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Old 04-09-2008, 01:58 AM   #1
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


I am finalizing plans for my new house and have talked to several local contractors. 2/3 of them recommend Pex and the remainder would use copper. I understand all of the advantages of Pex over copper. But I am concerned about the longevity of it. What are your opinions on my Pex vs. Copper debate???
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Old 04-09-2008, 10:15 AM   #2
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Unfortunately PEX hasn't been around long enough to say if it will beat out copper or not you just have the speculation it's expected to last over 100 years. I will tell you, that copper (the normal "M" type) lasts about 40-50 years in New England. I recently purchased a 1962 house that had a few leaky valves and getting a plumber to fix them, when he touched a copper pipe a leak would spring somewhere else. He had to fix leak after leak that sprung up and sometimes he'd clamp onto a pipe and it crumbled like it was tin foil. After the 14th leak sprung up (it wasn't a big leak) he ran out of parts and patience and left. So, that gives copper pipe (type "M") about 45 years as from my experience.

I'd personally go for PEX. You can connect it to a manifold in the basement and shut off just an individual sink etc. or the whole thing. Copper is also harder to install, you have to make sure all your holes are perfectly in line since it's rigid. PEX, you don't have to worry if the holes aren't exactly lined up. PEX also insulates better, buffers water hammer better, it's cheaper particularly if you've priced copper recently, I personally believe it will last longer, it has more freeze protection, and with copper you have to worry about two different metals in contact with each other else the weaker metal will have accelerated deterioration. Also, copper and cement do NOT go together, cement eats copper so if you have any pipe going in cement don't even think about using copper (or you have to protect it from direct contact with cement).

My vote is PEX, from someone who just replaced all the plumbing in their house with copper. I used copper as it was what was originally in my house so everything lines up, and at the time the PEX crimping tool was over $200 whereas all the copper pipe to do my entire house was $150. It was cheaper at the time, I don't think that would be the case today and also by choosing copper I must've spent over 100 hours cutting each piece and soldering it. Then, cutting the next piece and soldering, rinse and repeat for what seemed eternity. Had I gone with PEX I believe I'd been done in under 10 hours and would've had that nice manifold in my basement to shut off each individual sink, toilet, shower, etc. If I could go back, I'd done PEX instead.

Last edited by Piedmont; 04-09-2008 at 10:24 AM.
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Old 04-09-2008, 11:13 AM   #3
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Piedmont; Just a note: "M" copper is NOT code for Potable water systems. Only "L" ( heavier wall thickness) is approved. For sure here in NJ but I believe it is national minimum code
M is only used in heating
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Old 04-09-2008, 11:29 AM   #4
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Not in all placed, Type M can be used here above ground.
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Old 04-09-2008, 12:09 PM   #5
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


If I have a little luck, in the future I will be doing some building and choosing the piping. Both PEX and cpvc interest me. The only things about pex that worry me are:
1) I hear vermin chew through it. You can never guarantee a building will never have rats or mice at some time.
2) It is supposed to absorb termicide. Some areas you have to tent the building regularly.
3) I'm not sure what condition that stuff will be in after 20+ years.

If it weren't for those issues (and I am not certain how much trouble they are) I would choose PEX or cpvc hands down. Talk about easy to install and repair!
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Old 04-09-2008, 01:03 PM   #6
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Well, that's interesting I wonder if my house was built with the thicker "L" pipe back in '62. If that the case, type "L" only has around a 45 year useful life in my New England state! Thanks for mentioning, as I'm a little wiser now and particularly glad I used type "L" when I replaced it.

I couldn't read what my pipes were originally, had a fire in the basement (house was saved) and a strange phenomina happened the smoke of the fire attracted to the copper pipes like a magnet and completely, and entirely covered every copper pipe in a thick black near superglue like covering. After the fire couldn't read or see a single bare copper pipe (they were all black as night after) anywhere even in the walls!

Last edited by Piedmont; 04-09-2008 at 01:11 PM.
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Old 04-09-2008, 03:34 PM   #7
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Here only L or K copper is code for potable water. M is fine for heat however. Pick up a new piece of M and L copper and feel the weight difference. The L is almost twice as heavy.

The life of a properly installed copper system should be longer than any of us are going to live. I see two common problems with copper. One is failed joints. That is always a result of a lousy solder job or corrosion caused by failure to remove excess flux from the pipe. The other is valves going bad. That's because the gate valves installed twenty years ago didn't last very long. The new ball valves last much longer and is what is used on all copper and pex applications now. A gate valve would fail just as quickly with pex as it would on copper. A random pinhole in the copper is a very rare thing.

