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Ask Angie: What are the pluses and minuses of PEX pipes?

Angieslist.comJuly 6, 2013 

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Angie Hicks

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Dear Angie: I am about to repipe my 23-year-old home, which has pin leaks in the copper piping. The installer recommends replacing my copper pipes with PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene flexible tubing. 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 save the cost of replacing them.

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 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.

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 been used in U.S. residential plumbing for only the past 30 years or so. It is approved in all 50 states, but California OK'd it only a few years ago for use there. 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 his or her 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.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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