Most homes in the US use copper pipes for their hot and cold water supply lines. Copper provides many benefits compared to other types of pipe like cast-iron or galvanized steel as it is less susceptible to rust and corrosion. However, many plumbers are now also moving away from copper pipes in favor of cross-threaded polyethylene or PEX plumbing.
Part of the reason for this is that PEX pipes are cheaper than copper and also easier to install. Another benefit of PEX pipes is that they are less prone to freezing than copper or other metal pipes. This isn’t to say that PEX pipes can’t still freeze, but they can withstand much lower temperatures without freezing than copper.
Why PEX Is Less Likely to Freeze
The reason that PEX pipes are much less likely to freeze is that polyethylene is a much better insulator than copper. Copper is great at conducting heat, but it is an extremely poor insulator. When the air temperature is below freezing, all of that cold can easily penetrate through the copper and cause the water inside the pipe to freeze. Since PEX pipes are better at insulating, they can withstand colder air temperatures for a longer time without freezing.
Standard PEX pipes are less likely to freeze, but it can still happen. Nonetheless, you can also opt for insulated PEX pipes, which can potentially withstand temperatures well below zero degrees without freezing.
What Happens If PEX Pipes Freeze?
Another major benefit of PEX pipes is that they generally won’t rupture or burst if they freeze unlike copper pipes. As water freezes into ice, it expands. Although copper is a softer metal, it is still much more rigid than PEX. When water freezes inside copper or other metal pipes, the expansion often causes the pipe to break. PEX is flexible and can expand or contract without breaking.
If your water lines freeze, you can thaw them out with a hairdryer or by wrapping an electric heating pad around them. This is true for copper and PEX pipes. Copper will usually thaw out more quickly since it is a better heat conductor. However, copper pipes need to be thawed immediately or else they will likely rupture. On the other hand, PEX pipes could theoretically stay frozen indefinitely without any risk of freezing since the pipe can expand as the ice does.
How Does PEX Compare to Other Pipe Materials
In the past, galvanized steel and cast-iron pipes were the most common types of water lines. Before this, some homes even used lead pipes, which is obviously a major issue due to the risk of lead poisoning. Galvanized pipes were phased out by the 1960s while cast iron continued to be used until the 1980s. The reason is that both of these types often had serious issues with corrosion and leaking. If your home still uses old galvanized or cast-iron pipes, we highly recommend that you have them replaced with either copper or PEX.
Nowadays, most homes use PVC pipes to supply water to the house and then copper piping for all interior water lines. PVC is great because it is inexpensive and long-lasting. However, it cannot withstand temperatures above 140 degrees. This means it can’t be used for interior water lines since this is the temperature most homes have their water heater set to.
PEX pipes are a great choice for water lines as they can withstand temperatures up to 200 degrees. Another reason is that they require fewer fittings since the pipes are flexible. Since copper pipes are rigid and can’t bend or flex, a plumber needs to solder numerous elbows and tees to connect the various sections of pipe.
Each bend or change of direction requires an elbow to connect the two pipes. Every time the water line branches off to feed another room or fixture, you need to solder a three-way tee. This increases the chances of leaking as each additional fitting is another potential fail point.
Since PEX is flexible, you can easily run much longer sections of pipe with fewer fittings. The length of pipe can be bent to go around corners or change direction without needing a fitting. This means that there are fewer points in the system that can fail and fewer fittings that may leak.
All of that soldering and cutting of pipes also means that copper water lines take much longer to install, which means higher labor costs. Labor costs are greatly reduced when installing PEX as these pipes are quicker and easier to install.
If you’re considering replacing your water lines, the team at Home Comfort Services can help explain the pros and cons of using copper and PEX pipes. We offer a range of professional plumbing services in Grand Junction, including repiping, drain cleaning, shower valve replacement and toilet repairs. Our team also works on garbage disposals, water heaters and all types of kitchen and bathroom plumbing fixtures. For more information on the benefits of upgrading to PEX plumbing, give us a call today.