What Is A PEX Pipe And Why Is It Important?

For decades, copper piping was a common choice for home plumbing. It does it all — it's fully recyclable, bacteria and corrosion resistant, and it works well with chlorine and fluorine, meaning that the quality of your water will stay high over time. But with those perks comes a steep price due to the cost of the material alone, let alone its effect on your water bill — since the metal is so rigid, water can't speed through pipes, leading to a higher monthly payment in the long run (via Meadowlark Builders).

So forget the galvanized and copper pipes — there's actually an entirely different option, known as PEX piping. Despite being first introduced in Europe in the 1970s, it didn't make waves in the U.S. residential plumbing scene until the 1980s, reports Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine. Nowadays, this plastic alternative can be found in the plumbing system of budget-friendly new builds and under heated floors, but what exactly is it? We're here to break down what a PEX pipe is, and why you need to integrate them into your home sooner rather than later!

What is a PEX Pipe?

Also referred to as cross-linked polyethylene, a PEX pipe is a synthetic, thin piece of plastic piping that can bend and mold however you need for it to fit in a space. It first gained popularity as a simple way to install heated floors, since it has great thermal properties at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional options, but is now a standard cost-friendly plumbing option in new construction, says Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. If you buy a property in a new community full of fresh-on-the-lot start homes, chances are, you'd find these red, white, and blue plastic pipes in your walls.

There are a few different types of PEX piping known as A, B, and C, but all are created by cross-linking polymer molecules in polyethylene, which gives it flexibility. Many DIYers are a fan of the product, since it's malleable and easy to work with no matter your skill level, especially compared to copper piping (so long as you do your research). Meadowlark Builders notes that PEX pipes are also 100% resistant to acids, so if you have particularly finicky water with a pH below 6.5, it's a no-brainer pick over copper, which will corrode in no time.

Pros and Cons of PEX pipes

The number one selling point for switching to PEX pipes is the price tag alone. As a matter of fact, Berkeley Plumbing and Heating Co. claims that it's only 25% of the price of copper.

The allure of PEX pipes only increases with its properties: they're bendable, don't need soldering to connect to one another, are resistant to cold water freezing over, keep hot water hot, and improve water pressure. They're also expected to last about 50 years, whereas copper will start to corrode long before that same time span is over.

The company, however, is quick to note that there are some caveats with this alternative. PEX pipes need a bit more attention after they're installed, and require a week-long flushing regimen that will eliminate any potential chemicals or BPA from the water. They're also not UV resistant and will break down quickly when exposed to the sun. When planted underground, it's strongly recommended (and even required in some states) that the pipes are wrapped in a sleeve to prevent any potential water contamination. Since they're made from a permeable material, anything from the environment can seep into your water supply without the right precautions.

Another major con is that PEX pipes aren't able to be joined directly to a water heater or near any recessed lighting because they're quick to fail when overheated, warns Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. You'll want to make sure you take the time to map out any repiping with a professional to avoid damage to the system down the line.

Installation Cost

So if the pros outweigh the cons and you're in the market to repipe your home, the next question is obvious: How much will it hurt my wallet?

According to The Repipe Company, the average cost to refinish a standard-sized home with PEX pipes is between $4,200 and $6,000. Of course, that number varies based on several different factors, like how large your home is. If you have multiple stories, expect the cost of the job to rise, since some demolition will be required to squeeze in new vertical pipes. The same applies for if your home has lots of little nooks and crannies — plumbers will charge more for labor when they have to work in hard-to-reach areas, like closets and cupboards.

The cost of the job also rises with the amount of fixtures in your home, since it'll require more materials and connections throughout. Fortunately, PEX pipe rings it at about $.50 to $2 per square foot. Copper starts at $2/square foot, and can even reach $4/square foot, says The Repipe Company. That's more than double for the same level of quality material!

Generally speaking, PEX piping is cost-effective — there's no doubt. But a major plumbing overhaul is still an investment, so it's best to do research for prices in your area and receive a quote from a professional to really make the final call on copper versus PEX.