Though durable, household piping eventually fails or breaks down. When this occurs most homeowners choose to repair or replace sections of faulty piping, but a better solution is a complete, home-wide repiping. Owners of homes with lead pipes have no choice in the matter — in this case repiping is mandatory. But repiping can also benefit owners of homes with non-lead pipes.
Pipes move hot and cold water from the heater to other household sections and structures. They also bring clean water into a home and remove waste from it to a sewer or septic system. Due to frequent usage, pipes wear and, if not repaired or replaced, will inevitably leak, burst, or develop blockages.
Older pipes may develop problems that can’t be easily detected. Repiping is a surefire way to prevent potentially serious piping failures and save expenses on many small repairs over a long period of time.
Complete repiping is best for old metal (such as galvanized iron) or polybutylene (poly) piping, which is susceptible to leaks and can also contaminate water. Repiping can also upgrade pipes more than five years old. Meanwhile, partial repiping works well for remodeling and may be used to replace sections of a damaged pipe when full repiping is not economically feasible.
Pros and Cons of Repiping
Repiping solves several plumbing issues, including:
- low water pressure
- temperature fluctuations in sinks and baths the toilet is flushed
- slab leaks
- rusty or yellow water
Cost matters in repiping. Even those who repair their own houses must inspect existing pipes, materials, and tools. This may not be a wise investment if your current pipes are in good condition.
One of the most common types of metal piping, copper has numerous advantages over PVC and PEX piping. Copper pipes may be small and inflexible, but they work for indoor and outdoor plumbing. Surprisingly, copper resists erosion.
Copper has other advantages over traditional metal and non-metal piping. For example, copper piping can last a century or more before replacement. It can withstand fire and resist the effects of inclement weather. While expensive, copper can be completely recycled and usually comes with a 50-year warranty.
Like all piping, copper also has its drawbacks. Copper usually costs more to install than other materials, and copper is often stolen — recycled copper is valuable, and thieves sometimes remove copper piping from homes and businesses.
Cross-linked polyethylene (also known as PEX or XLPE) comes in many colors and is pliable. Used throughout Europe since 1970 and the US since 1980, it is often overlooked despite possessing several advantages over other piping materials. All three variations of PEX tubing meet ATSM (American Society for Testing and Materials), CSA Group, and NSF International standards.
When it melts and extrudes into the tube shape it becomes, high-density polyethylene causes a cross-linked chemical reaction that increases pipe strength, durability, and temperature resistance. Methods of cross-linking include the Engels Method (AKA PEX-a), Silane Method (PEX-b), and Radiation Method (PEX-c). PEX-a is widely considered the most flexible.
High flexibility allows PEX to coil when packaged, allowing large quantities to ship at a reduced cost. Each coil can be bent 90 degrees or more without the need for elbow joints. This reduces the risk of joint leaks.
PEX is also immune to corrosion and scale deposits and is highly resistant to freezing. PEX pipes don’t conduct heat, don’t require welding, and can connect in several ways. Copper crimp rings, stainless steel clamps (SSCs), compression, expansion, and push-fit are all connection options.
Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, is a popular alternative to metal piping. It is more durable than polybutylene, which was mainly used from the 1970s to 1990s.
PVC pipes do not need welding and are resistant to corrosion, and its flexibility and lightness allow it to be fitted into multiple shapes and sizes. PVC is inexpensive.
In order to increase its resistance to heat and corrosion, chlorinated PVC goes through an additional chemical process. This makes it stiffer and more difficult to place in drywall than regular PVC. The lack of flexibility also means it can become noisy when surrounding temperatures exceed 160 degrees. It is more expensive than PVC and, due to its brittleness, its original 50-year manufacturer warranty has been reduced to 10 years. In short, CPVC does not make for effective piping.
Repiping costs vary across contractors. Keep in mind that piping decisions impact short-term costs as well as long-term costs depending on the flexibility of the budget.
Copper – The most expensive short-term option, costing twice as much as PEX and PVC. Copper also requires the purchase of joints and fittings.
PEX – Priced similarly to PVC, PEX is available in long, flexible lengths. Connecting PEX pipe requires special tools that may add expense: a combo kit with crimp jaws starts at $100, while cinch clamp tools start at $40 or more. PEX can be connected to existing pipes for partial repiping jobs.
PVC – Cheap and pliable, PVC is the best choice for do-it-yourself projects. While it can’t wind like PEX, it’s easier to use than most traditional piping. PVC can be cut and installed without special tools. There can be no leaks in joints when applying adhesive.
Copper – As the industry standard, Copper is extremely durable, lasting roughly 100 years, and has the longest manufacturer’s warranty of 50 years. Due to the value of copper theft is a risk.
PEX – PEX is relatively easy to replace when damaged and possesses a 25-year manufacturer’s warranty. Homeowners must be cautioned: it is still a fairly new product, and its long-term potential is not yet known.
PVC – PVC is strong, and is often used in furniture and load-bearing projects. But PVC also possesses low extreme temperature resistance and corrodes from chemicals in water and waste. As with PEX, its long-term potential remains unknown. CPVC has been reduced to a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Final Copper v. PEX Check
Copper and PEX are often equally good options for piping, though at other times one is better than the other due to specific circumstances. Consider the following:
- If you live in a region that experiences freezing cold temperatures, choose PEX
- If you live in a region where copper theft is common or possible, choose PEX
- If looking for a long-term solution, choose copper
- If looking for a cheap solution, choose PEX
- If you need piping outside of the house, choose copper