There are numerous types of pipes used for commercial and residential plumbing jobs. All pipes are not created equal – some are more suitable for specific areas and projects than others. To help you make the right choice for your next plumbing job, here are eight of the most popular types of plumbing pipes and the applications they work best in.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes are the most commonly used pipes for residential plumbing applications. PVC is an affordable and versatile choice for plumbers and contractors, as it works well in both cold and warm water applications. It’s the type of piping that is nearly always used by homeowners and DIY’ers who opt to do plumbing jobs on their own.
PVC is a lightweight but strong and durable plastic compound that is available in two sizes, or “schedules.” Schedule 40 is the most commonly used size while Schedule 80 PVC has thicker walls and is therefore slightly stronger than Schedule 40.
PVC has many advantages that make it the most used type of piping. Not only is it affordable and versatile, it’s also easier to install than other types, only requiring PVC cement to glue the joints in the system. It also doesn’t freeze as easily as metal pipes, making the winter months less worrisome for homeowners. PVC piping is quiet, even when the water pressure and speed is high, and it’s resistant to corrosion and impact damage.
The main drawbacks to using PVC pipe is that it doesn’t last as long as some of the other options and it’s not as flexible at joints. PVC piping is most often used in drain lines, main water supply lines, and in high-pressure applications.
Copper was once the only option for residential plumbing. There are many older homes that have copper pipe in them. It’s known for its flexibility and durability and is frequently the choice of plumbers and contractors. Like other options, there are advantages and drawbacks associated with using copper piping.
Copper pipes tend to have long lifespans, owing to the material’s strength and durability, which makes it a good choice for many different applications. It’s also very heat-tolerant and corrosion resistant. Copper doesn’t degrade with water, so it’s a safe option for drinking water. The biggest drawback of copper piping is the cost. It’s one of the highest priced piping materials and is often a target of theft when on job sites.
Copper piping is typically used for drinking water supply, refrigerant lines for HVAC systems, underground service lines and other jobs that require tight seals.
Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipes are essentially the same as PVC, but they are made with more chlorine. With CPVC piping and supplies, you will have all of the benefits of regular PVC, with increased durability. CPVC piping doesn’t degrade with hot water and it’s safe for use with drinking water. It does cost a little more than PVC, but the extra durability and added uses make it worth the extra cost.
In addition to CPVC’s durability and safety for drinking water, there are numerous other benefits to this pipe. It can be used for both cold and hot water applications, it’s more flexible than regular PVC, and it’s easy to work with for professionals and DIYers alike.
The drawbacks to using CPVC are minimal. It is known to split if it freezes, and you aren’t able to recycle old CPVC pipes.
CPVC is usually used for applications in which regular PVC isn’t useable, but PVC properties are wanted. Some of those application might include drinking water delivery, hot water delivery, waste and water disposal systems, and hot water drains.
Polyethylene cross-linked pipe, known as PEX piping, is a plastic tubing that has become a popular choice for today’s water supply lines. PEX is flexible and easier to install than a rigid pipe, and it offers high heat-resistance and long-term durability. It also comes in various sizes from ¼” to 4” in diameter.
PEX piping offers contractors and plumbers various benefits, especially in retrofits. It’s a very versatile option, in that it can easily be snaked through walls, extending across a home with one piece of pipe, without the need for any type of pipe glue. It’s effective with both hot and cold water supplies since it is heat-resistant and it holds up well in freezing conditions. PEX piping does have some limitations, though. It cannot be connected directly to a hot water heater; it has to be connected to an 18” section of copper or other approved hot water safe piping.
PEX is typically used in water supply lines for retrofits in older homes, areas where bending or snaking through walls is required, and in areas where using glue may be dangerous due to low ventilation.
Brass piping is an option for some specific applications. It’s known to be highly resistant to damage from heat and water and is resistant to corrosion. It’s a soft metal so it’s also chosen for piping situations that require tighter seals. One of the biggest problems with brass piping is that it may contain lead, which cannot be allowed to enter drinking water. Plumbers today are able to obtain lead-free brass for safe piping systems including those associated with drinking water.
While brass is an older piping option (it was the most commonly used material before copper was introduced), it’s still relevant in the following applications:
- Water supply lines
- Water removal lines and drains
- Gas lines
Galvanized pipes are steel pipes that have been dipped in a protective zinc coating. It was once the go-to piping for residential plumbing, but now it isn’t used as commonly as it was prior to the 1980s. During the decades prior to the eighties, it was typically used in the plumbing systems of residential homes. It’s rarely used anymore due to some of its negative effects. Not only are galvanized pipes heavy to work with, but they also have a tendency to rust. This can eventually lead to problems with water pressure and clogging, as well as discolored water. And, most concerning, lead can enter tap water through corroded pipes.
Modern home construction no longer uses galvanized pipes for plumbing systems, but it’s often found in older homes. These homes typically need to have new pipes installed to make sure that there isn’t any lead in the water supply.
Cast Iron Pipes
Cast iron plumbing pipes are extremely durable but may not always be convenient to use because they are also very heavy. You’ll also find that they are more expensive than many of your other options. Cast iron pipes are most frequently used for water distribution systems or in piping systems that are underground, such as the main pipe on sewer or drainage systems.
Stainless Steel Pipes
Stainless steel piping looks very polished and attractive, but it may not be the right type of pipe for some plumbing projects. You have to use specific couplings if you want to attach stainless steel pipes to other kinds of piping.
Besides being nice to look at, stainless steel is known to be very strong and corrosion resistant. However, it’s also more expensive than other types of piping. It’s often used in areas that have a high rate of corrosion or those near coastal areas.
How to Choose the Right Pipe
You can see why it isn’t always obvious which type of pipe you should use for residential and commercial plumbing. What may be right for one project may not be for another. However, armed with the information above, you can now make the best choices for your business and ensure that the materials you are using are the right fit.
Mark Ligon is the Marketing Manager at Commercial Industrial Supply, a distributor of industrial pipe, fittings, and more. Since 2009, CIS has been dedicated to providing the best piping products to every customer.`