I have a plumber friend who has taught me a ton about the plumbing trade. His contribution to this article helped tremendously.
To say you need to know a lot as a jouneyman plumber is an understatement. He encounters all kinds of jobs and problems every week. It’s an interesting job that involves a lot of problem solving and diagnostic work.
Part of the job involves planning out big jobs and choosing the types of pipes to be used for each plumbing function. This article succinctly sets out all the different types of pipes.
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Types of Water Pipes Used in Plumbing
Below is an extensive list of all the different types of pipes by material. Most images are courtesy of Homedepot.com.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
ABS is resistant to corrosive chemicals and has a low melting temperature. While used for pipes, it’s well known for Lego toys, computer keyboards and wall socket faceguards [source: Creativemechanisms.com].
This type of pipe is used for draining sewage and wastewater from households. It’s good for DWV (drain waste vent) systems.
It’s not flexible. In other words, it’s solid.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. It’s widely used in and for many household items such as locks, bearings, doorknobs and plumbing applications such as tubes like the one shown below.
While brass can be used for plumbing pipes, it rarely is due to it being very expensive. Brass fittings are more common.
Used for sanitary drains, cast iron is a strong, durable pipe that can withstand extreme temperatures.
Cast iron is an alloy of iron with 2% to 4% carbon as well as silicon and manganese and traces of impurities such as sulfur and phosphorus [source: Encyclopedia Britannica].
It’s been used as early as the 6th Century in China.
It’s famously used for pots and pans (i.e. cast iron frying pans), but also used for pipes.
Chlorinated Poly Vinyl Chloride (CPVC)
This type of non-corrosive pipe is used for hot and cold (up to 180°F). It’s durable and easy to use. CPVC is different than PVC because it’s altered by a free radical chlorination reaction that effectively increases the chlorine content of the material. CPVC is also a thermoplastic that is molded into many of the same products as PVC [source: Commercial Industrial Supply]. This process makes it possible to withstand a greater range of temperature.
Because CPVC has more applications than PVC, it’s more expensive.
One of our family’s favorite outings is visiting the Britannia Mine in Squamish, BC. The tour includes a mine cart ride into the mountain which includes a tour of various mining tools, techniques, lighting and what it was like for miners 100 years ago. At one point, this mine when operation produced the most copper in all of North America. Here’s a photo of this mining museum:
Copper tubing is used for hot and cold water. While PVC has replaced much of copper use due to PVC’s lower cost, copper is still an excellent pipe for potable water.
How much does copper pipe cost? You can buy a 2′ pipe with 1″ diameter for $13.44 at Homedepot.com. Compare that with PVC – a 1″ diameter, 10 foot long PVC pipe at Homedepot.com costs $7.95.
Cross-Linked Polyethylene (PEX)
This tubing is used for residential radiant heating applications. It keeps oxygen and other elements from infiltrating and corrupting the key mechanical components in heating systems.
It can also be used to transport potable water. As you can see from the image below, it bends and is lightweight making it an easy plumbing material to use.
Galvanized steel is coated with zinc to prevent rust. This type of pipe was popular in houses built before 1960 – replaced lead pipes for water lines. The problem with galvanized steel pipes is eventually the zinc coating erodes which then results in rust [source: Amercianvintagehome.com].
HDPE (High Density Polyethyline)
This type of pipe/tubing is used for drainage systems. It’s particularly good for uneven terrain and is weather resistant.
It’s also used for irrigations systems. They can be sunk in water or buried in the earth [source: Veervisions.com].
Low-Density Polyethyline (LDPE)
For plumbing purposes, this tubing is used for water softening lines. It’s resistant to many solvents, acids, alkalis and gases.
It’s very stress crack resistant, flexible and durable [source: Hudson Extrusions].
When we moved to our current home, I went out and bought a bunch of long PVC pipes and fittings for my kids to play with in the backyard. While it seemed expensive for a toy at the time, I must say it was a great purchase. My kids have spent endless hours creating simple pipe systems and running water through them with the hose. It’s a pile of fun and great backyard toy.
Now back to actual plumbing applications for PVC.
PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, and it’s become a common replacement for metal piping.
PVC is one of the best-known pipe options. PVC is synonymous with “pipe”. It’s widely used in residential plumbing for waste drainage and vent applications. However, you should know that it’s not appropriate for hot water. CPVC is better for higher temperature water.
As you can see from the photo example below, this type of pipe is flexible that can be bent and run around different objects.
is ideal for transferring hot liquids and gases in food and beverage handling applications. It can be used for small fluid system support structures, or as a liner in metal piping systems. Use in manufacturing operations where extreme resistance to acids and alkalis is required [source: Grainger.com].
This type of tubing is widely used in laboratory settings and at home for uses such as home brewing. It’s not widely used for plumbing applications, but we included it because it can be a useful tubing option to run liquids through.
Pipe Size Chart
Below are the two key charts pertaining to standard pipe sizes via PlumbingSupply.com.
1. Standard Pipe Size Info Chart
The outside diameter (o.d.) shown is for standard IPS, Schedule 40, pipe (PVC, stainless, brass, steel, etc.). Not for CPVC, PEX, PB or copper pipe.