If you only see your plumbing from the perspective of a home or business owner, it might seem fairly straightforward on the surface. From the perspective of your local plumbers, however, your systems can be surprisingly complex. For starters, pipes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials—do you know which ones you need and why?
Why Are There So Many Kinds of Pipes, Anyway?
Your plumbing brings fresh water into your home and carries wastewater away. With such a simple-sounding process, you might think we could get by just fine using only one or two kinds of pipes. In reality, these “in” and “out” processes have other stops along the way—like water heaters, softeners, and various appliances. Things like water temperature, softness, and pressure may be changed at any of these points, and different kinds of pipes make it possible.
The passage of time also plays a role in pipe variety, as some kinds of pipes are no longer commonly used in new construction. Even older properties that have been retrofitted with plumbing for updated fixtures can still have original pipes made from unusual materials.
Different Pipes for a Variety of Purposes
Before you replace a broken pipe or install new plumbing for an appliance, review the following information to help you determine the right pipe(s) for the job.
Copper pipe is typically used to supply water to your appliances and fixtures (kitchen tap, HVAC refrigerant lines, etc.). It’s considered one of the most traditional types of plumbing pipes and has been held up for decades as durable, corrosion-resistant material. Copper is ideal for both hot and cold water, and flexible forms can be turned and bent to fit small spaces. It is, however, somewhat expensive.
This material requires soldering or special fittings between pipes, both of which should be handled by an experienced professional. It is also important to choose the right thickness of the copper pipe wall for a given application.
The most common type of pipe used for residential properties is polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These are ideal for drainage pipe applications (dirty water from sinks, toilets, etc.) and can also be used for the main water supply, as they remain strong and sturdy in high-pressure conditions. Unlike metal pipes, PVC is extremely low-cost.
These lightweight, white plastic tubes are available in various sizes and shapes, can accommodate a wide range of fittings, and are easy to join together without any soldering. Because PVC is not a metal, it is not susceptible to rust or other types of corrosion. Unfortunately, PVC does warp with heat and can degrade with sun exposure, so it cannot be used for hot water and should only be used indoors or underground.
If you’ve ever been around stainless steel appliances or fixtures, you already know how durable and resilient this material can be. When it comes to plumbing pipes, stainless steel is ideal for use with applications that are especially vulnerable to corrosion. An area that will be exposed to a lot of moisture, salt, or other corrosive agents might be best served by corrosion-resistant stainless steel pipes.
These are not to be confused with galvanized steel pipes, which serve their own unique purposes.
Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) is another type of plastic pipe that has recently become popular for use in both residential and commercial plumbing. Unlike PVC pipes, which are rigid and strong, PEX pipes are thin, flexible tubes that can be easily woven through walls and floors. The lack of joints and seams combined with the plastic’s ability to expand and contract make PEX pipes especially resistant to leaks and ruptures.
Like PVC, the plastic PEX material can degrade with UV or hot water exposure. PEX tubing should not be used outdoors and any hot water applications should be handled via a connection to copper piping.
One of the longest-lasting types of plumbing pipes, brass is an ideal choice for hot water supply lines and large-scale distribution of water via systems like tanks, wells, and pumps. Brass is an alloy, and the ratio of copper used in its production directly impacts its capabilities. The softness of brass makes it easy to form a tight seal and, so long as the brass used for the piping is approximately 67-85% copper, it will be extremely resistant to rust.
Because brass alloy can contain lead, it’s crucial to make sure it’s not present in pipes used for the water supply. So long as lead-free pipes are used, brass piping is just as safe as copper for drinking water. In fact, brass was regularly used throughout homes before copper piping became common in residential use.
These older types of pipes have begun to fall out of use. Galvanized pipes are largely composed of steel or iron, but they are also coated with a layer of zinc to improve their resistance to rust. Unfortunately, galvanized pipes with small diameters have still been found to be susceptible to interior rust buildup over time.
Galvanized piping was commonly used for outdoor/underground purposes like water supply lines. Many older homes and businesses still have these types of pipes, as they are especially durable and can last for as long as 100 years.
Cast iron pipes have historically been used for distribution and drain-waste-vent (DWV) systems. Like galvanized pipes, cast iron piping tends to be seen more often in older construction, as cast the iron was one of the most durable materials available until plastics like PVC were invented.
If you have a property that was built in the early to mid 20th century, you may have cast iron pipes that are approaching the end of their lifespan. When it comes time to replace them, you’ll definitely want to look for pipes made from a more updated material.
Not Sure What You Need? Turn to the Experts
If you don’t know what you’re doing and you aren’t sure what kinds of pipes to use for a given purpose, don’t try to make repairs or perform installations on your own! With today’s constant internet connections and DIY YouTube videos, it can be tempting to attempt what looks like an easy project. However, incorrect pipe choice or amateur workmanship could lead to even worse problems.
In some cases, well-meaning attempts at plumbing work may cause damage that will require costly repairs by professionals later on. Save yourself the trouble and get your home repiped with the help of experienced plumbers like those at MET Plumbing & Air Conditioning.
Get Professional Plumbing Installation, Repairs, and More from MET Plumbing & Air Conditioning
At MET Plumbing & Air Conditioning, we help Houston-area homeowners and commercial businesses keep their plumbing systems clean, efficient and running smoothly. Whether you need a water heater installation or want to replace an entire water main, we have the tools and expertise to help you choose the right pipes and parts for your needs and budget.
Our friendly, highly trained technicians can help with these and other plumbing needs:
- Drain cleaning/unclogging
- Installation and repair of:
- Plumbing inspections
- Sewer maintenance
- 24-hour emergency assistance and repairs
If you’ve got a question about pipe materials or want to schedule plumbing services, call us today at 281-603-9949.