Pex I simply do not trust. I really think that ten or twenty years from now we're going to be ripping it all out. Don't think you're going to sue and get a new system either if it goes bad. You're going to get a tiny fraction of the damages and cost of repair. Remember pex isn't the first pipe of the future, anyone heard of polybutylene? Zurn pex already had some failures and an ensuing lawsuit.
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Old 04-09-2008, 03:36 PM   #8
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Quote:
Originally Posted by Piedmont View Post
Well, that's interesting I wonder if my house was built with the thicker "L" pipe back in '62. If that the case, type "L" only has around a 45 year useful life in my New England state! Thanks for mentioning, as I'm a little wiser now and particularly glad I used type "L" when I replaced it.

I couldn't read what my pipes were originally, had a fire in the basement (house was saved) and a strange phenomina happened the smoke of the fire attracted to the copper pipes like a magnet and completely, and entirely covered every copper pipe in a thick black near superglue like covering. After the fire couldn't read or see a single bare copper pipe (they were all black as night after) anywhere even in the walls!
What makes you think your pipes are failing?
Don't you think a fire or the soot now on them could have prematurely deteriorated them? I'd say given the circumstances your house would be a bad gunipig to determain the longativity of copper.
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Old 04-09-2008, 03:39 PM   #9
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Quote:
Originally Posted by darsunt View Post
If I have a little luck, in the future I will be doing some building and choosing the piping. Both PEX and cpvc interest me. The only things about pex that worry me are:
1) I hear vermin chew through it. You can never guarantee a building will never have rats or mice at some time.
2) It is supposed to absorb termicide. Some areas you have to tent the building regularly.
3) I'm not sure what condition that stuff will be in after 20+ years.

If it weren't for those issues (and I am not certain how much trouble they are) I would choose PEX or cpvc hands down. Talk about easy to install and repair!
Their haven't been many if any cases of vermin chewing through it but if they decided too they sure could. I don't know anything about the termicide absorption, that's new to me.
Another negative of pex is anywhere that it's going to be exposed it looks horrible. Their is no way to keep it straight. You can install it straight as an arrow and nail to every joist (and you really do need to strap it every 16"). As soon as it heats up it's going to look like a snake.
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Old 04-09-2008, 03:52 PM   #10
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


That's a good point, the expansion of pex is huge compared to copper. For heating temperatures, a 50' section of copper will grow to 50' 3/4", a 50' section of pex 57' 1/2". I used it for my temporary heating while I go through renovations; it pops as it gets up to temperature. In the basement it droops when it's hot.
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Old 04-09-2008, 07:00 PM   #11
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Hopefully in the next couple of years all the PEX installations will prove its value one way or the other. I hear some large condo complexes around my area are installing all the water supply in PEX. Maybe over time even that PEX crimping tool will be cheaper?

At any rate, if I was forced to choose a system now I would pick copper and a very competent contractor who did no shortcuts in soldering the pipes. And make sure the pipes were big enough to keep water velocities low.
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Old 04-10-2008, 09:35 AM   #12
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Quote:
Originally Posted by Marlin View Post
What makes you think your pipes are failing?.
Read my earlier post. I had 2 leaks, when the plumber came to repair them he created 14 more doing it. When he went to clamp or cut the pipe it crumbled like tinfoil. That's my sign pipes were failing. When I replaced them they were paper thin and light as a feather.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marlin View Post
Don't you think a fire or the soot now on them could have prematurely deteriorated them?
No. The fire was a pile of clothes laying on the floor that combusted on the other side of my house to my plumbing. Burning clothes doesn't create acidic soot/smoke, it's burning plastics and PVC which weren't in the fire. Besides my neighbors talked to me about pipes as they too have been experiencing leaks popping up in their copper plumbing. Their houses were built the same year.

Tell me if there's anything else I can do. I live in New England with city water, house built '62, my neighborhood was all built in '62-63 and we're all experiencing the end of life of the original copper pipes.

