Should I Replace My Copper Pipes with PEX?
PEX piping was used to install a tankless water heater in this home. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Chris R., Mystic, Conn.)
Dear Angie: I am about to re-plumb my 23-year-old home, which has pin leaks in the copper piping. The installer is recommending replacing my copper pipes with PEX. What are the pluses and minuses of PEX? I intend to sell the house in a few years, so I am concerned about it hurting resale value. – Mark H., Mission Viejo, Calif.
Dear Mark: If you haven’t yet, it could be worth it to first check with a qualified plumber to see if the pin holes in your existing pipes can be repaired. If so, you could get another 23 years out of your copper pipes and spare the cost to replace plumbing.
If it’s a small area that’s leaking, you could just replace that section with either PEX or copper. Both types are interchangeable.
If you do need to replace your existing pipes, PEX — or, cross-linked polyethylene flexible tubing — is certainly one of the more popular options, and for a number of reasons. To start, PEX is easy to install because it’s flexible. Your plumber can install it much faster than he or she could install rigid copper pipes. Second, PEX costs less than copper. Coupled with the quicker installation, the savings over installing copper pipes can be significant. Also, PEX pipes don’t corrode like copper and aren’t susceptible to freezing.
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If there’s a drawback to PEX, it’s that it doesn’t have the proven history that copper has exhibited. Copper pipes have been around for centuries. In residential settings, it’s not uncommon for them to last 50 years or more. PEX, by contrast, has only been used in U.S. residential plumbing for the past 30 years or so; and it was only approved a few years ago for use in California.
Because of that, some homeowners might still prefer copper. PEX can also be susceptible to damage from ultraviolet rays from the sun. If it has to be installed outside the home, be sure to talk to your plumber about how he or she plans to protect it.
If you’re concerned about how it will impact the resale value of your home, talk to your real estate agent about your plans to change out your pipes. Ask her or his advice on what other homes in the area have and if prospective buyers have shown a preference for one pipe type over the other. Chances are, your buyer isn’t going to be too concerned with the type of piping you have.
Whatever you decide, be sure your plumber is licensed to do the work and check with your local building authority to see if he or she will need to pull permits to do the job. Be sure to ask how long the warranty is and if your plumber is certified to work with that product. Plumbers working with PEX should be certified by the product manufacturer. Should the product not be installed in accordance with the manufacturer's installation instructions, they could void the warranty.
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Editor's note: This is an updated version on an article originally posted on July 1, 2013.