Copper vs. PEX and Push-Fit SharkBite Comparison

When it comes to selecting the right piping material for your plumbing system, homeowners and contractors often debate between copper, PEX (cross-linked polyethylene), and Push-Fit SharkBite fittings. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost, ease of installation, durability, and performance. This comprehensive guide provides a detailed comparison of copper vs PEX vs SharkBite to help you make an informed decision for your next plumbing project.

An Overview of Copper Piping

Copper has traditionally been the go-to choice for residential plumbing systems. This malleable metal offers numerous benefits:


Copper is highly durable and resistant to corrosion. With proper installation, copper pipes can last 50 years or more. The antimicrobial properties of copper also prevent buildup of biological contaminants.


Copper has smooth interior walls that provide excellent flow rates. The metal is also ideal for handling hot water as it resists overheating.


The beautiful copper finish adds visual appeal to any home. Copper pipes can be left exposed as an interior design element.


Copper is 100% recyclable without any loss of quality. This makes it an eco-friendly choice.

Drawbacks of Copper Piping

  • Expensive – Copper pipes are significantly more expensive than PEX and SharkBite fittings. Material and labor costs are high.
  • Inflexible – Copper offers very little flexibility. Bending pipes requires special tools and skill.
  • Prone to leakage – Rigid copper joints are more prone to leakage over time as pipes expand and contract.
  • Difficult installation – Soldering copper pipes together is a complex process requiring special skills. Mistakes can lead to leaks.

What is PEX Piping?

PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) has gained immense popularity in recent years as a flexible alternative to copper plumbing. Here are some key facts about PEX:

  • PEX tubing consists of high-density polyethylene plastic that has been modified through cross-linking. This enhances temperature resistance, durability and flexibility.
  • PEX pipes are highly corrosion resistant. They won’t be damaged by exposure to minerals or acids.
  • PEX has excellent freeze resistance and can withstand sub-zero temperatures without bursting.
  • PEX tubing is available in coils for convenient installation. It comes in red, blue and white colors for hot, cold and recycled water lines respectively.

Benefits of PEX over Copper Piping

  • Cost savings – PEX pipes are around 50-70% cheaper compared to copper. Lower material and labor costs.
  • Flexibility – PEX can bend and flex easily. Fewer connections needed. Easier installation around corners.
  • Freeze and corrosion resistance – PEX won’t burst when frozen. It resists corrosion and scale buildup.
  • Fewer leaks – Leak-proof fittings create reliable crimped or expansion joints.
  • Ease of installation – No special tools or skills needed. DIY-friendly systems.
  • Noise reduction – PEX dampens sound for quieter water flow compared to copper.

Potential Drawbacks of PEX

  • Plastic taste – Some claim PEX pipes can initially cause plastic taste in water (rare).
  • UV degradation – PEX tubing will eventually degrade if exposed to UV rays. Not suitable for exterior use.
  • Rodent damage – Rodents may gnaw on PEX as they can sense water. Must be shielded in vulnerable areas.
  • Lower flow rate – The plastic walls create slightly more friction loss compared to smooth copper.
  • Unsuitable for very hot water – Maximum working temperature of PEX is around 200°F. Not for steam lines.

What are Push-Fit SharkBite Fittings?

SharkBite is a popular brand of push-fit plumbing fittings that allow easy DIY connections without soldering, clamps or crimping. Here’s an overview:

  • Push-fit design – SharkBite fittings use stainless steel teeth to grip onto pipes when pushed together by hand. No special tools needed.
  • Multi-material compatibility – Suitable for use with copper, PEX, CPVC or PE-RT pipes. Offers flexible connections.
  • Leakproof – O-ring seals prevent leaks at joints. Locking collet and pipe stop provide security.
  • Time saver – Push-fittings drastically cut down installation time compared to soldering or crimping.
  • Wide range – SharkBite offers fittings for elbows, tees, valves, adapters, caps, unions and more.
  • Demountable – Joints can be disconnected with the SharkBite disconnect clip for alterations.

Limitations of SharkBite Push-Fittings

  • Plastic fittings – SharkBite fittings are made of plastic rather than metal. More prone to breakage if overtightened.
  • Not for concealed use – SharkBite joints should be accessible, not hidden behind walls or insulation.
  • Cost – SharkBite fittings come at a premium cost compared to basic copper couplings or PEX fittings.
  • Pressure ratings – Maximum pressure varies. Some fittings limited to 100 PSI or less.
  • Skill required – Push-fittings seem easy but still require skill to insert piping properly.
  • Permanent – Even “demountable” SharkBite joints may get stuck and hard to detach after long periods.

Copper vs PEX vs SharkBite Comparison

Now that we’ve covered the key characteristics of copper, PEX and SharkBite plumbing, let’s compare them across some major factors:

Cost Comparison

Copper is the most expensive option due to material and labor costs.

PEX provides significant cost savings over copper. Cheaper fittings also available.

SharkBite fittings carry a premium over basic PEX fittings. Offset by labor savings.

Ease of Installation

Copper is the most difficult to install. Requires soldering torches, flux and skill.

PEX is much easier for DIY installs. Basic hand tools are sufficient.

