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The 5 Types of Plumbing Pipes

April 30, 2021

Different types of plumbing pipes can be used in a number of ways, from carrying water to your kitchen faucet to delivering waste to your sewage system. These kinds of drainage and delivery systems have been around since ancient times. The Greeks used clay pipes to transport water to homes and public buildings. Moving into the early twentieth century, materials like cast iron, terra-cotta, copper, and galvanized steel became more popular. 

As our understanding of lead poisoning developed, things evolved even further. Today, there are many different types of pipes available, each used to serve a specific purpose. This list consists of PVC, PEX, ABS, copper, and galvanized steel, and cast iron piping. Check out the information below to learn more.

The 5 Main Types of Plumbing Pipes for Your Home Plumbing System

different pipe systems are available for residential plumbing projects

1. PVC Pipes

Polyvinyl chloride pipes (PVC) are commonly used as part of a sink, toilet, or shower drain line. Its plastic tubing is ideal for this kind of usage because it protects the water from rust and corrosion better than other types of pipes. This capability also makes PVC pipe incredibly durable. Unless they are subject to some kind of damage, PVC pipes will last indefinitely.

PVC pipe is also able to handle high water pressure. This is why it can also serve as your home’s main water supply line. It is also a lighter-weight material, making it easier to work with than the more traditional galvanized steel piping options. PVC pipes contain a smooth inner lining as well, which protects against sediment buildup and makes them more resistant to blockages.

Drawbacks surrounding PVC pipe include limited size options, an inability to withstand hot water, and concerns over toxicity. Though PVC piping meets all standards set by the American National Standards Institute, there are concerns that it may introduce polyvinyl chloride chemicals into drinking water, potentially causing respiratory and reproductive issues. It is for this reason that some states have banned PVC plumbing pipes from transporting drinking water.

2. PEX Pipes

PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene, piping also refers to an affordable plastic tubing commonly used for water supply lines. Similar to PVC piping, it prevents rust or corrosion from leaching into the water.

Professionals remain drawn to PEX pipes because they are flexible and easy to weave through walls, ceilings, basements, and crawl spaces. At the same time, they’re strong enough to withstand the pressures of your water supply. Cross-linked polyethylene pipe is also color-coded for hot and cold water, making it easy for plumbers to identify and organize when on the job.

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3.  ABS Pipes

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) pipe is similar to PVC pipes in nature but easy to identify based on their black color. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is also particularly resilient to cold temperatures. It is predominantly used for vent and drain lines.

Though this kind of plumbing pipe is easy to install, it can warp when exposed to direct sunlight. ABS pipes are also noisier than other types of plumbing pipes, causing disturbances among some homeowners.

4. Copper Pipes

Copper pipe has been a staple within the plumbing industry for decades. This type of plumbing pipe can last upwards of 50 years and is commonly found in sinks, showers, tubs, and other fixtures in new and old homes. Copper pipes remain popular among plumbers and homeowners alike because they are corrosion-resistant and best suited to protect the quality of the water.

different pipe sizes can be used for water supply lines

Copper pipes are able to handle high water pressure and are tolerant of both hot and cold water temperatures. It’s also able to be recycled, making it a somewhat environmentally-friendly option.

That said, are a few drawbacks to consider. Because it is so rigid, plumbers cannot use copper piping in tight spaces. It is also the most expensive type of plumbing pipe. As the price of copper continues to rise, so will the costs of any project involving copper pipe.

5. Cast Iron and Galvanized Steel Pipes

Cast iron pipe and galvanized steel pipe are rarely included in new construction, though they are commonly found in homes built in the early 20th century. Still, cast iron plumbing pipes are incredibly durable and remain in use for parts of water distribution systems today.

Cast iron pipes were typically used as sewer pipes or other drainage purposes. Their popularity largely stemmed from the fact that they are heat-resistant and reduce the sound of moving water.

Unfortunately, cast-iron pipe is prone to rust and corrosion. Over time, this will affect its ability to maintain a clean water supply. These types of pipes have largely been replaced by copper or PEX pipes in residential plumbing repairs.

Conclusion

Different plumbing pipe types are reserved for different purposes. For a successful career as a plumbing professional, you’ll need to know which to use for specific plumbing systems.

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FAQ

How many types of water pipes are there?

There are five main types of plumbing pipe materials that are still in use today: copper, galvanized steel, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and cross-linked polyethylene (PEX).

Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) is also used. This type of plumbing pipe can be created by adding chlorine to PVC piping.  This gives the material higher temperature performance and improved fire and corrosion resistance.

What is the best piping for plumbing?

PVC pipe is by far the most commonly used pipe in residential homes. This type of pipe is affordable and available in a number of different fittings and sizes. It’s also a great choice for most warm and cold water applications.

Is PEX better than PVC?

PEX pipes remain more popular among plumbers because they are flexible and easy to install. Unlike PVC, it doesn’t require the use of glue, which can potentially leak into the water. It’s also resistant to corrosion, making it compatible with metal pipes.

What is the best pipe to use for an underground water line?

You can use both PVC and PEX pipes for an underground water line. Both are able to be buried and can withstand high pressure. They are also resistant to rusting and corrosion. 

You can also use copper plumbing pipes for underground plumbing, as they are resistant to rusting and leakage. Though, they are sensitive to certain soil conditions. Before beginning any project, it’s best to check with what local building codes recommend.

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