Building a new home requires dozens (probably hundreds) of choices. From foundational decisions such as the floor plan to finalizing touches like the paint colors, you’ll have plenty of time to flex your decision muscles. However, one part you might not think about is the plumbing.
Although the pipes themselves are not something you’ll visibly see daily, they play a vital role in the functioning of your home. So, which pipe material should you choose? Which one is the best? Does it matter?
These are all important questions to ask yourself and your contractor as you move through the build. As you browse through potential plumbing materials, you’ll come across copper and PVC, both standard picks. If you’re stuck between these two materials, you’re in the right place.
We’re here to analyze each material in hopes of helping you decide which option is better for your home, so continue reading to learn more!
In This Article
Historically, copper plumbing was the go-to. Copper was the only option for in-home plumbing many years ago – it was that or nothing. So, many older homes have an intricate network of copper plumbing stretching through the walls.
Nowadays, copper plumbing isn’t as prevalent as it’s been replaced by cheaper materials, like PVC and PEX. However, copper still remains a strong choice for plumbing needs. It’s a robust and flexible material that is excellent for in-home plumbing.
Copper is durable and able to withstand extreme temperatures without a hitch. On top of that, it won’t corrode, meaning your copper water pipes won’t contaminate your water with rust. It’s a naturally occurring material that will last for decades, often holding strong for up to 80 years.
While it’s a solid choice, there are a few aspects that deter homeowners from choosing it as the plumbing material for their homes.
Pros And Cons
Copper isn’t a popular choice in newer builds and is often upstaged by cheaper materials available today. If you’re debating between copper and an alternative plumbing material, here are a few benefits and drawbacks to consider:
- Will last decades (providing the water running through isn’t acidic)
- Chemical-free compared to PVC
- Fits into compact spaces
- Suitable for outdoor use
- Anti-bacterial properties
- Resists vibration damage compared to PVC (somewhat flexible at the joints)
- Elevated resistance to chlorine in typical municipal water conditions
- Suitable for any municipal code in the U.S.
- Considerably more expensive than alternative plumbing materials
- Noisier than PVC (at higher pressures)
- Acidic or corrosive water can cause pinhole leaks
- Susceptible to bursting if they freeze
- Trickier to install than PVC, requires more fittings and joints
- Water can take on a metallic taste
Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC, is a common plumbing material available on the market today. It offers extensive benefits unavailable from other materials (such as copper). The material is lightweight yet highly durable and will last for decades.
Although the early beginnings of PVC date back to 1932, it didn’t appear in homes until the 50s and 60s. Today, PVC is one of the most common materials found in new homes, as it’s relatively inexpensive and straightforward to install.
PVC traditionally lasts for anywhere from 25 to 40 years, but some PVC manufacturers state their products could last 100 years or more. Recent technological advancements have made this possible, but the research is purely hypothetical, as the true test is time.
Pros And Cons
Before you commit to one material over the other, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons of each option. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you browse:
- Easy to install, even for DIYers
- Resistant to corrosion, abrasions, and impact damage (thicker than copper, doesn’t corrode)
- Inexpensive compared to alternatives
- Not as noisy as copper plumbing, even with high water speeds and velocities
- Ideal for exposed and high-traffic areas due to thicker material and impact resistance
- Less susceptible to low temperatures than copper (PVC doesn’t conduct heat as well as copper)
- Joints are stiff, not as flexible as copper
- May break down sooner than copper due to cement used to bond the joints
- May produce a plastic taste in the water
- Potential for chemical contamination (no links have been found between PVC and health complications)
- Thicker material isn’t ideal for use in tight spaces
- Inner CPVC pipe can be prone to bacterial growth
Is Copper Pipe Stronger Than PVC?
Copper pipe is generally considered the longtime standard for plumbing. It’s known for its long-standing durability, whereas PVC is newer on the scene. So, yes, copper pipes are stronger than PVC.
While PVC is a plastic piping compound, copper is a naturally occurring metal, giving it the advantage between the two. That said, PVC holds its own, so it’s still a solid choice for in-home plumbing.
Does PVC Last As Long As Copper?
PVC pipes can last as long as, if not longer, than copper pipes. While copper plumbing usually lasts between 70 and 80 years, PVC pipes can last approximately 100 years. Recent technological advancements improved the lifespan of PVC, bumping it from 25-40 years to upward of 100 years.
However, while research indicates PVC may last up to 100 years, it’s essential to understand that these are estimates. The technological advances are somewhat recent, so the improved material hasn’t been around long enough to prove its lifespan. Additionally, the extended lifespan doesn’t apply to every PVC piping brand – the new advancements may only apply to specific manufacturers.
On the other hand, copper is known to last up to 80 years and has the test of time to prove it.
Which One Is Better?
Copper and PVC are both solid materials available for plumbing. However, the best material for your home may vary based on your particular needs. For example, let’s say you’re working with a limited budget and are DIYing a small plumbing project. In this specific case, PVC might be the better option.
Or, perhaps, you’re building a new home and have a flexible budget. In this case, copper might be the better choice. Ultimately, it depends on your particular scenario – your budget, personal scenario, and needs. So, while PVC might be best for one person, it might be an unsuitable option for another individual.
If you’re unsure which material is best, even with the information given, we recommend talking to your contractor (if applicable) or your plumber. They can advise you on the best selection for your home based on your particular scenario.