Last edited by Piedmont; 04-10-2008 at 09:39 AM.
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Old 04-10-2008, 10:43 PM   #13
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


Quote:
Originally Posted by Piedmont View Post
Unfortunately PEX hasn't been around long enough to say if it will beat out copper or not you just have the speculation it's expected to last over 100 years. I will tell you, that copper (the normal "M" type) lasts about 40-50 years in New England. I recently purchased a 1962 house that had a few leaky valves and getting a plumber to fix them, when he touched a copper pipe a leak would spring somewhere else. He had to fix leak after leak that sprung up and sometimes he'd clamp onto a pipe and it crumbled like it was tin foil. After the 14th leak sprung up (it wasn't a big leak) he ran out of parts and patience and left. So, that gives copper pipe (type "M") about 45 years as from my experience.

I'd personally go for PEX. You can connect it to a manifold in the basement and shut off just an individual sink etc. or the whole thing. Copper is also harder to install, you have to make sure all your holes are perfectly in line since it's rigid. PEX, you don't have to worry if the holes aren't exactly lined up. PEX also insulates better, buffers water hammer better, it's cheaper particularly if you've priced copper recently, I personally believe it will last longer, it has more freeze protection, and with copper you have to worry about two different metals in contact with each other else the weaker metal will have accelerated deterioration. Also, copper and cement do NOT go together, cement eats copper so if you have any pipe going in cement don't even think about using copper (or you have to protect it from direct contact with cement).

My vote is PEX, from someone who just replaced all the plumbing in their house with copper. I used copper as it was what was originally in my house so everything lines up, and at the time the PEX crimping tool was over $200 whereas all the copper pipe to do my entire house was $150. It was cheaper at the time, I don't think that would be the case today and also by choosing copper I must've spent over 100 hours cutting each piece and soldering it. Then, cutting the next piece and soldering, rinse and repeat for what seemed eternity. Had I gone with PEX I believe I'd been done in under 10 hours and would've had that nice manifold in my basement to shut off each individual sink, toilet, shower, etc. If I could go back, I'd done PEX instead.
Downsides of pex :

Straight up flow. Even though the pipe is 1/2" ID, since the fittings go inside the pipe, you have less water volume, and more turbulence. You can upsize to 3/4" to resolve it, but then you're negating the price difference.

Flexibility : While it's a positive, it can be a negative. The flexing too much can cause the pipe not to fully seat, OR put stress on the fittings. The cheaper fittings are plastic. You can go brass, but then you're pretty much negating the cost difference there too....

Manifold systems for conventional homes are not really a plus at all in my opinion... basically you're minimizing the number of fittings, which is good, but you have to drill more (or bigger) holes and use a lot more pipe. Not only that, but the ability to shut off a sink is really negated by the use of angle stops and a main shutoff for the house. ...manifolds CAN be built out of copper too if need-be...

Rigidity ? Copper being rigid has its benefits too. Pex being flexible just means that its "easy" and requires less thinking. For a skilled professional, running copper is just as simple, just a different process. Our code requires twice as much support for pex water lines as they do for copper. That means more blocking and nailing, or more expensive bracketry to keep it from vibrating in the walls, and to secure stub-outs.

Chemical resistance? Copper is more sensitive to chemicals, and thus, water treatment systems are a good idea in many instances. As far as being in cement, however, our code requires any pipe (water or waste) passing through concrete to be wrapped at said point of contact.

Don't forget sunlight.... PEX has absolutely NO UV resistance. If it's in the sunlight for any prolonged period, it is junk. It will become brittle, and burst.

I think each material basically has it's own application, it's not a better vs best argument.

As for CPVC I don't like it at all. It becomes brittle after time, especially the hot water lines.

I don't know much about longevity, but 45 years for type M copper doesn't seem too terribly bad.... I don't think any pipe is going to last 100 years if thats what you're expecting....

Repair - Copper fittings can be unsweated..... You can't unexpand pex. You have to cut it. There are only so many repairs you can make on pex before you get back to another fitting you have to cut out the next joint and use couplers and another fitting. I don't like this aspect at all.

I could keep going forever, this is getting tiring.

Whatever choice you make, good luck!
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Old 04-10-2008, 10:47 PM   #14
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Debate - Pex vs Copper


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Originally Posted by Marlin View Post
Pex I simply do not trust. I really think that ten or twenty years from now we're going to be ripping it all out. Don't think you're going to sue and get a new system either if it goes bad. You're going to get a tiny fraction of the damages and cost of repair. Remember pex isn't the first pipe of the future, anyone heard of polybutylene? Zurn pex already had some failures and an ensuing lawsuit.
I heard that the very first generation of pex used peanut oil in it. LOL!

Talk about a rat problem...
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