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What are the Different Types of Home Plumbing?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Plumbing pipes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials for plumbers to use. Home plumbing pipes fall into two categories for homeowners and plumbers to use: metal and plastic. Each different style of pipe provides its own set of pros and cons.

When using metal pipes, there are five different types of pipes people have the opportunity to pick from. The copper pipes have been used since the 1960s. These pipes are expensive for home plumbing, but the copper pipes are very reliable for the day to day use. The pipes come in three sizes: M, L and K: from thin to thick, respectively. K pipes are used for underground lines while both M and L are used for interior lines. Both M and L are suitable for hot and cold water usage. Copper pipes are not prone to leaks.

Galvanized steel lines were used for home plumbing almost exclusively during the 1960s. These are the gray metal pipes people usually see, in the house. These pipes usually last for about 40 years before they are replaced with plastic pipes. Stainless steel pipes are seen rarely in homes today. They are extremely strong, but also very expensive. Stainless steel pipes are usually used in marine environments where the salt water can erode other pipes.

Cast iron pipes were used in the past for drainage. The cast iron pipes are really durable, but the weight of the pipes made them hard to work with on a daily basis. If a cast iron pipe breaks, a PVC pipe is used in most occurrences due to the exceptional bond it can form with cast iron pipes. Black iron pipes are never used for home plumbing. Many people mistake them for plumbing pipes, but these pipes are only suitable for gas.

Plumbers are beginning to use plastic pipes on a consistent basis for home plumbing. The plastic pipes are more durable and a cheaper solution opposed to metal pipes. Polyvinyl chloride pipes, or PVC pipes, are white in color and are used for cold water use only. These pipes are typically used for a main supply line to the house. If using the PVC pipes for a drinking line, make sure the pipes are suitable for drinking water.

Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride pipes, or CPVC, come in a beige color. These pipes are suitable for both hot and cold water usage. The lines should never be placed underground because they will burst open if the line freezes.

Polyethylene pipes (PEX) are used extensively in newer homes due to their abilities to use both hot and cold water. PEX lines resist heat better than most plastic pipes. These home plumbing lines come in red, white and blue. Polybutylene lines (PB) were used in homes mostly from the 1970s until the 1990s. They are the only flexible plastic pipes approved for a hot and cold water supply, but are prone to leaks. Acrylonitrite-butadiene-styrene (ABS) lines are black plastic pipes used for drainage only. The ABS pipes are a low cost replacement for PVC pipes.

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Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Jun 11, 2014

The biggest problem I have had with copper piping as home plumbing is that it disappears. I buy, renovate and resale old houses and when I look at the homes that had copper piping, more often than not the plumbing is gone. Most of the houses have been vacant for years and the copper is attractive to thieves.

By Drentel — On Jun 10, 2014

Some of the newer types of pipes like mentioned in this article and plastic pipes are better at standing up to cold weather than the copper pipes. However, you can do a few simple things that will go a long way in making sure that pipes, even copper pipes, don't freeze.

When you know the temperature is going to drop a good bit below freezing then you should leave the faucets running just a little to keep the water from freezing. Running water is less likely to freeze. You can also cut off the water at the point where it enters the house, and then run all of the water out of the pipes. This way there is no water in the pipes to freeze.

You might also want to leave a light on under your house if that is where your pipes are located. The heat given off from the light can make a big difference.

By mobilian33 — On Jun 10, 2014

We had copper pipes when I was a kid, and the pipes were not well wrapper or protected from the cold in anyway. Whenever the cold weather hit during the winter we could count on being without running water for at least a couple times during the winter. Waking up on a cold morning and testing all the faucets was always a 50/50 proposition. You might get water and you might not.

Sometimes the water in the pipes would thaw and the pipes would survive without any damage, but more often they would spring leaks and we would have to turn off the water and let my father try his hand at home plumbing repair. When this didn't work, which it usually didn't, he called a real plumber and we had to wait until he arrived, which was sometimes days.

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