What is the best material for conveying potable water throughout a buildings? Galvanized pipe rust in the cold and plugs up hot, it’s a solid pipe and hard to damage, but too much labor to install. I love brass pipe, probably the best piping in the world. I don’t believe anyone can come close to it’s durability and longevity, but again it’s laborious and an expensive precious metal. After plumbers grew tired of threading pipe, copper tube began mass production. It was easily damaged by nails, but the labor was reduced by over half. Copper does tarnish; noticeable when the water is turned off worked on, then turned back on, it’s a black color to the water. Copper doesn’t build mineral deposits like galvanized, a big improvement. The longevity of the piping systems is reduced from 60-70 years to about 50, if properly installed with type L copper tube.
The plastic revolution came about and homes started being piped by polyethylene tubing. This tubing was primarily used in mobile homes and RV’s. Most memorable for splitting down the middle of the tubing lengthwise and flooding homes. The manufacturers mostly settled out of court. This pipe didn’t require many fittings, but the few they had were made of plastic as well, yes more trouble. That being said plastic is an excellent material. It is smooth therefore has little friction. It is flexible therefore doesn’t require many fittings and can be snaked throughout a home in little time. The problem with polyethylene tubing is the chemists. Now a days chemists have learned to cross connect the molecules in the tubing giving the material memory. If kinked the tubing can be heated and the molecules will realign and be as manufactured. The tubing doesn’t become rigid and inflexible after contact with chlorine and chemicals in our drinking water. The fittings are now manufactured from brass. Gotta love brass plumbing! So why do plumbers like to dismiss this new wonder tubing?
One reason for the dislike of PEX (polyethylene cross connected) tubing is very simple, plumber don’t like change. Soldering copper is considered an art form. Properly cleaned, reamed, fluxed, heated to the proper temperature, wiped, soldered, and wiped again. Plumbers have to love what they do or the job simply isn’t worth the crap they put up with. I literallymean crap. There is only on two types of copper tube, soldered and pressed, while there are countless forms of plastic tubing. CPVC, crimp type, flex type, heat welded, and probably a few I don’t know of. If a plumber needs to repair a leak in a home, I can guaranty there is copper on their truck but not necessarily the right brand poly tube. An extra trip charge and tool rental fees can make an previously cost effective repair become an expensive ordeal. Because of the early release of the poly tube it lost the trust of the plumbing community. It has made a comeback though, mostly due to the cost reduction. Building operators have tight budgets to keep and therefore will consider cost before value. Poly piping can be strung in the ceiling like the electricians wires, but also comes in semi-rigid tubing that resembles it’s more trusted and solid counterparts. And most important to rental properties in town, theives aren’t tempted to remove the tubing and recycle it.
The world is in a constant state of change and to keep up with it, every tradesman must adapt and change with it. Poly tube has become a strong contender and may easily remove copper from the picture altogether. Until then make sure your plumber carries a fire extinguisher into your domicile before he lights a torch!