PEX pipe was invented in 1968 and later introduced to the US market in the 1980s for radiant heating. Since then, it has become a popular plumbing material choice due to its flexibility, durability, and ease of installation.
But how long does PEX pipe last? PEX tubing can last up to 50 years or even more since it is less likely to break or crack like metal pipes. However, the length of its lifespan depends on its frequency of use, water temperature, installation, water quality, maintenance, and sunlight exposure.
So, how long does PEX last underground compare to other plumbing materials like copper and CPVC? Let’s explore all the details below, including how to prolong PEX’s lifespan.
What Is a PEX Pipe?
PEX pipe, whose full name is cross-linked polyethylene and commonly abbreviated XLPE or XPE, is a flexible plastic piping. As the name suggests, the piping is made from high-density polyethylene with cross-links.
Typically, PEX pipe is used in domestic water piping, insulation for electrical cables, and radiant heating and cooling systems. This is because when bent, crushed, or twisted, it returns to its initial shape.
Also worth mentioning is that PEX pipe comes in three types, PEX-A, PEX-B, and PEX-C. PEX-A is the most flexible piping, while PEX-B is a little stiffer. On the other hand, PEX-C is the stiffest of the three and hence tough to work with.
Advantages of using PEX pipes
Some advantages of PEX pipe over other plumbing pipes include:
- Long lifespan
- Faster to install because of its flexibility
- Minimal plumbing joints, which reduce leak points
- Expands when frozen, reducing chances of bursting
- Does not corrode like metal pipes
- Lower cost and easy to repair
Disadvantages of PEX
However, even with its many pros, this plastic piping is not free of drawbacks. So, why is PEX plumbing bad? Let’s find out.
- Highly sensitive to UV light
- It’s not suitable for outdoor use
- Can be damaged by rodents and other pests
- Not recyclable
How Long Does PEX Pipe Last?
Most manufacturers of PEX pipes offer a limited warranty of 10, 25, or 30 years on their tubing. But this does not mean the pipes usually last for only this period.
On the contrary, these pipes can last up to 50 years or more with proper installation and maintenance. This is because, unlike metal, PEX doesn’t corrode or rust. Also, the piping has minimal connections, reducing the number of leaking points.
However, the lifespan of a PEX pipe can vary based on 7 factors, such as:
1. Frequency of Use
When PEX pipes are put through heavy use, like in an office building, this can shorten their lifespan. However, when used on residential property, the pipes will last longer.
2. Water Quality
Factors like the water’s chlorination affect the lifespan of PEX tubing. Generally, these pipes can only withstand chlorine concentration at or below 4.0 parts per million.
So, when the hot water is over-chlorinated, the chlorine can cause the molecular bonds in the PEX pipe to break down. Consequently, the pipe can develop micro-cracks, causing premature pipe failure.
3. Quality of the Pipe Material
Most PEX pipes are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is strong, durable, and weather-resistant. However, other PEX tubing is constructed from medium-density polyethylene. As such, they may not last longer than those made of HDPE material.
4. Water Temperature
PEX pipe is designed to withstand a maximum temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It can also withstand low temperatures of -40 degrees F. If the water temperatures rise above 200 or fall below -40 degrees Fahrenheit, this can affect the tubing’s life.
5. Sunlight Exposure
Like most plastics, PEX pipe also becomes brittle when exposed to sunlight for long periods. This is because the sun’s ultraviolet rays cause its molecular structure to disintegrate, leading to cracks. Consequently, its lifespan also deteriorates.
PEX pipes don’t need soldering or welding. Therefore, you can install them yourself. However, improper installation can reduce their lifespan. For example, if you fail to observe the maximum bend radius of the pipes during installation, this may stress the tubing.
Proper maintenance is essential to ensure the longevity of PEX tubing. With routine maintenance, you can detect any problems with the pipes, allowing you to conduct timely repairs. This can help extend the life of the PEX pipe.
How Long Does PEX Pipe Last Compared to Other Plumbing Materials?
Apart from PEX pipe, the most common piping materials used for plumbing are PVC, copper, CPVC, and steel. But how long does PEX last vs. copper? Well, copper piping can last between 70 and 80 years, which is longer than PEX.
However, the L-type copper pipes, commonly used for water supply, last up to 50 years. This is because they are prone to corrosion. On the other hand, the K-type copper piping can last up to 100 years.
So then, how long does CPVC pipe last compared to PEX? CPVC can last for 50 to 80 years. So, the piping has pretty much the same lifespan as PEX pipe. On the other hand, PVC pipe offers at least 100 years of service life when properly designed and installed.
Tips to Extend the Lifespan of PEX Pipe
Sometimes, PEX pipes could last over 50 years. So, below are tips to help you prolong their lifespan.
- Tip #1: Avoid kinking or bending the tubing excessively, as this could weaken the material, shortening its lifespan.
- Tip #2: Insulate PEX pipes with opaque material to protect them from prolonged exposure to sunlight, which could lead to their degradation.
- Tip #3: Conduct regular visual inspections so you can identify potential issues with the tubing early on and fix them.
- Tip #4: Insulate the pipes against freezing in areas such as the exterior walls, crawl spaces, and basements prone to freezing temperatures.
- Tip #5: Install a water filter throughout the house to help filter out contaminants in the water supply, such as chlorine and maintain water quality.
- Tip #6: Always install PEX tubing at least 18 inches from the piping connected to a water heater. This is because the water heater is usually hotter than the water itself.
Without further ado, let’s check out some commonly asked queries regarding how long PEX fittings last.
Q: How long does PEX last in concrete?
It can last up to 50 years or more. This is because it does not experience a chemical reaction to the ingredients in the concrete. And in the concrete, PEX is protected from sunlight hence its longer lifespan.
Q: How do you know it’s time to replace PEX pipes?
You can tell that PEX pipes need to be replaced if the tubing is over 30 years old and you keep experiencing persistent leaks. Other signs include reduced water pressure and water discoloration or unusual odor and taste.
Q: Does PEX pipe last longer than galvanized steel pipes?
In most cases, PEX pipe can last longer for up to 50 years or more. On the other hand, galvanized steel pipes have an average lifespan of 40 to 50 years. This is because PEX is not prone to corrosion or rust like steel.
PEX pipe has many pros, including a longer lifespan, easy installation, corrosion-resistant, and affordable cost. It also has some drawbacks, like sensitivity to sunlight. The good news is that PEX tubing can last 50 years or more. This is based on the pipe’s frequency of use, and water quality, etc.
However, compared to other plumbing materials like copper and PVC, PEX pipe has a shorter lifespan. But CPVC pipes can last as long as PEX. However, nothing to worry about because there are many ways to extend the lifespan of PEX pipe. This includes proper maintenance and installation.