Indoor plumbing has been around for a long time and the materials used for pipes have gone through many changes over time. For decades, ceramic and metal were the most common pipe materials. Many older buildings today still have galvanized steel, clay, or even cast-iron piping.
When World War II restricted the use of iron, steel, and copper, the plumbing industry started to use plastic materials. The use of plastics has continued to rise in popularity as advances in manufacturing have made an array of plumbing products available that are inexpensive, lightweight, durable, and easy to install.
In the 1960s and 70s, copper replaced galvanized steel and is still the most common metal used in plumbing systems today. Today, a variety of materials are used in pipes that supply hot and cold water to every fixture throughout a building and also to create a drain and vent system. Not every pipe is suitable for use in all situations, so residential and commercial properties use a combination of metal and plastic plumbing materials throughout their plumbing systems.
Common Piping Materials and Their Pros and Cons
Below are five of the most common piping materials, along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Since the 1960s, copper has been the piping material of choice for both residential and commercial properties. Copper pipes are durable and often last for several decades. Copper is temperature resistant, works well for both hot and cold water lines, and is not prone to corrosion or rust in comparison to other metals.
Copper can be sensitive to high water pressure and can be physically damaged if water velocity is too high. Copper is more expensive than other piping options; however, when properly installed, it has a long lifespan, offsetting the initial cost.
2. Galvanized Steel
Many homes that were built before the 1960s have water supply and drain lines made from galvanized steel. The zinc coating added to steel pipes was designed to prevent rust but over time, the coating wears off. With corrosion comes both plumbing and potential health concerns.
Sediment from corrosion clogs pipes, slowing the flow of water throughout a home.
Corroded pipes eventually begin to leak, causing significant structural damage if left unrepaired. More importantly, when the zinc lining corrodes, it can leach lead and other impurities into drinking water. Because of the serious health problems associated with lead, old galvanized steel pipes should be retrofitted or replaced.
3. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
PVC pipes are one of the most common types of plastic used in modern plumbing systems. This white or cream-colored pipe is relatively inexpensive and long-lasting. PVC is light and easy to install. PVC pipes are most commonly used for drain, vent, and waste lines. The smooth inner lining of PVC speeds up the draining process, protecting it against buildup and blockages. PVC should only be used for cold water since it can warp when exposed to hot water temperatures.
4. PEX (Cross-Linked Polyethylene)
PEX is a plastic material commonly used in water supply lines. PEX is relatively inexpensive and flexible, allowing it to be used in long, continuous runs. PEX is often used in repiping projects since it is flexible enough to weave through walls, ceilings, and crawl spaces. PEX cannot be used for outdoor applications since the plastic can be damaged by UV radiation.
5. CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride)
The key difference between PVC and CPVC is that CPVC is chlorinated. This chemical difference means CPVC is able to withstand temperature differences better than PVC piping. It’s often used for carrying drinking water and handling hot water lines for which PVC isn’t suited. CPVC is easy to work with, more flexible than PVC, durable, and reliable.
Routine Plumbing Maintenance Can Extend the Life of Your Pipes
No matter what type of piping you have in your home, you can extend the life of your plumbing by following several easy and inexpensive routine maintenance tips. Over time, your plumbing pipes receive a lot of use, and eventually, repairs or repiping may be necessary. When that time comes, it's important to work with an experienced plumbing contractor who has the tools, technology, and experience to handle the job safely and efficiently.
As with most home repairs, being proactive with your plumbing system is important. If you live in an older home, regular plumbing inspections should be on your home’s routine maintenance schedule. During an inspection, trained plumbing technicians look for signs of hidden leaks, clogs, pipe corrosion, and other common plumbing issues. They’ll be able to identify problems in your plumbing system and recommend necessary repairs before bigger problems develop.
If you experience any plumbing problems including frequent clogs, low water pressure, visible leaks, or rusty pipes, calling a professional plumbing company to correct those issues before a major problem develops will save you money in the long run.
Call the Plumbing Experts
The professionals at Simply Green Plumbing, Sewer & Rooter have the training and experience to handle all of your plumbing needs. Call us at (408) 716-1686 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.
Our technicians have over 30 years of plumbing experience. We understand that plumbing emergencies can happen at any time, that’s why we offer emergency plumbing services at no additional cost.