Design & DIY

Cottage Q&A: PEX pipe vs. copper

Red and blue PEX pipes attached to a basement ceiling By Jason Kolenda/Shutterstock

I have heard that there is a new type of piping that is better than copper. Do you know what that is? What would be better for interior waterlines: copper or this new type?—Paul, Gooderham, Ont.

You’re probably thinking of cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) pipe. It only really became common in the last 15 years or so. “But it’s been a game changer,” says Shawn Groulx of Express Plumbing and Heating in Red Deer, Alta. “The only time we use copper pipe is for repairs.”

Unlike copper, PEX won’t corrode or split easily. It can expand to twice its original size or more without bursting—a huge benefit in freezing and thawing conditions. It’s flexible and can fit through and into spaces where rigid copper can’t. It’s also cheaper to buy and faster to install. “A plumber and one helper could plumb a whole house with PEX in a day,” says Groulx. “With copper, it would take a week.”

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If PEX is so bonkersawesome, why in the heck would anyone choose copper for their cottage? Well, PEX—with its internal fittings and its tendency to sag like a piece of cooked spaghetti if unsupported—could be harder to drain from a cottage system in the fall if you rely only on gravity. “And rodents have been known to chew through PEX,” admits Matt Girard, the owner of M&J Plumbing in Ennismore, Ont.

But the other con—the big one, at least for some plumbers—is that PEX may have more cons that we haven’t yet discovered. Copper has proven its longevity. No one knows what a PEX-plumbed cottage looks like after 50 years because it doesn’t exist yet.

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This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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