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PEX, CPVC or Copper Plumbing?

PEX, CPVC or Copper Plumbing?There are a lot of options on the market when it comes to plumbing today. Old houses can have tons of different types of pipes from remodels and repairs over the years. Sometimes these different generations of plumbing can get along together, but sometimes its like mixing vinegar and baking soda (aka things get messy!)

Just like anything, your pipes have an expiration date and after 70, 80 or even 100 years, your pipes may be on their last leg.

Old Plumbing

When plumbing began to move indoors in the early 20th century, the materials of choice were terra-cotta, cast iron, copper and galvanized steel. These are all long lasting materials, but after 70 years or service, they can begin to develop pin-hole leaks and rust/corrosion build up inside the pipes.

Plumbing slowly developed over the years, sometimes making progress like the development of CPVC in 1959 and sometimes making mistakes as in the introduction of polybutylene piping in 1978 (polybutylene is now banned from most building codes due to early failure when exposed to chlorinated water).

Your Best Plumbing Options

Now this is just one man’s opinion, but I’m going to give you my best recommendations for plumbing that are available today. There are 3 options on the market today that can give you excellent performance and longevity of service.

Each has their own unique benefits and cost differences, and you need to look at your unique situation to see which will work best.

Image Copyright: usplastic.com
Image Copyright: usplastic.com

PEX Plumbing

PEX plumbing has been in use in Europe since about 1970, and was introduced in the U.S. around 1980. PEX is an excellent choice especially for remodel projects for a few reasons.

  • Cheaper than copper and about the same price as CPVC.
  • Easier and faster to install than copper. You can use a manifold and “home-run” system or run the plumbing in a traditional mainline and branch setup. More layout and design options are always better.
  • Won’t corrode like copper. PEX is unaffected by acidic water
  • Can resist bursting due to frozen lines unlike copper and CPVC.
  • Comes in long lengths and is very flexible so it can be easily fished through walls and around objects without extensive fittings and couplings.
CPVC
Image Copyright: Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association

CPVC Plumbing

With all the benefits of PEX, you might wonder why you would need another option. But, there is a time and place for each. Some of its biggest advantages are its ease of use and price.

  • One of the most inexpensive pipe materials available.
  • Can handle extreme temperatures up to 180°F making it a good choice for hot water service.
  • Won’t corrode like copper.
  • Easy installation with less chance of installer error like copper and PEX
  • Can’t be exposed to sunlight for extended periods without the possibility of breaking down.
  • Does not react well to bug sprays or chemicals being applied to it.
  • Time tested in residential use since 1959 with very few defects or problems.
copper-pipes
Image Copyright: AmericanVintageHome.com

Copper

The original standard for indoor plumbing- copper pipe has been around almost as long as indoor plumbing. It is a proven, long-lasting and attractive option.

  • Extremely long lasting with an 80-100 year proven lifespan.
  • Very attractive when visible pipes are required.
  • Most expensive material and labor intensive installation.
  • Does not expand or contract under pressure or temperature changes like PEX or CPVC.

Have you ever examined what type of plumbing your house has and what condition it is in? Maybe now is the time. A good inspection of your house will determine any potential issues.

Plumbing leaks are the most common cause of water damage and termite damage in an old house (termites like wet wood). Your plaster walls and ceilings can come crashing down, mold can grow quietly in your walls, and rot can destroy important parts of your home because of unidentified leaks.

I’m not trying to scare you, but I do want you to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks when dealing with plumbing in old houses. Awareness is the best way way to protect your biggest investment!

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24 thoughts on “PEX, CPVC or Copper Plumbing?

  1. We have a PEX line that is 6.5 years old. It has failed in two places with pinhole leaks. The line it was used on is the hot water recirculating line so it is subjected to hot water flowing for 18-20 hours a day. The plumber says PEX is rated to withstand such temperature/pressure extremes for less time per day than that. He is recommending we replace the 100′ line with all copper. Does his story sound plausible or is he marketing his labor to keep ahead of the overhead?

  2. All copper tubing is not the same, and all PEX tubing is not the same.

    Do thorough homework, and don’t trust your average plumber to know the complete and accurate story.

    There are good publications on copper tubing and installation.

    PEX is a bit more difficult to get the full story and is often over-hyped by distributors.

    Unless you have acidic water, you cannot beat high-quality, American made “K” copper for service life. It must be carefully sized and installed to minimize turbulence. In new construction, the complete system (every inch of tubing) should be flushed at least monthly after the first thorough water flush. (Use temporary, removable end caps until the fixtures are installed.

    1. Here are some example “wall thickness” comparisons.

      As these demonstrate, you get a LOT more copper with K, and that means a LOT more years before erosion would wear through a properly-sized and properly installed water supply system. Keep in mind that this applies to drinking water that is not significantly acidic.

      1/2″ tubing (in inches)
      K 0.049
      L 0.040
      M 0.028

      3/4″ tubing
      K 0.065
      L 0.045
      M 0.032

  3. I completely re-plumbed my last house myself, 95% with hard copper and sweated joints (a boyfriend who was a kitchen and bath contractor taught me how) and 5% with CPVC (the shower).

    While I am glad I learned to sweat copper and material and fittings are relatively cheap, it’s a lot of work and mistakes are a pain in the butt to correct. In my current 1930 bungalow I did some renovations to the existing copper with more copper but a friend who is a master plumber recommended switching to sharkbite fitting and swore by PEX, so I changed to using both of those. I had started to add a basement bathroom and began roughing it in with CPVC but decided to finish it with PEX.

    The 129 year old house nearby I bought last year to use as a rental property had been completely re-done with PEX about 5 years ago and it’s great. We had several days of sub zero temps back in January and the unheated basement of the rental went down to below freezing — several of the PEX branch lines froze solid but none of the piping nor fittings ruptured or failed (I have since added thermostat controlled heat trace to some of the feed lines and added insulation and heat to the basement space.)

