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Most people know that copper has been the standard choice for water piping in homes for many years. However, if you haven’t been faced with a home renovation or construction decision for some time, you may not know that there is a new, cheaper alternative available: PEX pipes. There are several reasons why PEX is becoming a more popular choice for plumbing in new home renovations and constructions. This post will discuss several of the key differences between PEX water pipes and copper water pipes and why PEX now rivals copper as a piping solution.

PEX Pipes

PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene, first appeared around 1980 as a residential piping solution and has become very popular over the past 25 years due to the simple fact that it is much cheaper than copper.

Functionally, PEX is notably different than copper for several reasons. First, PEX is easier to install as it is not rigid like copper. PEX can be bent and fished like a garden hose through walls and corners and never requires soldering like copper. PEX also comes color coded and therefore can be conveniently and clearly installed to match the type of water it will be carrying (i.e. red for hot water, blue for cold water).

PEX also has the advantage of resisting corrosion better than copper, especially in areas that have higher acidity in their water. In terms of cold weather resistance, PEX can’t be beat as it resists freezing and bursting in indoor applications better than copper, a feature especially useful for home renovations here in Ottawa.
PEX is also the preferred solution for radiant heating systems that are installed under floors as it bends easily for installation.

In terms of disadvantages, PEX cannot be used outdoors as it is susceptible to breakdown in prolonged exposure to sunlight. There are also no methods to melt and re-use PEX piping safely, thus making it a less attractive option for environmental sustainability.

Finally, you may have heard that PEX tubing may pose health concerns due to leaching from the plastics that make up the tubing. Since PEX has only been popularly used for the last 25 years, many critics maintain that there may be unknowns regarding the use of PEX. The good news is that PEX is NSF certified for health effects related to drinking water. This independent certification is applied only if the amount of chemical traces found in the drinking water carried by plumbing materials are below levels that could be harmful. NSF certification is also recognized by Health Canada, providing further assurance that this material is safe for drinking water in your home.

Copper Pipes

Copper piping has been the go-to solution for water piping forever, and still remains a great option. Copper itself has natural antimicrobial properties and is great for hindering the growth of bacteria, a quality that is important for your water supply. Copper is also easily re-usable and therefore a great environmental option for those thinking of long term sustainability.

While copper is still an effective solution for water piping, the cost of this raw metal has risen over time to a point where it is a less appealing option, especially in large installations. Copper has even become the target of theft in abandoned or newly constructed homes as it has become so valuable.

Copper is not only more expensive, but it is a more difficult installation as soldering is required to fit pipes together and elbow joints are also required to fit around any corners.

Copper also corrodes easier than PEX when faced with acidic water and can potentially be problematic long term when installed in areas with this type of water. In addition, as all residents of cold climates know, copper is likely to freeze and burst if not properly insulated or if furnaces break down in cold temperatures. Keep this in mind as an important factor when choosing your plumbing solutions for renovations or home additions in Ottawa.

In the end, both PEX and copper are great options for your piping installations. If you are looking to save some money, PEX is clearly the best route. PEX is also perfect for radiant heating applications. In terms of copper, it is always going to be more expensive, but is a tried and true material that delivers as expected and is still preferred by many plumbing experts for its antimicrobial properties and sustainability.