SharkBite is the simplest. Just push-fit connections without any special tools.


Copper offers superior durability and lifespan if installed correctly.

PEX is hardy but prone to UV damage over very long periods if exposed.

SharkBite plastic fittings are the least durable component. Metal crimped PEX has longest life.

Leak Resistance

Copper joints are prone to loosening over time as pipes expand and contract.

PEX crimped fittings when properly installed are highly leak-resistant.

SharkBite o-ring seals prevent leaks but joints may loosen if pipes shift.

Temperature Resistance

Copper handles hot water exceptionally well. No upper temperature limit.

PEX endures temperatures up to 200°F. Unsuitable for steam lines.

SharkBite push-fittings start to lose grip at 140°F. Hot water capacity limited.

Flow Rate

Copper provides top notch flow with least friction loss due to smooth walls.

PEX is comparable to copper but plastic walls add marginal friction loss.

SharkBite has similar flow to connected piping material (copper, PEX etc).

Freezing Resistance

Copper pipes will burst if water inside them freezes and expands.

PEX tubing is highly freeze-resistant and can safely withstand sub-zero temperatures.

SharkBite fittings inherit freezing resistance of attached PEX or copper pipes.

Environmental Impact

Copper is environmentally friendly. It is 100% recyclable without quality loss.

PEX tubing is not biodegradable but has less mining impact than copper.

SharkBite fittings are not recyclable. Disposal contributes to plastic pollution.

Copper + PEX + SharkBite: Combining the Benefits

While copper, PEX and SharkBite each have their own pros and cons, the three can complement each other when combined appropriately:

  • Use PEX piping for the majority of the plumbing system to save on material costs.
  • Install SharkBite fittings when transitioning between PEX and copper lines. Provides flexibility.
  • Use copper piping for final connections to sinks, appliances etc. for better flow and appearance.
  • SharkBite valves enable easy shutoffs and conversions between PEX and copper with water tightness.
  • PEX allows simple routing from the water heater and under floors. Transition to copper for exposed elements.
  • Copper offers superior durability for high wear areas like main trunk lines and risers.

PEX + SharkBite for DIY Simplicity

For DIYers, combining flexible PEX tubing and SharkBite push-fittings creates a plumbing system that can be installed with basic tools and without requiring torches or specialized crimping equipment.

PEX lines make routing through framing straightforward while SharkBite connectors join everything together in a snap. Just remember to leave joints accessible.

Overall, think through your specific needs and constraints before deciding between copper, PEX and SharkBite plumbing solutions for each application in your home. An optimized combination can give you the best of all worlds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is PEX better than copper?

PEX and copper both have tradeoffs. PEX is generally cheaper and easier to install but cannot match copper’s longevity and performance for hot water lines. Many homeowners use a combination.

Is SharkBite better than PEX?

SharkBite fittings provide a simpler installation compared to PEX crimping. However, crimped PEX joints are more reliable long-term than push-fittings. SharkBite couplings cost more than basic PEX fittings but enable connections that PEX alone cannot.

Is SharkBite as good as copper?

No. Copper pipe with soldered joints when properly installed is superior in durability and performance to SharkBite plastic fittings. However, SharkBite provides the convenience of push-fit connections.

Can you mix copper and PEX?

Yes, copper and PEX can be combined in a plumbing system using transition fittings such as SharkBite couplings. This allows you to get the benefits of both.

Does PEX reduce water flow?

PEX tubing results in around 10-15% more friction loss compared to copper pipes. This slightly reduces the flow rate but the effect is marginal for most residential uses.

Can SharkBite withstand hot water?

SharkBite fittings start to lose their sealing capacity around 140°F and are not suitable for continuous hot water over 120°F. Use copper or PEX for hot lines.

Is it OK to bury PEX pipes?

Yes, PEX tubing is fine to bury underground as long as precautions are taken against accidental damage from digging or rodents. Ensure pipes have adequate freeze protection if running under slabs.

How long do copper pipes last?

When installed correctly, copper plumbing will easily last 50-70 years. Some older homes still have functional copper pipes over a century old. Proper maintenance is key.

Should I use copper or PEX for main water lines?

Copper is preferable for main lines and risers to provide maximum durability and pressure capacity. PEX is acceptable but copper is ideal for critical supply trunks.


In summary, here are some final recommendations on selecting between copper, PEX and SharkBite plumbing systems:

  • Use Copper for long-lasting exposed lines, hot water flow, and main trunks/risers. Provides top performance despite higher cost.
  • Choose PEX for most supply lines, under slabs, and concealed runs. Cost-effective flexibility. Transition to copper for fixtures.
  • Utilize SharkBite fittings for quick connections, transitions between materials, repairs and simple DIY installs.
  • Combine Copper, PEX and SharkBite to optimize for budget, performance, durability and ease of installation.
  • Consult professional plumbers for advice on the best options for your unique home setup and water supply characteristics.

No piping solution is one-size-fits-all. Analyze your particular requirements and weigh the pros and cons covered in this copper vs PEX vs SharkBite comparison when planning your plumbing project. This will help you select the right materials for each application.