Copper vs Plastic Pipe in Potable Water Applications

Copper vs Plastic Pipe in Potable Water Applications

Plastic pipe began being used for residential and industrial water transportation in the 1960s. There are several varieties of plastic that have become commonly used for potable water, including PVC, HDPE, and PEX. One of the most common alternatives to plastic piping is Copper piping. Since the decline of galvanized steel piping, plastic and copper have become the most desirable materials, with demand continuing to shift into favor of plastic.

Pros and Cons of Copper Piping

Pros:

  • Copper piping is popular particularly because it can distribute both hot and cold water, eliminating the need for separate pipes which in turn cuts costs.
  • Copper pipes can be installed both above and under the ground.
  • Copper pipes are durable; they are corrosion resistant, have antibacterial properties, and are unaffected by UV rays. The lifespan for copper pipes is about 50-75 years.
  • Copper is easily and readily recycled.

Cons:

  • Copper pipes are one of the most expensive options for plumbing.
  • Acidic water can lead to pinhole leaks in copper piping.
  • Installation of copper pipes requires special procedures and experience. Copper pipes also require outer sleeves if being installed underground, which requires additional labor.
  • Some consumers complain that copper pipes give water a slight metallic taste.
  • If the consumers live in a climate with frequent or drastic changes in temperature, copper piping runs the risk of freezing and bursting.

Pros and Cons of Plastic Piping

Pros:

  • Plastic pipes are usually less expensive both when purchasing materials and paying for installation.
  • Plastic pipes are more resistant to corrosion and handles acidic water and chemicals far better.
  • Plastic pipes are easily installed, easily replaced, and last just as long if not longer than metal pipes.
  • Plastic pipes are flexible, making them less likely to freeze and burst than metal pipes.

Cons:

  • Often when utilizing plastic piping, there must be separate pipes for hot and cold water to prevent shock damage.
  • Plastic pipes are bulkier than metal pipes and cannot be used in tight spaces.
  • Plastic pipes lack the antimicrobial properties of copper pipes.
  • Plastic used to make water pipes has a long manufacturing process which emits carbon dioxide, and takes significantly longer to break down; this makes plastic pipes more of a burden on the environment than metal piping.

Despite there being plenty of pros and cons for both plastic and copper piping, the market will continue to favor plastic piping. The demand for plastic piping for potable water is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 3.8% from 2021 to 2026, making it the fastest growing potable water pipe material. The main factors that are facilitating this growth is the convenience and low cost of plastic piping. To learn more about the factors affecting plastic pipe demand, visit the Freedonia Group website and purchase their market research study, “Plastic Pipes”, released in August 2022.