Whether you’re replacing a section of pipe, re-piping your entire home, or making decisions for new construction, one of the first and most basic choices you’ll make is about piping materials. These days, the most common choice is between good old gleaming copper and new-millennium plastic pipes like PEX.
So which is better?
Copper Pipe Pros And Cons
Copper piping has been around since the time of the Pharaohs when Egyptians built it into their palaces. It has outlasted a number of other metallic pipes, like iron, lead, and galvanized steel, because copper is resistant to water corrosion, has a very low reactivity rate, and doesn’t release toxins into the water supply. Check out these other pros and cons of copper piping.
- High resistance to chlorine in normal municipal water conditions
- Can be used outdoors
- Completely recyclable
- Long history of excellent performance
- Useful life of 70 years or more
- Resistant to bacteria growth
- Accepted in municipal codes all across the USA
- Cost is significantly higher than plastic pipes
- Prone to bursting if they freeze
- Pinhole leaks can develop in acidic or otherwise corrosive water conditions
- Harder to install and requires more fittings and joints than plastic pipes
- Water may take on a metallic taste
Plastic Pipe Pros And Cons
The most common plastic piping used in residential water pipes is called PEX. These strong cross-linked polymer pipes were perfected in the 1960s and have since risen in popularity, in large part because of their growing track record as a viable alternative to copper. Check out these other pros and cons.
- Resistant to corrosion
- Better heat retention
- Greater water pressure possible
- Much less expensive than copper piping both in materials and labor costs
- More flexible than copper pipes, which allows for fewer joints subject to leaks
- Greater flexibility also allows pipes to expand and contract during a freeze, reducing possibility of bursting
- Shelf life of a plastic pipe is about 40 to 50 years
- Plastic pipes are affected by sunlight, so they can’t be used outdoors
- Non-recyclable materials
- Some reports claim that under certain conditions plastic pipes can leach chemicals into the water
- Not all municipalities allow plastic piping
As you can see from these pros and cons, the choice of copper or plastic piping isn’t a simple one. It depends on the chemistry of your water supply, the severity of your weather, your budget, building needs, and priorities. Rest assured that whichever material you choose, you’ll be building a plumbing system that’s going to last a very long time.