches flames from combusting the wood surroundings.

  3. John Martin says:

    I have always been more or less opposed to PEX. I guess more is more like it. When it came out, it had a 25 year guarantee. What happens at year 26? If it is in a slab, or a wall, or a ceiling, and it fails, what are you to do? And yes, copper can fail too, but it has been around for quite some time and has no stated lifetime. Copper costs considerably more, especially now that metals are very high in the markets. Have you noticed how expensive romex is these days? I am a purist, and just don’t like having to rely on PEX to last longer than I will be around. Copper is tried and true, and is all I will ever use. My plumber tried to use it on one of my recent jobs, told him to put it back in my truck and come back when he had some copper. Torches for copper can cause problems, but if you use your head, you can avoid them. I have no doubt that PEX is cool and sexy and cheap and easier to install, but it is not for me. I am a contractor in Austin and have been in the game for 10 years.

  4. Jim Mulkern says:

    I have switched almost exclusively to PEX in the homes we do. I have two homes, one with PEX and one with copper. The home with the PEX is so much better with regards to even water pressure. The price of copper has really made the PEX choice easier. I really like using a manifold system although I have done houses with PEX using a more traditional layout as well.

  5. Hal says:

    Jim,
    I love the manifold system. I had one plumber show me one he built using copper and Gator Couplings. He talked me into trying the couplings and I picked up a few at Lowe’s for a story i was putting together and used them to join copper to Pex and so far so good. I did get a chance to use the soldering tool for pipe and we will probably run a special deal on that system in the next few months. There will be many who will always use copper as long as the prices don’t skyrocket, and soldering copper without a torch has its benefits. The heating elements surround the pipe distributing heat evenly, an issue for many homeowners and a real pain when working in tight quarters for professionals.
    But like you, I am enjoying the PEX right now. The crimping tool was a little steep, but wow did it save time over the less expensive crimper I was using before.

  6. Fred MacDonald says:

    I own a house in Peterborough, Canada, which was built in 1989, and PolyB was the piping used for the domestic water system. Over the years, starting perhaps ten years ago, I began to have leaks in the PolyB system; first, at the plastic els and tees, but also had a leak occur in a “seam” in the seamless plastic pipe. I caught and repaired all of the leaks before they caused any significant damage, and resolved last year to replace the PolyB piping before my luck ran out. My house is multi-level, and replacing with copper would involve tearing out walls and flooring. I decided to replace with PEX, and did so over several months last spring.
    I installed a manifolded system, and installed the manifolds first and temporarily attached the existing PolyB runs,which was a great help because doing this divided the work into four systems which could each be isolated and worked on without shutting down the others. I was able to fish the new PEX through small access holes, between floorjoists on the second floor, and up the two piping chases to the second floor, in one continuous length, no joints, from the manifold to the appliance connections in the second floor bathrooms. The work was done with an absolute minimum of disruption to the household, not a small advantage for the PEX.
    The PEX is great and I would use it again – easy to handle, continuous lengths and fewer fittings, mechanical joints that are leak tight more reliably than sweated joints, and if you do have a leaker, you don’t have to do a complete drain to do the repair – just turn off the supply valve, close all vents into the system (shut off faucets, etc) and undo the joint, and redo it with a new clamping band and fitting. And no fire or fire watch after the work is done. Tough, corrosion free, and the manifolds and fittings allow a really competent and workmanlike job.

  7. Hal says:

    Fred,
    It sounds like PEX was the best solution for your job. The continuous run without connections is a big advantage. Now I also use the colored pipe to help trace hot and cold lines. In areas where the pipe will be visible I will usually create a copper section to retain the traditional look. For exterior wall pass throughs I use copper and fasten it to the wall to prevent movement and run PEX to the short copper section. For faucets , I opt for 3/4 or 1″ supply lines. I installed two exterior faucets for yard use and both of those are connected to the main house supply before the pressure regulator. This allows me a much higher rate of flow than the older method. Frankly, I can pressure wash without anything more than a nozzle attached to the garden hose.
    Have a great day.
    Hal
    EHT Online

  8. Just what I was searching for! I was researching articles for our website when I came across your post (on Copper versus Pex Plumbing | Extreme How To Blog) which I noticed on Google. We would love you to write for us, if curious. I’ve bookmarked this post for future reference. Nice comments here as well – Cheers from Tennis Guidebook

  9. support says:

    Thanks for the compliments.
    Hal

  10. i used to do DIY plumbing at home at my work seems to be on par with regular plumbers.;,,

  11. Freddie Cook says:

    plumbing at home is usually easy, all you need is a little bit of internet research. ;’.

