Using the Right Piping Material for Your Plumbing Application

PVC Pipe

PVC works well for home plumbing piping needs because it does not rust or corrode over time. This means it will not need to be replaced until it is actually damaged and starts leaking. It is also easy to work with, as it requires no welding or metalwork, and is an inexpensive option for your home. PVC is quite strong and durable and does not bend under pressure, making it the piping solution of choice for high-pressure applications.

The drawback to the PVC pipe is the fact that it cannot be used with hot water applications. When exposed to hot water, PVC will warp. This means it cannot be used to deliver hot water to sinks, tubs, and washing machines.

It comes in two sizes, called “schedules.” Schedule 40 is the typically used PVC type. Schedule 80 has a slightly thicker wall.

Most PVC is not rated for use in drinking water due to the fact that it can degrade with high temperatures, UV light exposure, and extremely high pressures. Any degradation can damage the water supply and make it unsafe for drinking water.

PVC can be used for:

  • Vent stacks
  • Toilet drain lines
  • Bathtub drain lines
  • Main water supply line running to the home
  • High Sink drain lines
  • Pressure applications

Copper Pipe

Copper piping has been the standard for most home plumbing applications since the 1960s. It tolerates heat well and is extremely resistant to corrosion. Copper does not degrade with water and therefore is safe for use with drinking water.

Copper has one major drawback, which is the price. This is one of the most expensive piping materials. You will most often see copper piping used for:

  • Underground service lines
  • Hot and cold drinking water supply
  • Other applications that require a tight seal
  • Refrigerant lines for HVAC systems

Brass Pipe

Brass piping is highly resistant to corrosion as well as damage from heat and water, it is also a soft metal that allows the installer to create a tight seal. It has a heavier wall than copper but offers many of the same benefits, including safety in use with drinking water.

Lead is one potential problem with brass piping. This type of material is an alloy, which means it is a mixture of metals, and many brass alloys contain lead. Lead cannot be allowed to leach into drinking water, so today’s plumbers choose brass that is lead-free.

Some applications of brass piping are as follows:

  • Some applications for gas lines, depending on local building code
  • Water supply lines
  • Water removal drains and lines

CPVC Pipe

CPVC can be used in most applications where copper piping is used, but it is considered a better option for several reasons. The interior of the CPVC pipe is smooth, which means it has little water noise when compared to copper plumbing systems, including little to no problems with the “water hammer.” It is well insulated to prevent energy loss in hot or cold applications. This material is also more flexible than metal tubing, providing a bit more versatility. CPVC is extremely fire resistant.

CPVC is typically used for those applications where PVC properties are wanted, but PVC is not usable, including:

  • Hot water delivery
  • Drinking water delivery
  • Hot water drains
  • Waste and water disposal pipes

PEX Pipe

PEX is typically connected using stab-in or compression fittings, which require a special tool to use. PEX can be spliced into the existing pipe, including copper pipe, which makes it a great choice for additions and retrofits. PEX is durable enough for hot water applications, but it cannot be connected directly to the hot water heater. For hot water supply lines, they must be connected to an 18-inch section of copper or other hot-water-safe piping.

Because of its flexibility and durability, PEX pipe is great for:

  • Working in areas with low ventilation where glue is dangerous
  • Retrofitting an older home
  • Snaking through walls in a remodel

Galvanized Piping

Galvanized piping is steel or iron piping that has been coated with zinc to help prevent rust and corrosion. Galvanized metal is commonly used in construction, but pipes made from galvanized steel can be used in plumbing applications. This particular type of pipe is best used for water lines, as gas lines can cause the zinc to corrode and damage the pipe or block the entire system. Even in highly corrosive conditions, galvanized pipes can last up to 100 years.

Galvanized pipes are typically used in the following applications:

  • Water supply lines
  • Underground applications
  • Outdoor applications