Back in someone’s day, clay pipes were the norm for both water supply and sewage clearing. Fortunately, we know how to use different materials to meet building codes – both for the safety of anyone in the building and for the structural integrity of the property. After all, the last thing you need to deal with is a pipe that can’t handle heat or too much water pressure, and you’re dealing with a pipe burst.
These days, there are 5 main types of pipes that plumbers use or will still find in homes.
Polyvinyl chloride pipe (PVC) is a plastic tubing commonly used for sinks, toilets, and shower drain lines. PVC has many uses, especially for homes with plumbing underneath the flooring, and can be found in homes dating back to 1930s Germany.
Pros of PVC
- Protects water from rust and corrosion best
- Highly durable so it will last a very long time
- Lightweight material which makes it easier to work with
Cons of PVC
- It has some heat limitations, handling up to 140°F
- There are some toxicity concerns about drinking water and PVC
- Cannot be exposed to direct sunlight
- Stress cracks can happen over time
Polyethylene cross-linked pipe is another type of plastic tubing that’s commonly used for water supply lines. Rather than the setup of traditional water supply lines branching off to the main water line, PEX tubes individually connect to a hot or cold faucet. The other end of the pipe attaches to a central water distribution manifold, which means each PEX tube has a shut-off valve.
Pros of PEX
- An affordable option like PVC but less rigid
- The flexible material allows for easy maneuvering during installation
- Strong enough to handle high water pressure
- Color-coding for hot and cold-water pipes allows for easy identification
- Connections are easier than copper or PVC piping
- Less likely to corrode from humidity
Cons of PEX
- Cannot be used outdoors due to UV sensitivity
- Inability to withstand freezing temperatures
- Requires a copper line to attach PEX to a water heater
- Rodents tend to like chewing on the plastic material
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) come in the same sizes and work similarly to PVC pipes. They’re commonly used for drain, waste, and vent pipes. ABS piping originated from the oil field and chemical use in the early 1950s.
Pros of ABS
- Slightly more durable than PVC in high-impact occurrences
- Easier to install than metal pipes
- Highly resistant to rust and rot
Cons of ABS
- Cannot have exposure to direct sunlight
- Not to be used for potable water
- Can sag if it was installed poorly
Once the dangers of lead pipes were known after World War II, copper became the replacement material, since it’s easier to transition to another type of metal fitting in old housing as opposed to plastic fittings for PVC or PEX.
Pros of Copper
- Copper can shape into different angles for easier installation
- Can withstand mass amounts of water pressure
- Depending on aesthetic preferences, copper can be left exposed for style
- Can be used as exterior piping as well as underground
Cons of Copper
- Can corrode in salty environments which leads to leaks
- More expensive for installation and repairs
- Can leave an aftertaste in drinking water (non-toxic)
- Hard water can accelerate the pipe deterioration
Whether you consider it a pro or a con, copper pipes require a propane torch for installation. It takes a professional touch to ensure that the proper heat is applied during each part of the installation to confidently know everything is sealed well, making these pipes not very DIY-friendly.
Galvanized Steel Pipes
Though you won’t find it in new construction, galvanized pipe was once popular and can still be found in many homes for water supply and drain lines.
Pros of Galvanized
- The zinc coating helps protect it from corrosion
- Requires less manual labor and has a long lifespan
- Easy to inspect for potential repair needs
Cons of Galvanized
- Tend to rust from the inside out with time
- Corrosion materials can build up and contaminate the water
- They are very heavy and prone to cracking from freezing temperatures
- Not environmentally friendly since rust gets into nearby drains
- Cracks or other problems require replacement rather than repair
- Galvanizing the steel adds an expense to the final installation price
PEX or copper are good retrofitting options for any galvanized steel water lines to ensure pure drinking water.
Whether you’re curious about your current pipes, need recommendations and assistance with repairs, or are unsure which pipes to install on your new build, Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Memphis can help. Get an estimate online.