What Are the Best Materials for Water Pipes?

There are a lot of choices when it comes to the water pipes for your house. If you’re thinking about replacing your plumbing pipes, material selection is important for a variety of reasons, such as cost, durability, environmental impact, and water quality.

Speak with a professional plumber to understand the pros and cons of different types of water pipes and pipe fittings, from PVC and PEX to copper and brass. 

Which materials are used for water supply and drain pipes?

  • Cast iron, PVC, and ABS for plumbing waste (drain) lines
  • Chromed brass, copper, galvanized iron, CPVC, and PEX for water supply lines

Main sewage pipes are usually made of either cast iron, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), or ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene). Older homes may still have lead pipes, which should be replaced. Black iron is normally used for gas pipes.

Should you replace your plumbing pipes?

If your home was built in the first half of the 20th century, you may be using lead pipes. While lead pipes last a long time, they can also introduce lead into your water supply, which can cause irreparable health damage.

If your home was built between 1970 and 2000, you may have polybutylene (PB) pipes in the home, which have a much higher chance of leaking or bursting.

If your home has lead or PB pipes, speak with a professional plumber about having them replaced as soon as possible. There are much better materials available now, including PVC and PEX. Your new supply lines can last over 100 years (around 80 years for your copper lines) and won’t be liable to leak, crack, or poison your water supply.

Other signs that you should replace your plumbing pipes include discolored water, which can indicate a corroding pipe, and bubbling drains, which can indicate a problem with your main sewer line. If you experience any of these plumbing pipe upgrade and replacement signs, contact your local professional plumber before the situation gets any worse.

Choice of Water Pipe Materials

Here is a quick overview of the different types of plumbing pipes to get started.

Plastic Piping Options

1.      Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC, standing for polyvinyl chloride, is a type of plastic that is commonly used for main supply lines, drainage pipes, pools, spas, and irrigation piping. PVC pipes come in different thicknesses called schedules. The most common PVC schedules are 40 and 80. The higher the schedule, the thicker the walls. Schedule 40 is the most common PVC type. Schedule 80 PVC is thicker and stronger, which enables it to handle higher pressures.

Usually, PVC is only used for cold water pipes since hot water can eventually break down the plastic material. It can also degrade when exposed to the heat and UV rays of the sun. Always check local codes before using PVC pipes.

One of the great things about PVC is that it does not rust or corrode over time. It is also fairly inexpensive an easy to repair or replace.

PVC is a great option for:

  • Sink, toilet, and bathtub drain lines
  • Vent stacks
  • Main water supply line
  • High-pressure applications

2.      Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)

ABS, a black plastic pipe, is similar to PVC, but is less flexible and more prone to degradation. While once the preferred material for residential plumbing, people started switching over to PVC once they noticed joints coming loose and the material warping in the sun. Still, ABS is strong, easy to install, and holds up well for underground pipes.

Choosing between ABS and PVC can be a difficult decision, so always consult with a licensed plumber and check local regulations and building authorities.

3.      Cross-Linked Polyethylene (PEX)

Cross-linked polyethylene, or PEX for short, is a type of plastic that is commonly used for hot and cold water supply lines. It is extremely flexible, can easily curve around corners and obstructions, and has high durability and low corrosion. Since the material expands and contracts, it is also highly freeze resistant and allows for fewer fittings than rigid plumbing types. Fewer pipe connections leads to less pressure loss.

PEX can also be snaked through existing pipes, which makes it a great option for repiping. While the plastic can withstand high temperatures, it can’t be connected directly to the water heater. A piece of copper piping or similar hot-water piping must be connected instead.

PEX is a great option for:

  • Repiping and retrofitting
  • Snaking through walls and small spaces

Plastic piping options are cheaper than metal, easier to work with, and highly resistant to corrosion. However, the choice of materials will depend on whether a portion of the old line is to remain intact. The contractor will not want to splice a PVC line between two cast iron lines for example.

Additionally, local codes in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana may call for specific materials.

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