    I’m a true believer in PEX and sharkbite now and I love that they can be directly connected to existing CPVC and copper systems and that the fittings fit those other materials.

    One thing the blog article failed to mention is that though the PEX tubing is relatively cheap, the sharkbite fittings are VERY costly, from $5 to $15 each depending on type and size. Yes, you save a TON of labor and time and error using them — once you learn how they work and get the set of tools for them (which only costs about $40 it is almost as simple as building with Lego toys. But be prepared to spend a LOT of money on the fittings especially valve, angle and multi-connector taps.

    BE certain with sharkbite that you mark the depth so you can be certain the tubing is fully seated in the mechanical joint. If it is not, it will leak or even pull apart. Get the orange stepped gauge tool so you can mark the depth on all sizes.

    I have taught several friends with only minor mechanical ability how to use sharkbite and PEX and they have picked it up easily. I tell all of my homeowner friends and family they should have sharkbite fittings and the basic tools in their house and know how to use then to cut and seal a leak that happens so they can immediately fix a problem until they can get a plumber in. One of my female friends has been able to replace and repair numerous leaks in her 100 year old farmhouse now that she has learned how to use these materials. She is now tackling her entire master bathroom with PEX and sharkbite!

  4. Much of the on-line info refers to copper pipes lasting for a very long time. I leave in an area outside of Atlanta in a 40 year old home. All over the area (East Cobb), people in similar age homes are developing pin-hole leaks in their plumbing (I’ve already had two). All the “experts” as well as the water authority have different opinions as to what is causing all of this, but no one seems to really have the answer….very frustrating.

    1. I live in Seminole county Florida. My home was built in 1982 with copper plumbing. I started having pinhole leaks back in 1994. Supposedly, the US started buying recycled copper from Brazil around 1980, which was in my house. I know of homes built here in 1979 and prior, with the old copper, non recycled copper, are still in use and have not had the pinhole leak problem. My problem now is I replumbed with Polybutelene back in 1995. That’s defective, and now I need to replumb again, this time PEX with a a 25 year warranty. I’m sorry I switched from copper, and with the new connectors they sell now, ie: sharkbite at Home Depot, it’s easy to repair the pinhole leaks.

  5. I am planning a major remodel in the next 1-2 years, however, I have significant water pressure and sink drainage issues now. I believe the original galvanized pipes in my 1949 house need to replaced. Does it make sense to do the repiping now, or is it a wasted expense considering I will be remodeling my kitchen and baths in the next 24 months? I’m not sure I can live with the drainage and pressure issues while I plan/save for the remodel. If I go forward now, which type of piping will provide the most flexibility when it comes time for the remodel?

  6. my home build on 2001, the plumbing are cpvc, it got water break in Jan due to cold weather. the plumber tell me that cpvc only good for 20 years, is it true? what he say is so different with the info here.

  7. I am remodeling my bathroom and the existing 2001 home has copper piping. The current plumber used PEX piping into my existing copper piping underneath the home. Where should the copper piping and the PEX be joined.

    Option 1:
    I have diverting for the shower inside on the knee wall and the new PEX pipe is coming from underneath to the inside knee wall diverter. Is this correct done?
    Option 2
    Or should the existing Copper Pipe underneath be fitted with a new copper pipe up to the diverter inside? Please advise as my contractor wants to close in my plumbing tomorrow.

  8. Very helping and informative. Our copper pipes are starting to have pin hole leaks, they are about 40 years old.
    I think our best bet is to repute the entire system with PEX and not run the risk of expensive leaks. Do you think this is a fair course of action?

  9. Here in Southern California the water companies have added less expensive chlorine and fluoride that are acidic. The acidic compounds are now corroding the copper plumbing in 1000’s of homes. One 10-year-new townhome complex with corroding copper plumbing successfully sued to get the copper plumbing replaced. If anyone hears of a class action lawsuit, please post.

    1. Odds are that is not the cause of the corrosion, check for stray DC voltage or bright green on the failed pipe. Water acidic enough to get through new-ish plumbing would make people sick and pure your eyes.

  10. I agree, can’t go wrong with copper with commercial plumbing. I advise our customers here in Sandy Springs to use copper. Great info

  11. ok I understand but for some reason the type m copper pipe used in my town home does not seem to be holding up with the other town homes in our complex that of course were built at the same time as mine and with the same type m copper. Should I replace with pex cpvc or epoxy?
    now you say I will not live 100 years, but I do plan on giving this town home to one of my children to live in for the rest of their lives and maybe the life of a grandchild?

  12. My house was built in 1996 and has cpvc throughout. Today had a huge leak from the garage. The cpvc section was fine but the copper had coroded and literally broke off. The challenge is finding a plumber that carries cpvc parts. The water in this area is really hard and leaves a white film on evwrything. Maybe copper cant handle it.

    1. I’d be very surprised if the copper failed in such a short time. The joints may not have been sweated properly or some other installer error. Either way, most plumbers should have access to CPVC.

  13. As soon as we purchased our home a few months back, all gehenna broke loose, immediate water heater replacement and some bathroom pipes broke. Our contractor recommended the PEX. We are now replacing all our water line plumbing with PEX. It was easy to install and goes around corners much easier than that of the other two mentioned above. Just need to make sure the PEX is away from hot surfaces, such as a HVAC system and so on and that the correct ends are used for each size line. We visited pexinfo.com website prior to agreeing to the change.

    Btw. Cannot get away from your website, lots of enjoyable and informative marterial to go through. Thank You.

  14. PEX is a great choice for remodeling work. It’s less expensive than copper and plenty durable. You won’t be around for 100 years to get use out of copper pipes.

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