Copper pipes - types of plumbing pipes

5 Main Types of Plumbing Pipes

With 5 different but common types of plumbing pipes, it can be hard to know which one you should use for your home.

Good news. We’re here to help explain the best main types of plumbing pipes.

Copper and cast-iron were the go-to pipes of the plumbing world in years past. On the other hand, homeowners today face several different options when it comes to types of plumbing pipe. It can be daunting to decide which is the best pipe for your different needs: from the water supply line to drains, and sewer lines to water heaters.

The Best Pipes for Water Lines

New methods and materials have put the art of fitting and installing plumbing pipes within the reach of most homeowners. Those with DIY skills can simplify repairs by selecting the easiest pipe materials for the job at hand.

Here is information on the 5 main plumbing pipes so you can choose what’s right for you.

1. Copper Pipe

Copper plumbing pipes are most commonly used for any type of water supply line, hot water heating systems, and waste piping. They are today’s standard for supply pipes. Why? They’re durable, carry water efficiently, and are relatively easy to handle.

types of plumbing pipes - type L vs type 4 diameter
The difference between a Type L and Type M copper pipe can be seen in their thickness.

One disadvantage is its high cost. Another is the danger of lead pollution from the solder used to join copper pipes and fittings. PRO TIP: When soldering your copper pipes, consider using a low-lead or silver solder.

Copper comes in rigid, 10-foot lengths and in flexible coils and up to 200-feet long. The diameter comes in 1/8th to 12 inches (as measured on the outside diameter), and thicknesses such as K (thick), L (medium), and M (thin). Type L is the most common in homes and is cut with a hacksaw or tubing cutter. The latter is a tool that makes the cuts cleaner and straighter.

Pros & Cons of Copper Pipe

  • + Lasts a long time
  • + Strong and durable
  • + Corrosion-resistant
  • + Requires soldering (long runs of copper pipe are now commonly replaced by PEX pipe which do not require soldering skills)
  • – Will burst if freezes
  • – Expensive

2. PEX Pipe

Compared to copper, PEX plastic pipe costs around 25 percent less and is a great alternative for more complicated plumbing. Cross-linked polyethylene flexible tubing, aka PEX, is great for tight, small spaces such as under sinks.

types of plumbing pipes - PEX pipe color coded blue and red
PEX comes in red and blue. The colors (red for hot water, blue for cold water) help plumbers identify the correct water supply line.

PEX is also the most common rigid plastic pipe used in homes. It comes in lengths of 10- and 20-feet and in smaller pre-cut sizes. The standard diameters are from 1/2 to 4 inches.

PVS is great for water lines, especially drain and wastewater pipes. Depending on the code in your area, it can even be used for cold-water supply inside homes. It does not do well with heat so it is not approved for use in delivering hot water. If used outdoors, it should be protected from sunlight.

Pros & Cons of PEX Pipe

  • + Highly flexible and resilient
  • + Easy to install; can be bent or curved which requires fewer connections
  • + Resistant to breakage caused by freezing
  • + Less expensive
  • – Must be kept away from heat or direct UV light (which weaknes it over time)
  • – Only invented about 40 years ago; its ability to last a long time is unknown

3. CPVC Pipe

CVPC, or chlorinated polyvinyl chloride, is often called PVC pipe’s cousin because they are so similar. However, CVPC  holds up much better in higher temperatures.

CPVC tubing - types of plumbing pipes
Although similar to PVC, CPVC is different enough chemically that it

CPVC can handle temperatures up to 200 degrees, while PVC can only handle up to 140 degrees. This makes it a better choice for plumbing water lines that carry both hot and cold water.

PRO TIP: Although CPVC and PVC pipes and fittings are similar, they should not be used interchangeably. Because of CPVC’s chemical composition which has more chlorine, it requires different solvents and bonding agents when working with it.

Pros & Cons of CPVC Pipe

  • + Can handle temperatures up to 200 degrees
  • + More resistant than PVC
  • + Installs quickly and easily
  • + Contains extra chlorine which increases its safety for potable (drinkable) water.
  • – May split in freezing temperatures
  • – Needs more fittings which might lead to potentially more weak spots
  • – Made of plastic

The Best Pipes for Sewer Lines

4. PVC Pipe

PVC is one of the most well-known and popular types of pipe used in the plumbing industry. However, it is only used in waste drains, sewage plumbing, or venting because it tends to split when exposed to hot temperatures.

PVC tubing - types of plumbing pipes
PVC is a white plastic material often used for water supply and drain pipes. It also often replaces metal piping.

PVC is loved by homeowners and other do-it-yourselfers because of how easy it is to work with. It’s also relatively cheap when compared to copper.

Pros & Cons of PVC Pipe

  • + Resists corrosion
  • + Less expensive
  • + Easy to install
  • – More brittle than iron and can break or crack
  • – Must keep it away from furnaces, ovens, and other heat sources

5. Cast Iron Pipe

Cast iron plumbing pipes were the gold standard piping material used by plumbers for larger drain and vent lines for decades. It is the heaviest and most durable plumbing material, making it ideal for drains and vents.

Cast iron pipe - types of plumbing pipes
The oldest cast iron water pipes are from the 1600s. They’ve proven their durability and lasting capabilities.

Over the years, many different types of pipes have emerged, but cast iron still remains. Older cast iron pipes have hub-and-spigot joints wealed with rope-like caulking and molten lead.

Today, the quality of modern cast iron pipes use has improved greatly. They now use rubber couplings and stainless-steel band clamps to make leak-proof connections.

Pros & Cons of Case Iron Pipe

  • + Long-term life and durability
  • + Compatible with PVC for easy replacement
  • + Reduces or eliminates typical sounds from sewage as it runs through the pipes
  • – Extremely heavy; it might be hard to transport and work with
  • – Difficult to cut
  • – Chemical drain cleaners easily deteriorate the inside walls
  • – Rusts and deteriorates over time, causing clogs from cast iron and other debris

Final Thoughts

The types of plumbing pipes are as varied as the jobs they’re each suited to. But as you can see with this list of pros and cons, there are clear differences. Knowing this will help you decide which is best for you and your situation.

And don’t be bashful about asking your plumber for advice. Talk over the options and see what you can both agree on.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you need help choosing a pipe material, or repairing or replacing plumbing pipes.

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning, or water damage problem. We also handle the excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even on holidays.

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