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10 Types of Pipes Used in Plumbing

Plumbing piping has evolved through the years from all-metal to all-plastic materials. This evolution hasn’t always been smooth, and it hasn’t been without its setbacks. Fortunately, for the most part, plumbing piping is now easier to install thanks to new techniques and materials. While a plumber may have once welded metal pipe together, they now simply glue plastic pipe and connectors to each other.

Depending on the age of the home, and whether it has been recently remodeled, you might find a number of different types of pipes. Here’s a look at some of the most commonly found piping materials in a contemporary home.

1. PVC pipe

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, plastic is a common type of pipe in residential and commercial buildings. PVC pipes are versatile and can be used indoors, outdoors, and underground. PVC pipe can provide water supply to buildings or fixtures or be used for drain and vent piping.

Pros of PVC pipe

  • Strong and durable.
  • Inexpensive and cheaper than copper.
  • Non-toxic.
  • The material dampens the sound of fluids running through it.

Cons of PVC pipe

  • Requires two steps to make a connection, primer, and cement.
  • Can only handle fluids up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. PEX pipe

PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene, plastic piping comes in three types: A, B, and C. A is the most flexible, B is slightly less flexible, and C is the stiffest, suitable for quick repairs. Not all varieties of PEX pipe are available in all areas. Pex Pipe is used for water supply lines and generally comes in two colors: red for hot and blue for cold.

Pros of PEX piping

  • Extremely flexible, so fewer connections and therefore fewer possibilities for leaks.
  • Corrosion-resistant if used properly.
  • Cheaper than copper.

Cons of PEX piping

  • Requires special tools for making connections.
  • Cannot be used outdoors.

3. ABS pipe

ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a black plastic pipe mainly used for drain, waste, and vent piping. ABS pipe can be used both indoors and outdoors, is lightweight, and is joined by using a one-step cement.

Pros of ABS pipe

  • Strong and durable.
  • Can withstand cold temperatures.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Easy to connect.

Cons of ABS pipe

  • Contains BPA, which may cause cancer.

4. Copper pipe

Copper pipe is the most widely used hard pipe for water supply in residential and commercial applications. There are rigid copper pipes and flexible varieties as well. It comes in three wall thicknesses: M, L, and K. Connections are made by soldering flux onto the joint where the pipe and fitting or connection meet.

Pros of copper pipes

  • Durable with a long life span (50+ years).
  • Corrosion-resistant.
  • Can tolerate hot and cold water.

Cons of copper pipes

  • Expensive.
  • Hard to use in tight spaces.
  • Must be welded together.

5. CPVC pipe

CPVC, or chlorinated polyvinyl chloride, plastic is similar to PVC pipe and has similar uses. The added chlorine makes the plastic harder and more durable than PVC. CPVC can withstand hot fluids up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit but is more expensive than PVC.

Pros of CPVC pipe

  • Can handle hot fluids up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cheaper than copper.
  • Strong and durable.

Cons of CPVC pipe

  • More expensive than PVC.
  • Requires a two-step connection process, consisting of primer and cement.

6. Galvanized steel pipe

Galvanized steel piping was originally introduced as an alternative to lead pipe. It was generally used for drain, waste, and vent piping before the 1980s. Now, galvanized steel is common in gas piping. Galvanized pipe has threaded connections that make it easy to connect.

Pros of galvanized steel pipe

  • Strong and durable.
  • Cheaper than copper.

Cons of galvanized steel pipe

  • Can rust and contaminate fluids with lead.
  • Mineral buildup can cause clogging.

7. Cast-iron pipe

Cast-iron pipe is not frequently used today in residential plumbing, though some older homes may have cast-iron piping. Cast-iron pipe is typically used for commercial or civic piping and water distribution, as well as sewer and drain lines.

Pros of cast-iron pipe

  • Heat-resistant.
  • Reduces the sound of fluids.
  • Strong and durable.

Cons of cast-iron pipe

  • Subject to rust and mineral buildup.
  • Heavy.

8. High-density polybutylene

High-density polybutylene, or HDPE, piping is only used underground and may be required for certain types of piping per code. HDPE is flexible piping that works well in cold weather, but cannot be placed in direct sunlight.

Pros of high-density polybutylene

  • Durable.
  • Corrosion-resistant.
  • Flexible so requires fewer connections.
  • Good in cold weather.
  • Non-toxic.

Cons of high-density polybutylene

  • Can crack in high temperatures.
  • Melts in direct sunlight.

9. Polybutylene pipe

Polybutylene is a plastic pipe used from the 1970s to the 1990s, but that is no longer in active use. If you have this type of pipe in your home or business, it should be replaced before it breaks down. Polybutylene was only used for water supply piping and stamped PEB2110. It was used mainly in the southern US during the housing boom of the period.

10. Black iron pipe

Black iron was used as a water supply piping but is now mainly used for gas or propane lines and fire sprinklers. Black iron pipe is strong, durable, and withstands high temperatures well.

Pros of black iron pipe

  • Heat-resistant.
  • Durable.

Cons of black iron pipe

  • Heavy.
  • Difficult to install.

MT Copeland offers video-based online classes that give you a foundation in construction fundamentals with real-world applications, like plumbing basics. Classes include professionally produced videos taught by practicing craftspeople, and supplementary downloads like quizzes, blueprints, and other materials to help you master the skills.

Avatar Photo of Mary-Anne Bowcott

Featured Instructor

Mary-Anne Bowcott

Mary-Anne Bowcott is a residential and commercial plumber, certified gas fitter, and owner of Westcom Plumbing and Gas Ltd. She received the 2016 and 2018 Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce Trades and Skilled Labour Excellence Award and the British Columbia Construction Industry Leadership Award in 2018. She was named Canadian Construction Association’s Person of the Year in 2019. A champion of women in the building trades, Mary-Anne mentors tradeswomen to help promote positive change within the industry. When she’s not running her business or tackling plumbing and roofing projects, you can find her rock climbing, exploring the outdoors, surfing, or crushing a CrossFit workout.

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