Pipes are one of the most important components of your plumbing system, without them, you would not have a system at all. They make sure water gets from point A to point B, and that is it! So why does this topic matter? The answer is simple: pipes can be made out of a variety of materials, both options work well in different ways and serve their own purposes with each option having its own pros and cons. In this article, we will explore whether you should choose copper or plastic for radiators and central heating and which material you should choose based on your needs.

Copper elbow joints

Can You Use Plastic Pipe for Radiators?

For decades copper has been the go-to material for all heating installation pipes but plastic pipes have become increasingly popular and are now often used for radiators. In fact, plastic is now common in almost all plumbing fixtures although there are limits. Plastic pipes must not be used to connect a boiler, nor must they be used for Gas.

Copper or Plastic Pipes for Radiators?

Although plastic is a great alternative to copper for general pipework, for any pipework that attaches directly to a radiator, I use copper. Why? Two reasons.

One – Aesthetics

The first reason is that they look better – the pipes are straighter and if you intend on painting them, you will get a much nicer finish when painting copper.

Two – Strength

Secondly, copper is stronger and although both types of pipes are prone to leaking when knocked etc. Copper will stand up to a little more punishment as the joints are surprisingly a little more flexible making them more likely to hold.

Copper or Plastic Pipes for Underfloor Heating?

Although we feel that copper should be used to connect directly to radiators or be used for any other visible pipework, underfloor heating should be installed using plastic pipes. Plastic pipe is more flexible than copper and due to the layout of underfloor heating, which is laid in patterns, copper just is not suitable due to its rigidity making it too much work to make all of those sharp turns.

With the number of joints necessary to adequately lay an underfloor heating system in copper, the risk of leaking is increased dramatically.

Copper or Plastic Pipes for Central Heating Pipes?

Although plastic does have its advantages in being easy to install and flexible enough to go through joists etc., personally, I stick to copper wherever possible. I think that it is quite telling that it is a requirement that copper must be used for at least 1m before connecting to a boiler. Due to it largely being cheaper, plastic is now often used in new building developments. However for me, even when it is installed correctly, it is only a matter of time before you are just waiting for it to fail.

Opinion: I feel that by using the cheaper alternative, the call for plumbers will eventually increase as they will be needed to address and fix all of the failed plastic pipework and fittings.

Pros & Cons of Plastic & Copper Pipes

As we have mentioned, both types are great for different applications, but they also have their drawbacks, we are going to have a look at the pros and cons of each material when used in plumbing.

Plastic Pipes

Plastic plumbing is a great option for those who want to install their own plumbing. It is quiet, corrosion-resistant and easy to work with, but it has some drawbacks too. For one thing, plastic pipes are not as long-lasting so you may find yourself replacing them in the future or paying more for repairs because they are prone to breaking down faster than other materials like copper pipe.

The joints on these pipes can also be inflexible which means that they might break if there is any give when installing them into tight spaces or where water pressure changes quickly. Finally, while many people think of PVC piping as an inexpensive way to get your home set up with plumbing fixtures, this material actually looks cheap and unattractive so for any pipes that are on show, I would replace them with copper.

Pros

  • Quiet
  • Corrosion Resistant
  • Easy to Install
  • Cheap
  • Doesn’t Freeze as Easily

Cons

  • Not Long-Lasting
  • Inflexible Joints
  • Potential Health Risk
  • Does Not Fit into Tight Spaces
  • Looks Cheap

Copper Pipes

If you have a sealed system with no F&E tank, the best way to get the sludge cleaner into the system is via one of the radiators themselves which can get a little messy. Copper pipes are a great option if you are looking for a long-lasting and clean look in your home. Copper is often selected because of its longevity, easy installation, and ability to withstand vibration.

Keep in mind though that copper piping is more expensive and difficult to install and can be susceptible to corrosion over prolonged periods of time.

