Copper Pipe Vs. PEX: What’s the Difference?

As you wander through the aisles of your local home improvement store, you’ll see various types of plumbing materials. You might come across brightly colored coils of PEX or shiny copper piping. But what is the difference between these two options? Let’s find out.

Quick Answer:

Copper and PEX pipes are distinct in material, cost, and installation. Copper pipes, made of metal, are durable and resistant to bacteria but are expensive and require soldering to install, needing skilled labor. PEX, a type of plastic, is flexible, less expensive, and easy to install with less need for joints, but it’s susceptible to UV damage.

What is Copper Pipe?

Copper Pipe

Copper is a popular plumbing material often used to produce pipes. The glossy amber material is commonly used for water supply lines in residential settings, remaining a coveted choice for decades. Copper was introduced around 1927, quickly surging to the spotlight and becoming the go-to pick for around 90% of indoor water plumbing.

In more recent years, the copper pipe has continued to hold the spotlight for its durability. For this reason, you can still find it in millions of homes and commercial buildings throughout the nation.


Copper continues to reign as a popular plumbing material for a good reason. It offers an impressive array of benefits, including the following:

  • Durable: Copper is incredibly durable, proving time and time again that it can withstand immense pressure. It can handle pressure of up to 1,000 psi and offers better resistance against temperature swings. While freezing and bursting can happen, it’s less likely to occur with properly insulated copper pipes.
  • No contamination: Unlike some pipe materials, like lead, iron, or galvanized steel, copper won’t leach anything into your water supply. They won’t rust, as the material contains too little iron to do so. This means you never need to worry about rust contamination in your water supply.
  • Long lasting: Copper is known for its longevity. It can last decades, sometimes even tipping the scale of time with over a century of use. Of course, the lifespan hinges on factors specific to the installation, but they can last an impressively long time.
  • More environmentally friendly: Copper is a more eco-friendly alternative to other piping materials. The manufacturing process produces considerably less dangerous emissions and chemicals. Plus, you can recycle copper pipes when they reach the end of their lifespan.
  • Fire resistant: Copper has a high thermal rating, making it exceptionally resistant to fires. While it isn’t wholly fire-proof, it offers much better resistance than other materials, like PVC or PEX.


Like any material, copper has a couple of drawbacks. For some, these downsides might be dealbreakers.

  • Expensive: The price is arguably the most notable drawback of copper pipes. This material is among the most expensive materials for pipes, making it unsuitable for homeowners on a budget.
  • Susceptible to acid: If you have acidic water in your home, which can be common with well water, copper plumbing might not be a good choice. Copper can degrade when exposed to highly acidic water, so it’s not ideal for these applications.
  • Adds a specific taste: Copper is metal, and when used for drinking water lines, it may add a metallic taste to the water flowing through it. For some, this can be off-putting.

What is PEX Pipe?

PEX Pipes

Cross-linked polyethylene pipe, or PEX, is a popular plumbing material stealing the spotlight from other long-reigning materials, like copper. It comes in colorful rolls of red, white, blue, and sometimes gray. It’s widely available through many home improvement stores, including big box stores and smaller, locally-owned locations.

This material was initially created in 1968 when a German scientist discovered how to crosslink standard plastic (polyethylene). The result was a much more flexible form of plastic that would eventually become widely popular.

However, this material didn’t make its way to the United States until the 1980s, when it became a popular choice for radiant heating systems. In the years that followed, the material’s popularity blossomed, earning it a place among the top-ranking plumbing pipe materials.


PEX didn’t shoot into the spotlight without reason. Like copper, it comes with a specific array of benefits, including the following:

  • Affordable: PEX tubing is shockingly affordable compared to other piping materials, like copper. This makes it a perfect option for homeowners on a budget.
  • Easy to install: The flexibility of PEX plumbing and the lack of a need for an arsenal of installation tools makes it a DIY-friendly option. It’s fairly simple to install, even for beginners.
  • Reduced noise: Water flowing through metal pipes can be noisy, especially when the pipes are loose and clatter against each other. With PEX, this isn’t a problem.
  • Durable: Unlike metal pipes, PEX doesn’t corrode. It can last several decades with proper installation and maintenance, allowing you to get the most out of your purchase.
  • Freeze resistant: PEX is flexible, allowing it to expand and contract slightly. This translates to better freeze resistance – even if the pipes freeze, they’re less likely to burst.


While PEX has its upsides, there are a few drawbacks to consider, including the following:

  • UV sensitivity: PEX tubing isn’t suitable for applications exposed to direct sunlight. It can degrade under UV rays, making it suitable only for underground or tucked-away installations.
  • Non-recyclable: If you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, PEX isn’t the best choice. This material is non-recyclable and cannot be reused at the end of its lifespan.
  • Susceptible to rodents: Unlike metal pipes, which are nearly impervious to the efforts of rodents, PEX is susceptible to damage from these creatures. This can pose a problem, especially when the tiny creatures chew through the tubing and cause leaks.

So, What’s The Difference?

The primary difference between PEX and copper is the material the piping is made of. While copper is made of durable, long-lasting metal, PEX is made of flexible, colorful plastic.

The difference in makeup creates an apparent chasm between the two, separating them with distinct pros and cons.

Which is Better: Copper or PEX?

Copper and PEX have unique pros and cons, each delivering a specific set of advantages that may tip the scales for each homeowner. Since each option has its merits, the best fit for your needs hinges on your unique needs.

For example, copper is an excellent option if you want a durable material that can withstand many decades of use and is eco-friendly. However, it’s expensive, so this material might not work for everyone.

On the flip side, suppose you want a budget-friendly option that’s easy to install and offers solid freeze resistance. In this case, PEX might be the better option. However, it might not be a good fit for your home if you have a rodent problem, as these pipes are susceptible to damage from them.

Ultimately, the best fit for your home hinges on factors specific to you, including your expectations, experience level, and budget.

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