If you’re faced with repiping your home because of a water leak, you’ll be presented with two piping options: copper or PEX. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons for each type.
Copper tubing has been the longtime standard for plumbing and requires a certain skillset for sweating (soldering) pipes and fittings together. This is a job you can do yourself, but it does require patience and is best practiced on a vise and workbench before performing under a sink.
Copper has natural attributes that make it ideal for plumbing. It creates a biostatic atmosphere which makes it difficult for bacteria to grow inside of it. It also resists corrosion and is unaffected by ultraviolet rays, which allows you to use it outdoors.
Copper does have a few disadvantages, though. Copper has become expensive, whereas PEX is typically about a third of the cost. It can still corrode based on the pH levels of water and if you live in a cold climate, frozen water can cause copper pipes to burst.
PEX (or crosslinked polyethylene) was introduced in the US around 1980 and is often seen in radiant heat flooring applications, but has now become commonplace for repiping and plumbing repairs.
PEX popularity can be attributed to many factors, including cost, flexibility, resistance to scale and chlorine, and fast installation with fewer connections and fittings. PEX is also more efficient as it doesn’t lose heat like a copper pipe will. Although PEX is not suitable for use outside, it is much more resistant to freezing temperatures and bursting.
PEX is color coded based on water temperature (red is hot, blue is cold, white is any) which is a handy feature.
Installing PEX tubing can be done with cinch or crimp rings and a cinch clamp tool or compression or stab-in fittings, either technique is easier and less toxic than sweating copper.