Popular Types of Plumbing Pipes and Their Uses
When it comes to plumbing, different piping materials are used for different water delivery and drainage systems. In ancient times, the Greeks used clay pipes to deliver water to homes and public buildings. However, in the 20th century, materials such as copper, galvanized steel, and terracotta were more preferred.
Today, as the understanding of lead poisoning takes shape, different types of pipes’ materials are used for specific purposes. ABS, PVC, and copper pipes are the most common delivery and drainage systems local plumbers use.
This guide looks into the main types of plumbing pipes you can use for your home plumbing system.
Main Types of Plumbing Types
There are five main types of plumbing materials including:
- Copper pipes
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC)
- Galvanized steel pipes
Let’s discuss each of these plumbing pipe material and their pros and cons
1. Copper Pipes
Photo Credit – Pixabay
Although being one of the ancient materials for plumbing pipes, copper remains a popular option today, used commonly as an overflow pipe from your boiler or home’s heating. It is available in two main types;
- Flexible Copper Tubing: Also known as soft copper, flexible copper is malleable, and thus plumbers use it to connect to the rigid copper such as corners of the house.
- Rigid Copper: Hardened or rigid copper is used throughout a building or house to deliver water to different spots. The good thing with rigid copper is that it can be cut and soldiered
Copper pipes come in different sizes and grades of thickness. For sizes, this depends on the diameter, which is expressed in millimetres. The most common sizes are 15mm, 18mm, and 22mm. Bigger pipes go up to 108mm.
In terms of grades, there are three grades of copper pipe thickness:
- Type M: Being the thinnest copper used for plumbing purposes, Type M is normally used for drainage and vent piping, but can be used for water piping. It works well for both hot and cold water
- Type L: Majorly used for transporting drinking water, Type L can be used for cold and hot supply lines
- Type K: Featuring the thickest walls, Type K is ideal for underground service lines as it can withstand harsh conditions.
Pros of Copper Pipes
The following advantages of copper pipes have enabled them to stand the test of time:
- Long-lasting and reliable: Copper is a reliable material that can serve you for many decades
- Impermeable: Unlike other plumbing materials, copper is 100% impervious. It’s known to keep chemicals and impurities from contaminating the water system making it great for use in the service lines
- Sustainable: After its lifespan as a plumbing pipe is over, you can recycle copper to make another product without losing its basic properties.
- Temperature tolerance: Copper can stand up to extreme temperature changes, making it excellent for both hot and cold lines
Cons of Copper Pipes
Copper is not used for all plumbing purposes due to these disadvantages:
- Financial cost: Copper value has grown steadily, and this restricts many people from using it despite it being more durable than most other plumbing materials
- Environmental effect: Copper mining and manufacturing is not environmentally friendly
Overall, it is the best plumbing material for many purposes.
2. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Pipes
Commonly known as PVC, Polyvinyl chloride has grown in popularity in the recent past. The material is made from plastic and vinyl combination to form a thermoplastic polymer.
Due to their rigid nature, PVC pipes are used to deliver highly pressurized water and drainage. They come in varying thicknesses and configurations, making them versatile.
Make sure to check different labels, especially when you are looking for PVC piping to transport drinking water. NSF/ANSI 61 is a known label for drinking water system components.
Pros of PVC Pipes
- Can handle pressurized water: PVC pipes are often used as main supply lines coming to your home due to their ability to handle high water pressure
- Longevity: Although not as durable as copper, PVC resists corrosion and rust. They can live for several decades (indefinitely)
- Affordable: The main reason PVC has become a popular plumbing material is because of its affordability
- Ease of use: Due to their extremely lightweight nature, PVC pipes are easy to transport and work with connecting PVC pipes is also easy
Cons of PVC
- Warping: Although durable, PVC may not resist heat. Like most plastics, heat can cause PVC pipes to melt and warp
- Limited sizing options for PVC pipes is another issue
3. Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC)
Shortened to CPVC, Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride pipes are made using the same basic elements that make up PVC, but the difference is that CPVC is chlorinated, which enables them to withstand temperature differences better. For this reason, CPVC is used for hot lines.
Another benefit of CPVC is that they come in the same sizing system as copper piping, to make it easier to connect to other pipes at home.
Pros of CPVC
- Durable: Like PVC, CPVC pipes don’t corrode or rust, making them long-lasting
- Can handle pressure, making them better material for use in the main water service lines
- Affordable: Although they cost more than PVC, CPVC pipes are still more affordable compared to copper
- Ease of use thanks to their lightweight and flexible nature
- Temperature tolerance, making them ideal for hot water transportation
Cons of CPVC
- Not suitable for the outdoor environment as overexposure to sunlight can cause them to break down
- Costly compared to PVC due to their difference in chemical composition
4. ABS Pipes
Photo Credit – Pixabay
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene pipes are similar to PVC pipes, but are easy to identify due to their black colour.
They are resilient to cold temperatures and are majorly used for drain and vent lines. They are noisier than other plumbing materials and thus can cause disturbances, making them unsuitable for residential plumbing.
Pros of ABS Pipes
- Easier to install compared to copper pipes
- Superior flow rate due to the smoothened interior
- It doesn’t corrode like galvanized steel piping
Cons of ABS Pipes
- It’s not suitable for outdoor piping due to warping
- Only meant to vent and drain waste use
- May sag if wrongly installed
5. Galvanized Steel Pipes
Galvanized piping is what many people think of when it comes to plumbing pipes. They used to be a preferred choice for residential plumbing, but not any more.
Due to their issues with longevity and being prone to rust, galvanized steel pipes are no longer installed in homes.
If you have them in your home, you should consider replacing them with CPVC or copper pipes, we advise you get in touch with a local plumber if you wish to change the Galvanized Steel Pipes with CPVC or Copper Pipes.
Pros of Galvanized Steel Pipes
- Are cheaper than copper
- Resist rust for a significant time
- They are strong and thus used to be laid in busy locations
Cons of Galvanized Steel Pipes
- Short lifespan
- Rust can build up inside steel pipes over time
- When corroded, lead can leach into drinking water
- They are extremely heavy
All these disadvantages and more have made these pipes less preferred material in residential plumbing.
There are many types of plumbing pipes, and the above are just the main ones. If you are looking to install a new plumbing system in your home, you need to engage a trusted local plumber, so they can help you choose the pipe material that’s best suited for different plumbing needs in your home.
Be it situations involving blockages within your toilet and sinks or the down pipe outside is showing signs of fatigue, make sure you get in touch with a qualified professional, as a simple mistake can incur problems such as water damage or damp let alone massive costs to rectify the problem.
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