PEX vs. Copper Piping: Which Is Better for Your Home?

Leah Lopez Cardenas
Updated February 17, 2022
Copper pipes for plumbing work
Photo: OlegDoroshin / Adobe Stock

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of PEX vs. copper piping when installing or replacing pipes in your home

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Deciding between PEX versus copper piping for your house can be challenging. Which is right for your home and lifestyle? Take a look at which type of pipes are right for you to install or replace in your home.

The Pros and Cons of PEX vs. Copper Piping

If you’re planning to build a home, repipe your existing plumbing lines, or just need to replace a section of damaged pipe, you have multiple options. No longer is copper piping the primary, or preferred, choice of most homeowners and plumbers. 

Cross-linked polyethylene flexible tubing—commonly called PEX—has grown in popularity for residential plumbing over the past few decades as an alternative to traditional copper and chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) piping.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding if PEX or copper pipes are better for your own home.

Lifespan

One of the major advantages of PEX piping is that it does not corrode or allow sediment to build up on the inside of the pipe. However, the advantages of copper pipes are that they last 40 to 60 years and have been in use for a lot longer, meaning many pros have the know-how to work with and repair copper piping.

PEX will likely last as long as copper, though most PEX warranties are for 25 years. We just don’t know for sure since PEX has increased in popularity as recently as the past few decades, and not enough time has passed to truly make a comparison.

Cost

Pipe material impacts your cost to repipe a home. Installing PEX costs at least 20% to 40% less on average than standard copper, so you may be able to save and put money towards that tile shower you’ve always wanted. PEX is also an excellent alternative for areas that are too small or tight for rigid copper and CPVC pipes. The tubing is connected by using crimp rings with a compression tool or by snapping it into connector fittings. It installs quickly, which significantly reduces labor costs compared to copper pipe installation.

PEX water pipes cost 50 cents to $2 per linear square foot, while copper costs $2 to $4 per square foot on average.

Freezing

While both PEX and copper pipes can freeze, the copper ones are more likely to burst and flood your house when the temps drop below freezing. PEX pipes, on the other hand, can expand eight times their size before they freeze.

Health and Environmental Impact of PEX vs. Copper Pipes

While PEX piping is much more affordable than copper, those plastic pipes might be detrimental to your water quality.

According to Purdue University, some plastic pipes like PEX can leach chemicals into the water they contain, causing an unpleasant odor and sometimes exceeding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water quality standards.

However, when considering the environmental impact, a recent study from the Journal of Cleaner Production found that using PEX pipes instead of copper pipes significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 42% over their lifespan.

What’s the Best Plumbing Pipe for Your Home?

A worker’s hand adjust PEX pipes
Photo: andrey gonchar / Adobe Stock

Many older homes may have existing copper pipes, while many newer homes are fitted with PEX pipes. PEX has only been used in U.S. residential plumbing for the past 30 to 40 years. The different pipe types can all be connected together, in the event just a section of the pipe needs replaced.

If you want to keep using what your house is already set up with, that’s one option. Or if you’re having frequent issues with one type of pipe bursting or cracking and want to switch to the other, that can also be arranged with the pro you hire.

A licensed and experienced local plumber can help homeowners determine which type of piping is best for their situation. Plumbers working with PEX should be certified by the product manufacturer. Should the product not be installed in accordance with the manufacturer's installation instructions, the warranty could be voided.

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