Pex Pipe vs. Copper Pipe: Which Should You Go With?

Choosing the right water supply pipe can be confusing. Here are the differences between pex pipe vs. copper, so you can determine which is right for your home.
Written by Matt Terzi
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Copper pipe has been the standard for supplying homes with water for a long time. PEX pipes have a lot of advantages including being more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. However, copper pipes can hold up to higher temperatures and damage. 
Copper pipes have been around a long time—ancient Egyptians and Romans were using copper pipes thousands of years ago. PEX pipes (cross-linked polyethylene) are a lot newer, but the popularity of PEX is booming thanks to its versatility and lower cost
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Uses of PEX Pipes vs. Copper: The Key Differences

Length of use 

Copper pipes outlast PEX pipes by about 20 years. Copper pipes last around 50 to 70 years, while PEX pipes last 30 to 50 years. 

Ease of installation and maintenance

Whereas copper pipes are straight and need to be cut to specific lengths to make connections, PEX is flexible and far easier to work with. That makes PEX significantly cheaper to install than copper, usually to the tune of thousands of dollars less for a full home.
It’s less invasive to install PEX. With copper, you need to cut out sections of drywall to install a pipe. But with PEX, you can simply snake the pipe through walls and do a lot less damage during installation in the process.
PEX also is easier to use for DIY home improvement projects. Just about anyone can install PEX simply by watching some videos and reading a few articles online, whereas copper requires more research, planning, prep work, tools, and labor.

Access for plumbing

It’s a lot easier to turn the water off with PEX. A water distribution manifold in a PEX system lets you turn off individual valves leading out to different parts of your house. Need to fix your tub, your kitchen sink, and your washing machine all at the same time? Just turn them off, without affecting water supplies elsewhere.
Key Takeaway While copper pipes last longer, PEX pipes are better for easy installation, DIY projects, and plumbing. 

Durability of PEX vs. Copper 

While PEX has some major advantages over copper pipes for ease of use and access, there are some ways PEX pipes come up short, including their susceptibility to damage due to chemicals, hot water temperatures, and durability. 
For example, PEX pipes can’t handle higher amounts of chlorine, whereas copper can. That said, PEX is better at handling water with higher acidic levels than copper pipes.
Additionally, you also need to be mindful of water temperatures when using PEX—anything over 180℉ can do serious damage to PEX. Conversely, copper pipes are more prone to freezing in the winter, a serious problem in older homes with dated plumbing.
PEX pipes aren’t quite as damage-resistant as copper pipes, either. PEX can be damaged by exposure to UV rays, or rodents can chew through it and cause leaks. Furthermore, when PEX rubs together, it frays and can spring leaks. None of these are problems for copper pipes.
Key takeaway: Copper pipes are generally more durable than PEX, despite their other advantages. 

Environmental impact

Another big perk of using PEX pipes vs. copper pipes is that PEX makes a far smaller impact on the environment. So if you’re environmentally conscious, the PEX pipe vs. copper debate is a lot simpler.
There’s nothing delicate or healthy about mining copper. Strip mining permanently destroys large areas of land and produces massive amounts of waste that are difficult and costly to manage. Animals are displaced, and there are major health risks, not only for the miners but also for anyone living near these strip mines.
Copper pipe is also more destructive to manufacture, requiring more energy. PEX can be produced in more sustainable ways.
There’s really just one way copper pipes beat out PEX in terms of the environment: copper pipes can be recycled over and over again, while PEX can’t. However, PEX can be reused without needing to be cut further or welded, or it simply can be ground up for use in manufacturing.
Key takeaway: But for its recyclability, copper is less environmentally friendly than PEX pipe. 

Costs of PEX pipes vs. copper

Copper pipes are a lot more expensive than PEX pipes. PEX is usually anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent cheaper than copper, and labor costs are reduced for installation as well since PEX is so much easier to work with.
Those savings extend into necessary repairs, too. With copper pipes, you’re paying more not only to install them but also to maintain and repair them over time. 
A leaky copper pipe tears up the drywall. The old pipe needs to be removed, and the new pipe needs to be measured, cut, and fitted. New drywall then needs to get installed, patched, and painted. All of that is more expensive than simply yanking out the leaky PEX pipe and snaking in a new one to replace it.
It’s true that today, copper will typically outlast PEX by around 20 years or so, but PEX is forever evolving, and the PEX pipes of tomorrow will more than likely outlast copper significantly. 
Key Takeaway Copper pipes are generally more expensive than PEX, in part because they are harder to replace and need more maintenance. 

In the PEX pipe vs. copper debate, PEX wins … usually

PEX pipes are frankly better than copper pipes in almost every conceivable way. They’re cheaper, easier to work with, quieter, and deliver hot water more quickly. 
That said, while PEX pipes have come a long way in the past 30 to 40 years, they still can’t handle all of your home plumbing needs. Copper pipes still have their uses, and it might be a while before we can fully replace every water pipe in our home with PEX.
You’ll want to work with a professional plumber to find the right PEX pipes vs. copper ratio for your home. Just be wary of any plumbers who preach too much about copper pipes—some plumbers are just set in their ways, and the advantages of PEX pipes can save you lots of headaches in the future.

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“PEX” is short for “cross-linked polyethylene.” It’s sort of like a chain-link fence, but without the big air gaps. PEX pipes are woven in super tightly so water is safely kept inside. This allows PEX pipes to be more flexible than traditional copper pipes, and that has a lot of advantages in plumbing applications.
Copper pipes typically last about 20 years longer than PEX pipes—50 to 70 years for copper, vs. 30 to 50 years for PEX. PEX pipes are also more prone to damage—they can’t rub against each other, and rodents can chew thew them.
That said, PEX pipes are constantly being redesigned and improved on, and it’s only a matter of time before PEX pipes completely replace copper in all applications. PEX is already quickly becoming more popular than copper for a number of plumbing uses.
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