  12. Jason says:

    PEX infantry all the same reasons objectively better and more profitable copper

  13. Ed James says:

    Here is my situation. I am having a new home built. The contractor is giving me the option of having copper pipes or pex with no difference in cost. I like the idea of the manifold system of pex as well as no hammering or freezing pipes. However, copper has stood the test of time. What would you do if this was your house being built?

  14. Hal says:

    Well, I can answer that with I used PEX in my last installation on our lake house. The manifold was an important factor, along with the PEX ability to withstand cold temperatures better than copper. I was also able to run home runs from manifold to individual outlets with no joints. We were able to snake pipe like we would wiring which was important in a renovation/replacement project. Good luck with your installation.
    On a side note, the installer who installed my mother’s PEX system and I don’t care for it. Every turn he made, he used a fitting. He installed PEX like it was copper and I can’t undertsand that. Talk to your plumber about his experience with PEX before comitting.
    Hal Jones
    Extreme How-To

  15. Ed James says:

    Since copper is more expensive and won’t cost me anymore to install than pex, I thinking that I will be getting more for my money by installing copper. However, beside the manifold and ability to withstand cold, I also like the idea of not losing pressure. I still haven’t made a final decision.

  16. Hal says:

    Ed,
    I understand. I am a little baffled about why the PEX cost the same. From a materials standpoint, it is certainly cheaper. Using home runs I use more pipe, and even with a manifold expense, I still came out much better. I will be doing a PEX install in the next month and will write about it. Maybe your plumber will see what I use and be able to do less expensive installs.
    Good luck.
    Hal Jones

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  19. jill says:

    Do you have to ground pex?

  20. support says:

    Pex is made of non conductive material, so grounding is not necessary, nor is PEX suitable as a grounding agent.

  21. Wire Gauge : says:

    i did take a short course on home plumbing, i never thought that plumbing is a very easy task~”`

  22. Sandra Smith says:

    Hi, I own two homes, one with a well and with copper pipes. I installed a whole house water softener system, which does not help with the iron heavy well water. Green hair and green fixtures are the main complaints from my tenants. The second house is on city water, so no problem with iron.

    We cannot afford to install another whole house system to filter out the iron, so we used a chemical Lowe’s recommended that is put in the softener container. The iron neutralizer or whatever it is worked somewhat; however, it is a temporary fix at best.

    I was reading your posts about pex versus copper and wondered if the green that accumulates on copper pennies that are exposed to dampness for a period of time is the same thing that happens in copper pipes? Could it be the copper pipes causing the green in their hair and fixtures instead of the iron in the water? Yes, the water was tested and it is heavy in iron, so maybe it is a combination.

    Your advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

  23. Hal says:

    I understand your dilemma. One of our lake houses had iron water issues due to dissolved iron in the well water. Like you I installed a water softener. And I also added an iron remover to the softener, which worked but the product had to replenished frequently. Our situation was iron in solution. When iron in solution contacted oxygen, it oxidized and became rust. Brown toilets, pipes clogging, shower heads clogging and we also had a massive build-up of iron deposits in our hot water heater. In answer to your question, the green seen on pennies, verdis, is oxidized copper. Rust is oxidized iron. Depending on your area, acidic well water will erode copper plumbing. PEX is not affected by acidic water.
    I will caution you though, deposits already accumulated on your pipes, toilets and in your hot water tanks will remain there and will leach into the water supply as more water runs through the system. This will be especially noticeable after periods of plumbing inactivity. I had to soak the toliet tanks in vinegar to remove the built up rust that had accumulated there over time. It took a while but the water no longer leaves brown stains on the toilet bowls. When I replaced the hot water heater the funky smell that was so strong when we first turned the hot water valve open disappeared. I cut the old hot water tank into two pieces and discovered its entire bottom was covered with an iron sludge like substance.
    One advantage of PEX and also PVC is that neither react with the minerals contained within the water.
    Could the green be caused by the copper piping? Is the water acidic enough to dissolve copper in the pipe and place it in solution? If so then the copper piping could be leaching copper into the water leading to green hair when it oxidizes. I have never seen this myself and my initial suspicion would have looked towards chlorination causing the problem. Competitive swimmers run into this “green hair” issue and it is caused by chlorine in the water.
    Before replacing any piping or filter systems, I would check the water for mineral content and ph. If it turns out the water is acidic, ask for a recommendation from a local water quality supply house. Replacing the copper with PEX would help if this is true.

  24. Kids Pools says:

    plumbing can really be a hardwork specially if you are not very skillfull in doing home plumbing ,,~

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