PEX, CPVC or Copper Plumbing?

By Scott Sidler March 30, 2015

PEX-CPVC-Copper-PlumbingThere 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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10 thoughts on “PEX, CPVC or Copper Plumbing?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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