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What are the Differences between Copper and Plastic Pipe?

Throughout the years, plumbing has drastically changed from stone trenches and underground aqueducts, to the 16th century’s first flushing outhouses and our modern porcelain flushing toilets. Today, the art of plumbing faces another change; a change that lies in the hands of the average consumer and homeowner: Copper or Plastic Pipe?

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For over two decades, copper pipe was the only option when choosing the material you wish to use for the plumbing in your home. As shown through history, however, innovation and advancement in technology have presented us with new choices and possibilities.

Choosing between copper and plastic pipe comes down personal preference since they both exhibit their own unique benefits and shortcomings.

Benefits of Copper Pipe

Copper piping has had a long standing reputation for undeniable, long lasting durability and resistance to the elements. Because of its strong yet lightweight material, copper currently holds the majority of the market share and has been used for decades. Although more expensive and challenging to install than plastic piping, copper has stood the test of time, is bacteria resistant, fire resistant, ultraviolet ray resistant, and has been used for both inside and outside plumbing projects. Copper is the perfect choice for homeowners looking for proven reliability and a number of case-specific installation options.

Benefits of Plastic Pipe

With the advancement of innovation and technology, plastic piping has been used more in recent years due to its low cost, material options, and simple, do-it-yourself installation. But the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” stands true due to plastic piping’s reduced lifespan when compared to copper and its inability to be used for outside plumbing projects. There are currently three different plastic piping materials consumers may choose from, each offering their own specific advantages:

PVC Piping (Polyvinyl Chloride)

While durable and inexpensive, PVC pipe cannot be used for hot water pipes due to the material releasing harmful toxins when heated. Because of this, PVC piping is generally used for large scale construction projects where only cold water pipes are needed.

CPVC Piping (Chlorinated Poly Vinyl Chloride)

Due to the success of PVC piping in the plumbing industry, consumers and service providers began to demand for a product that offered similar benefits as PVC piping but could be used for both hot and cold water pipes. CPVC piping, a hybrid version of PVC materials, was created to provide consumers and services providers with a plastic piping material that was durable, inexpensive, easy to install, and safe to use for both hot and cold water pipes. While plastic piping cannot be used for outside plumbing projects, it can withstand extreme temperature changes while copper piping has the potential to freeze and break during cold winters.

PEX Piping (Cross-Linked Polyethylene)

PVC and CPVC piping are made of non-flexible materials while PEX piping is a flexible tube more recently used as another inexpensive alternative for many indoor plumbing projects. PEX’s bendable material makes installation easy and painless for tight spaces although it is important to purchase the suggested tools necessary to installing the fittings that connect and mount the piping to the wall. If the wrong tools are used it may lead to leaks and future plumbing problems. PEX is extremely quiet and can be colored red and blue to identify your hot and cold water lines. However, PEX cannot be used for outside projects and its material provides an permeable membrane may which increase the potential for water contamination.

Local plumbing codes may also determine what types of pipes your home has or needs. Innovation and the advancement of technology have provided more options for different applications.