Earlier this month we talked about the smart plumbing revolution that we’re seeing develop right before our eyes. It made us think about one of the developments in plumbing over the past century because plumbing hasn’t been stagnant! Despite what most folks realize, it’s not all porcelain and copper piping. The PEX ‘pipe’ has been in use in American plumbing for going on 30 years now and it has become a very versatile bit of plumbing.
The PEX Pipe
It might be more accurate to refer to it as PEX tubing rather than as a pipe, but regardless of how you refer to it the power of PEX is undeniable. PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) tubing is a great material of choice when it comes to heating or cooling systems, natural gas, or domestic water piping.
Benefits of the PEX Pipe
PEX pipes or tubing are incredibly flexible (hence tubing being a more apt descriptor). That flexibility means that the PEX can be run through spaces as permitted and useless joints and connections. While they can’t turn at a completely right angle (for those you will need an elbow joint) the instances where you need a right turn are fewer than you might expect and, in most cases, a single line can go from the source directly to the fixture or appliance. With the fewer joints come fewer connections, fewer connections mean fewer places for leaks to develop.
PEX doesn’t corrode! That’s huge! They can still burst from freezing temperatures however, but even then, that’s not as common as in copper or PVC pipes. Plumbers can install PEX with added insulation to keep the water temps stable and fight off any freezing. Oh, and PEX has a lifespan of about 50 years! Not too shabby.
PEX is an adaptable little material. There are plenty of connections and fittings allowing for PEX, copper, and PVC to all interact in the same system. If you want to replace a bursted pipe with PEX and leave the rest as is, you can!
Easy to Install
That flexibility we were talking about. That makes PEX so much easier to install than traditional copper piping. PEX also doesn’t require a torch to solder the pipes together (did you know that was something we had to install pipes?)
PEX also comes in a variety of colors that can allow for easy installation, red is hot, blue is cold, making installation intuitive. Oh, and remember how we said there’s no soldering needed? That brings the risk for a fire during installation way, way down!
This benefit is probably the most enticing for homeowners looking to re-pipe their home – PEX piping is usually a quarter of the cost of the copper alternative. The price for copper has also shot up, going up in cost about four times since 2000.
So how does it compare against the traditional copper pipe?
PEX vs Copper
Duel of the Pipes
Copper pipes have been used for decades but so has PEX, and in that time they have both shown their advantages and disadvantages for plumbers and homeowners everywhere. We’ve covered some of the pros for PEX but let’s lay it all out.
The Pros and Cons of PEX and Copper Pipe
PEX is a flexible pipe requiring fewer connections. Copper is rigid. To properly fit a house with copper pipes requires plenty of precise cuts, connections, joints, and soldering to make the piping fit right.
PEX is about a quarter of the cost of copper. The cost of copper has risen substantially, partly due to its ability to be recycled. With more copper being recycled, more products using it are made. With it, rises the cost (that whole supply and demand thing). Since 2000 the cost of copper has risen dramatically and while at the moment of this writing (August 2020) it isn’t at its peak, it’s still more expensive. On average, installing copper pipes will run you about 60% more (expensive) than PEX.
As previously mentioned, PEX piping doesn’t need to be soldered together, only needing simple snips and connections to install. As the pipe is flexible it is also very forgiving for running through walls and spaces. All this makes it easier to install and safer.
Double Advantage; PEX!
The lifespan of PEX sits at around 50 years. Copper meanwhile can last up to 70 years under ideal conditions. All else being equal copper is the clear winner here.
In the case of a big leak or burst pipe, having the ability to shut off your water is huge. A PEX pipe system allows for a central shut off for all the water fixtures and features in your house. It all connects to a ‘manifold,’ like a breaker box for your water. When it comes to traditional copper piping, you’ll have to rely on the emergency water shut off valve.
Slight Advantage: PEX.
PEX is a relatively recent addition to the plumber’s tool belt. While it’s been used in the UK for about 50 years, it’s hard to match up against copper’s storied history. Copper is a well understood material and for some plumbers it’s just what they prefer to work with. PEX overcomes this in its usability but for some the classic copper is what they prefer
No advantage given.
All that said, there’s one crucial thing. There’s no one ‘correct’ tool, no one tool for every job. Just the right tool for the right job. That’s why we are experts at the ins and outs of every plumbing feature, fixture, system, and advance. Why we follow and learn the advantages of new smart plumbing devices before anyone else, and why we have been around for 25 years serving the Valley from Goodyear to Queen Creek. Because we know that no matter what, an experienced, qualified professional can get you the best results, regardless of problem, need, or situation.