PEX VS Copper | Which Is Better For A New Construction

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Copper was once the top choice for new construction, but PEX is quickly taking over. The PEX is 25% cheaper and is quite easy to install than copper. However, if you are looking for a long-lasting solution, then copper is one to go for. It lasts an average of 50-70 years compared to PEX that goes for 30-50 years. 

If you are putting up new construction and torn between using PEX or copper, then you are in the right place. Here you will learn the comparison between the two materials in terms of their advantages and disadvantages for wise decision making. Keep reading!

PEX VS Copper

PEX VS copper

PEX Is Cheaper Than Copper

PEX is 25% cheaper than copper. This gives the material an upper hand when you are seeking to save some dollars. Besides, the maintenance cost for the copper pipes is more since replacing broken ones is expensive. For instance, it could cost $8,000-$10,000 to replace copper pipes for 1,500-square-foot while PEX will cost $4,000 to $6,000. 

Few Connections Are Needed For PEX Compared To Copper

PEX, unlike copper, runs continuously all the way to manifold (water-distribution channel) to every fixture (sink, tub, etc.). There are no additional connections needed as PEX bends easily around the corners. On the other hand, it is a must to cut copper as it is rigid when making elbow fitting around the corners. For instance, the copper connection turns from a vertical run to a horizontal run to connect to the sink.  

When you are working on remodelling projects, then PEX will be the most suitable. Its flexibility makes it easier to snake it through the finished walls without worrying about cutting out drywall. However, flexibility is not a major concern for new construction as access to connection is not limited by drywalls.

PEX Is Easy To Install

For DIY-enthusiasts PEX will be the most suitable material as it is easy to install. PEX is connected using easy-to-use fittings such as crimp fitting that require only a crimp tool to connect, quick-connect fittings joined by pushing them together, and clamp fitting joined using a clamp tool. 

Copper, on the other hand, require a torch for soldering and sealing the fittings. The process can be difficult for a person with no expertise giving PEX an upper hand for DIY. However, the manufacturers of all types of fittings have installation videos that you can follow to connect the pipes to your building successfully. PEX requires only two connections; at the fixture and the manifold. 

Copper Freezes And Breaks Easily

The greatest limitation of copper is its tendency to crack when water expands or freezes. This makes PEX preferable where there is a risk of water expanding or freezing. PEX is freeze-breakage resistant as it is flexible and expands when water freezes to avoid breakages.  However, since modern plumbing involves insulated pipes, there is less risk of copper breaking or freezing, making them as safe as PEX during the cold season. 

The freezing and breakage issues are more common in older homes due to lack of insulation. Therefore, it is good to use PEX if you have had water freezing in the past or live in a cold area with the under-insulated home.

The Central Shut-Off Is Available With PEX

Shut-off valves are located near most water fixtures such as showers, sinks and tubs. The shut-off valve is in the vanity right below the cabinet for the sinks, but they are behind the access panels for showers and tubs. This makes it difficult to access them as they are held in place with screws. 

However, with PEX each pipe joins the water-distribution manifold with each pipe having its shut-off directly on the manifold. The manifold is located near the water entry point to the house with labels for each shut-off. This makes the turning of the water supply on and off to fixtures is an easy task. 

Copper Is Durable Than PVC Pipes

If you are looking for a solution to your new construction that will last for ages, then copper is the best option. With proper connection and maintenance, the system can go for 50-70 years. PEX, on the other hand, last for 30-50 years and this can be shortened if you use extremely hot water of 180°F and above. 

Nonetheless, if you are piping highly acidic water, then copper might not be ideal. The acid reduces the longevity of copper, and therefore it is recommended to get the water tested before installing your piping system. If connected to municipal water copper pipes will perform best and if from acidic private well PEX will be the best option.

Is PEX As Good As Copper?

Plastic pipes and copper have been around for a very long time for plumbing systems. However, in the past 35 years, PEX has been the most reliable in the US. The world is shifting focus to building more environmentally, and economically sustainable solutions and piping is one of them. Therefore, in comparing PEX vs Copper, the focus should be on economic, environmental, and social impact. 

PEX VS Copper

Economic Impact

The best piping system should support economic pillars to achieve a high level of profitability that supports business longer without negatively impacting the environment. In such a case, PEX emergences the best as it is cheaper to buy and cost less to install. Besides, PEX can last long in tough conditions as it is resistant to mineral build-up, and electrolysis does not affect it. 

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Note that under normal circumstance, copper will last long, but its vulnerability cuts down on longevity. For, instance, copper freezes easily and breaks calling for an expensive repair. This compromises on customer satisfaction and increases waste. 

Environmental Impact

PEX has a less impact on the environment as compared to copper. According to a life cycle inventory (LCI) report, brass-PEX emits less greenhouse gas than all copper types. Learn below how each piping system impact on the environment.

Water And Energy Use

Plastic pipes save 15% of energy compared to copper. This is because as water travels along the copper pipes to the showerhead or sprout, it losses heat since the material is a conductor. But, PEX is non-conductor and insulated, thus requiring less energy to achieve the desired water temperature. Water is also wasted when it takes longer to heat. In this regard, copper pipes waste 32% of water than PEX pipes as per the LCI report. 

Material Source

Copper ore is mined from strip mines then extracted to get copper for making pipes. During such a process, finite natural resources are removed from the earth, contributing to a high percentage of waste in the US.  Conversely, PEX is a by-product of natural gas or oil that is already mined for the main use of producing energy. Therefore, PEX is more environmental-friendly as it doesn’t require extraction for the sake of making pipes.

Recyclability

Copper is recyclable as scraps can be melted and reused to make new pipes. PEX, on the other hand, cannot be recycled for reuse rather repurposed. Once the PEX no longer serves the plumbing system’s purpose, it can be ground and repurposed for traffic barriers, playground equipment, composite lumber, and more. 

Manufacturing Process 

It takes less energy to manufacture PEX pipes, and the process has a less environmental impact. On the contrary, copper requires a lot of energy to process, thus, having great potential to cause global warming. 

Social Impact

Social impact is considered when using the piping materials to check on their sustainability. PEX outperforms copper as it is cheaper and easy to install. Apart from that below are other reasons why PEX is better than copper in health and safety:

Health And Safety Or Piping Materials: PEX VS Copper

1. PEX is leach-, pit-, and mineral build-up resistant

2. Mechanical fitting is used to join PEX but copper needs soldiering that possess fire risk during installation

3. PEX system is approved for clean water application as it is NSF/CAN/ANSI 61 approved

4. Copper pipes can cause copper traces when it breaks down that has been linked to Alzheimer and heart disease

5. There is theft concern on copper pipes unlike the PEX types

6. PEX-B has a high degree of chlorine-resistance and guarantee of UV-resistance for 6 months

Is PEX Safe For Drinking Water?

PEX is safe for drinking water as it meets the NSF standards. Besides, it has been shown in many studies that PEX pose no health risk when used to pipe drinking water. However, water piped on PEX materials can have undesirable taste and odors when left there longer. This does not have any known health hazards, but, states such as California still ban its use.

Final Words

From the foregoing discussion, PEX outperforms copper when installing the piping system in new constructions. It is cheaper, easy to install, and has a less negative economic, social and environmental impact. This is not to say copper has no place in the plumbing system; if you are looking for a long-lasting solution, it is the best option. Note that copper freezes and breaks easily, thus not good for cold regions. 

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