The 5 Common Plumbing Pipes Explained

various copper and insulated pipes on walls

Everyone faces plumbing problems from time-to-time—even with regular upkeep, these issues are unavoidable. It’s useful to understand the different types of plumbing pipes to resolve these issues efficiently. And especially for anyone constructing new plumbing structures, it helps to be familiar with the range of options in plumbing materials, and their various advantages and drawbacks.

1. PEX Pipes

pex plumbing pipes

Somewhat of a recent innovation as far as plumbing pipes are concerned, PEX pipes are cross-linked polyethylene pipes. They have gained popularity in recent years, and for good reason. They’re used solely to provide water and are rigid enough to withstand the pressures that accompany that job, while simultaneously remaining flexible enough to snake through walls, ceilings, basements, and crawl spaces.

There are a range of pros associated with PEX pipes. First, they’re easy to work with, making them great for DIY plumbers. Second, they’re usually conveniently color-coded. Red PEX pipes are for hot water while blue are for cold. As mentioned above, they’re very flexible yet strong, able to accommodate 90-degree curves. They also boast the benefits of being inexpensive, easy to cut, and easily joined with copper pipes.

Cons of PEX pipes exist, too. Since they’re newer on the market, their long-term capabilities remain unknown as they’re still untested. Another issue is that they’re not able to be recycled, making them a less sustainable option. Finally, PEX pipes may leak with push-fit plumbing fittings.

2. Rigid Copper Pipes

copper pipes

Another common plumbing pipe is that of rigid copper. These are typically used for water supply lines within houses. Since these types of pipes are not accompanied by any health risks, they’re popular for water supply.

Besides the health factor, there are other pros associated with this type of pipe. First, although the name itself suggests the fact that this is a rigid pipe, they do accommodate a certain amount of bending. Additionally, rigid copper pipes handle heat well and can withstand intense pressure. Unlike PEX pipes, they’re easily recyclable and retain monetary value even after they’re used.

Unlike PEX pipes, though, one of the cons of this pipe variety is that they’re not easy to work with for DIY plumbers. Although the material can be cut with a hacksaw or copper tube cutter, facilitating the connection usually requires a professional, as soldering copper pipe together is less than straightforward. Another con is that this type of pipe is on the expensive side. Finally, rigid copper pipes have a tendency to develop pinhole leaks and are prone to interior corrosion.

3. Flexible Copper Pipes

copper piping getting curved

To counter a rigid copper pipe is a more flexible variation, commonly used for plumbing purposes. These are most usually implemented for water heaters, refrigerators, and sinks. It’s important to note that flexible copper piping can only be used for short runs and is good for bending around corners.

A draw that is associated with flexible copper pipes is that it typically fits in unusually spaced areas due to its ability to shift and bend. It’s also easily cut with a hacksaw due to its thin makeup. Finally, it gains credit for its high heat tolerance.

There are some complaints about this type of pipe to note, too. First, it’s pricey. Additionally, it’s thin and prone to breakages, so is usually only used when absolutely needed due to shape and space restraints.

4. PVC Pipes

pvc pipes of various sizes with light coming through

A pipe that most homeowners are familiar with is PVC pipes, also known as polyvinyl chloride pipes. The trademarks of this plumbing pipe is that it’s lighter and easier to work with than a more traditional galvanized steel pipe.

This type of pipe gains accolades for its clearly marked diameters, inexpensive price, ability to be used in long runs (like for irrigation), and the fact that it’s easier to work with than steel and copper. In fact, PVC pipes require little more than a hacksaw or miter box to cut, making them a good choice for DIY plumbers.

To balance out the pros, PVC pipes have a few downsides. First, they cannot be unjoined and must be manually cut. These pipes also degrade in sunlight, so they cannot be exposed to that element. Finally, when these pipes are glued, they are more likely to leak.

5. ABS Pipes

ABS drain pipe

Also known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene pipes, ABS pipes are used typically as a vent and drain line. These resemble PVC pipes, but are slightly softer and are black in color.

These pipes are stronger than PVC pipes, which is something that draws plumbers and homeowners to them. They’re strong enough to stand up to both underground and exterior use and that’s further true due to their tolerance of cold temperatures.

Unfortunately, these pipes are not always permitted by building codes, so it’s important to check on this before investing in ABS pipes. At certain temperatures, these pipes are known to warp, so that’s also something to be aware of.

Plumbing DIY projects that include these pipes may seem intimidating, but they’re surely possible with some guidance and research.