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How to Recognize Different Types of Pipes Used in Home Plumbing

Fixing a pipe under the sink

There are many different reasons you might need to know what kind of pipes are used in your home plumbing. Whether you want to know what you’re talking about when discussing details with a professional plumber or if you’re a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to plumbing projects, understanding what materials you’re working with is essential.

You need to understand what pipes are used for water supply, sewer passages, drainage, and the difference between indoor and exterior piping. This guide will help you understand how to recognize different types of pipes in your home plumbing.

What Type of Piping Is Used in Homes?

Once upon a time in the history of plumbing, experts used a small list of materials for plumbing piping. The main choices were between cast-iron or galvanized steel. Nowadays, there are quite a few more options!

Here are 7 different types of pipes used in plumbing and how to recognize different types of pipes. Keep in mind that if you cannot determine the different types of pipes used in plumbing, you should always consult an expert.

1. PVC Piping

Polyvinyl chloride pipe stands out from different types of plumbing since it is typically cream-colored and is used as a drain or venting line pipe. PVC pipe gets glued together with solvents, is fairly easy to install, and doesn’t require anything more complicated than a hacksaw to cut. It originally became popular since it is lightweight and easier to work with than the traditional steel pipe.

PVC piping remains popular since it’s diameters are always clearly marked on the pipe, it is inexpensive and a common favorite for long runs, it’s flexible, and overall easy to work with. On the downside, it is fragile and prone to shattering if dropped, cannot be unjoined without cutting, and glued pipes are prone to leaks.

2. Copper Piping

It’s important to note that there are two different types of copper piping: rigid copper and flexible copper. Both resist corrosion so they are commonly used as water supply piping. This type of piping last for a long time, but it is more expensive than PVC piping. It handles heat well and doesn’t come with any health risks.

Rigid copper piping can come in three different thickness levels: Type M (the thinnest, though strong enough for residential plumbing), and Tyes L and K (thicker and typically used for outdoor drainage). Rigid copper can last against intense pressure, but it is somewhat difficult to use and also expensive.

Flexible copper is much smaller and commonly used for home appliances needing a water supply, like dishwashers and refrigerators. Flexible copper is typically easier to bend, but it is also prone to kinking. If this happens, the piece must be replaced.

3. Galvanized Steel Piping

Commonly found in older homes and rarely installed in modern residences, galvanized steel piping used to be a favorite for water supply, drainage systems, gas supply, and more. Today, galvanized steel is rarely used for gas supply and never for water since the pipe is known to corrode from within and block supply. Additionally, some galvanized steel piping can leak lead into the water supply.

This piping is one of the least popular of the different types of plumbing. While strong and long-lasting, it’s big, heavy, and hard to work with. Experts often recommend that galvanized piping be replaced when issues arise.

4. Cast Iron piping

Traditionally, cast iron piping is used for sewer or drainage piping. This black, weighty piping was common before the 1960s for vertical drain lines, occasional horizontal drain lines, and vent stacks. It is a heavy, difficult piping. While it is certainly strong, it is known to rust. In some cases, it can rust all the way through. 

Experts often suggest replacing heavy cast iron piping with something lightweight and more durable, such as ABS piping, or even PVC.

5. ABS piping

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene piping is most commonly used for drain lines and vents. ABS piping looks fairly similar to PVC piping, but you can tell the difference since ABS piping is black and softer. Some building codes don’t allow ABS piping since the joints are notorious for coming loose, but they are stronger than PVC pipes and work well in colder temperatures. You will have to check to see if it is allowed in your building code before installation.

6. PEX Piping

Cross-linked polyethylene piping is new and gaining popularity. This rigid piping is only used as a water supply since it is stiff enough to endure high pressure but also flexible to weave through walls, ceilings, and crawl spaces. PEX piping cuts easily, allows for simple installation, and uses compression fittings to join together. Permanent connections do require a crimping tool. As a new type of piping, it’s long-term reliability is untested.

7. Polybutylene piping

Blue, silvery gray, or black pipes that are ½ to 1 inch in diameter are most common for poly piping.  Poly pipes have a high rate of failure, even under average working conditions. They were commonly used as water supply piping until the mid-1990s, but since they deteriorate from the inside out rapidly, they are no longer installed in new homes. If you suspect that your home has polybutylene piping, you should consider getting it replaced.

Pipe Problems? Contact The Experts At John C. Flood

Despite using your home’s plumbing every day, most people are not familiar with what different types of plumbing materials are used in the interior of their home. John C. Flood’s online guide to familiarize yourself with your home’s plumbing can help you ensure you’re using the highest quality materials.

For over a century, our team has provided reliable service to customers in the DMV region. If you have any questions about how to recognize different types of pipes used in plumbing in your home, call John C. Flood at (703) 752-1266 or schedule service online.