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5 Types of Plumbing Pipes

In this article, we describe the most common types of plumbing pipes and how they’re used within your home’s plumbing system.

Plumbing Pipes iStock

The plumbing pipes that carry water to your kitchen faucet or drain waste to your sewage system have evolved over time. The galvanized iron or steel pipes that were a staple to in-home plumbing during the early 1900s gave way to more advanced plumbing solutions, such as polyvinyl chloride piping (PVC) and polyethylene cross-linked (PEX) piping.

Keep reading to learn about the most common plumbing pipes you can find in your home.

1. PVC Pipes

PVC is a plumbing pipe known for its versatility, lightweight, and blockage resistance. PVC piping is generally used as part of a sink, toilet, or shower drain line, though it’s sometimes used as a home’s main water supply pipe.

Pros

  • Affordable—The lightweight properties of PVC not only decrease the labor necessary for installation, but they also decrease the cost of transporting the material.
  • Resistant to high water pressure—PVC doesn’t easily bend, but the pipe does have some flexible properties that allow it to withstand the constant influx of high water pressure.
  • Resistant to blockages—The smooth inner lining of PVC speeds up the draining process, protecting it against sediment buildup and blockages.

Cons

  • Toxicity concerns—Despite meeting the standards for drinkable water by the American National Standards Institute, the administrator and coordinator of the U.S. private sector voluntary standardization system, there are concerns over the potential for PVC pipes to leach chemicals into drinking water, exposing people to high levels of polyvinyl chloride, potentially causing respiratory and reproductive issues.
  • Limited size options—PVC piping has limited sizing options that can render the piping ineffective within tight spaces.
  • Warping—Like many types of plastic, PVC isn’t capable of withstanding hot water and will warp as a result.

Read More: How to Identify PVC Pipes and Fittings

2. PEX Pipes

PEX is an affordable plastic plumbing solution that can withstand both hot and cold water and is commonly used for water supply lines.

Pros

  • Easy installation—PEX uses a “crimp” installation method that involves crimping a ring around a ribbed fitting using a specialized tool. PEX can even be retrofitted to copper or PVC pipes using the crimp method and specialized fittings.
  • Flexibility—PEX piping is conducive to tight spaces and sharp corners and can stretch for long distances without requiring additional fittings.

Cons

  • Inside use only—Since PEX is susceptible to deterioration from ultraviolet rays, these pipes can’t be used outside.
  • Discrepancy over safety—Some studies have shown that chemicals within PEX pipes leach into the drinking water, potentially exposing homeowners to carcinogens. As a result, PEX piping is against the plumbing code in the state of California.

3. ABS Pipes

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) piping is a type of plastic piping that’s similar to PVC and distinguishable by its black color. Known for its long lifespan, ABS is used only for drain and waste piping.

Pros

  • Resistant to cold temperatures—Although its structure doesn’t hold the flexible properties of PVC, it can better withstand colder temperatures.
  • Easy to install—While PVC pipes need a coat of solvent before applying the cement that holds the pipes together, ABS pipes just need cement.

Cons

  • Loud transport of water—ABS pipes don’t contain the sound of running water as efficiently as PVC pipes, causing some disturbance to homeowners.
  • Warps in warm temperatures—ABS pipes don’t survive long in direct sunlight and can warp under strong ultraviolet light.

4. Copper Pipes

Copper piping lasts for over 50 years and is the standard hard pipe within the plumbing industry. It’s able to withstand high water pressure and comes in various grades of thickness, separated into two categories: rigid and flexible copper pipes.

A rigid copper pipe is typically used for water supply lines, whereas flexible copper pipes are used in tight spaces where the malleable copper can bend.

Pros

  • Corrosion-resistant—Copper pipes are resistant to corrosion, can handle high water pressure, and are tolerant of hot and cold temperatures.
  • Environmentally friendly—Copper can be recycled, so your water lines can be made from recycled material or go on to be recycled for future use.

Cons

  • Expensive—Copper piping is more expensive than some of its more popular alternatives like PVC or PEX.
  • Reduced flexibility—Copper is unable to be used in tight spaces where plastic piping would be more viable.

5. Cast Iron and Galvanized Piping

Although cast iron and galvanized piping are rarely installed in new construction homes, you may have these pipes if you have an older home that was built in the early 20th century.

A cast-iron pipe is strong and durable and is still used today for parts of water distribution systems. Cast iron pipes are heat-resistant and reduce the sound of moving water. Both pipes are prone to rust and corrosion over time and have been swapped for copper or plastic pipes in residential plumbing repairs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Plumbing Pipes

What are the different types of pipes used in plumbing?

The most common plumbing pipes you’ll find inside a home are PVC, PEX, ABS, copper, or galvanized steel pipe.

How often does plumbing need to be replaced?

The frequency in which you need to replace pipes is based on the pipe material used. Brass, cast iron, and galvanized steel have a lifespan of up to 100 years, copper can last over 50 years, and PEX and PVC usually last around 50 years.

If you live in a newer home, you probably don’t have to worry about replacing your pipes, however, if you live in an older home, consider having your plumbing system checked every two years to ensure it’s holding up.

What causes plumbing pipes to vibrate?

Pipes vibrate due to what’s called the “hammer” effect. This happens when water is abruptly turned off, resulting in the thumping and vibrating sound heard throughout the house.

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