Pros

  • Long-Lasting
  • Fits into Tight Spaces
  • Resists Vibration
  • Clean, Looks Good

Cons

  • Susceptible to Corrosion
  • Difficult to Install
  • More Expensive
  • Can be Noisy

Conclusion

Call me old school, call me whatever but I prefer to use copper over plastic anywhere it is possible and will only use it anywhere that is visible! Don’t get me wrong, both materials have their uses in traditional and modern plumbing and heating systems. Copper pipe is best for connecting to radiators and plastic is undeniably better for underfloor heating systems. Copper and Plastic pipes can also be combined for the best of both worlds. By using copper pipe in places that work well with it, coupled with plastic pipes where necessary – you should have an effective piping system that is versatile enough to meet any need!

Copper Pipe Vs Plastic Pipe Infographic

Plumbing Wizard Tips

“For a smooth and clean finish, keep any pipework that is visible in copper!”

“If you do not like the noises of creaking pipes as they warm – install plastic!”

“In areas where the water quality is poor, use plastic pipes as they are resistant to corrosion!”

“If you are unsure or unable to fit the pipework yourself, speak with your local plumber for their advice!”

Frequently Asked Questions

Are plastic radiator pipes any good?

Plastic radiator pipes are fine, and they will do a job although they look awful, and the joints are not as flexible. A little knock could cause a serious leak.

Is it better to use copper or plastic pipes?

Both materials have their uses and can be used in conjunction with one another. Plastic is obviously more flexible than copper and can be bent into shape easier and copper is straight and is more aesthetically pleasing. More modern installations use plastic out of sight and copper inside living spaces.

What is the best pipe to use for central heating?

In my opinion, copper is the best all-around material for water installations including heating systems except for underfloor heating. Underfloor heating should be laid in plastic pipe.

Why has plastic become a popular choice for radiator pipes?

Plastic pipes have become increasingly popular for radiators because they are common in almost all plumbing fixtures and are easier to install. They’re also corrosion-resistant and more flexible than copper.

Can I use plastic pipes directly to connect my boiler?

No, plastic pipes must not be used to connect a boiler. It is a requirement that copper must be used for at least 1m before connecting to a boiler.

How does the appearance of plastic pipes compare to that of copper when used visibly?

Plastic pipes can look cheap and unattractive. On the other hand, copper pipes give a cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing appearance, especially when they are painted or on show.

What are the main advantages of using copper pipes for radiators?

Copper pipes are straighter, giving a much nicer finish when painted. Additionally, they are stronger, more flexible at the joints, and therefore more resilient to small impacts compared to plastic pipes.

Why are plastic pipes recommended for underfloor heating instead of copper?

Due to the layout of underfloor heating, which is laid in patterns, copper is not suitable due to its rigidity. Plastic pipe is more flexible than copper, making it easier to accommodate the sharp turns necessary in underfloor heating installations. Moreover, with the number of joints required for an underfloor heating system, using copper increases the risk of leaks.

How do copper pipes respond to changes in water quality compared to plastic pipes?

Copper pipes can be susceptible to corrosion, especially in areas with poor water quality. In contrast, plastic pipes are resistant to corrosion, making them a better choice in such areas.

If combining both copper and plastic pipes, how can I ensure a seamless integration?

Copper and Plastic pipes can be combined for the best of both worlds. By using copper pipes in places that are visible and plastic pipes where necessary, you can achieve an effective piping system. For a smooth and clean finish, especially in visible areas, it’s recommended to use copper. If in doubt, consulting with a local plumber or specialist would be the best approach.


Author

Lee Pearce is not just a master plumber; he’s a veritable Plumbing Wizard. With over 30 years of experience in the trenches of pipes and drains, Lee has become the go-to sage for DIY plumbing, saving homeowners thousands in potential call-out charges. As the founder of Plumbing Wizard, he’s dedicated to demystifying the complexities of home plumbing, offering easy-to-follow advice that stands the test of time and pressure. His online blog is a treasure trove of tips, tricks, and tutorials that empower everyday individuals to take charge of their home’s plumbing health. Lee’s practical wisdom is not just about fixing leaks; it’s about imparting confidence and self-reliance. When he’s not writing or elbow-deep in a plumbing project, Lee is passionate about educating the next generation of DIYers, ensuring that practical skills are passed down and preserved.


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