Working with Polyethylene Piping: Tips and Basics

plastic pipes of different sizes

Polyethylene piping is made out of a special type of plastic that was first developed in the United States during the 1930s. Polyethylene piping (also known as PE piping or plastic piping) has become increasingly popular on the market since the mid-century, since it is an affordable, lightweight and flexible alternative to traditional metal piping.

Thanks to the nature of the material, they’re also easier to make, transport and install than traditional piping. However, given the nature of plastics, there are also some quirks to working with polyethylene piping that consumers should know about prior to beginning any project. Keep reading to learn some basic facts about PE piping and some tips for working with it.

Types of Polyethylene Piping

The first type of polyethylene that was developed in the 1930s was low density. This is the most common type of plastic on the market today and is commonly used in the production of toys, plastic bags, bottles and the like.

However, it wasn’t until the development of high-density polyethylene in the 1950s that this material became appropriate for use in piping. This is a more compact, durable, stiff and stronger plastic that is tougher than it’s low-density relative and can better withstand pressure and the transport of liquids and corrosives.

Finally, the toughest type of PE yet is cross-linked polyethylene. This extra strong, super durable type of plastic piping is used in radiant systems, water piping for industrial and domestic applications and as insulation for cables. These pipes are also used in the gas and oil industries, in sewage plants and can even be used to transport chemicals.

Common Sizes of Polyethylene Piping

In American sizes, the most common diameters of PE piping include the ½ inch size, the ¾ inch size and the 1 inch size, although this piping is available on the market in sizes as small as ¼ inch diameter and as large as a 4 inch diameter. In the metric system, plastic piping is available in sizes ranging from 16 millimeters to 63 millimeters. Of course, it is possible to order custom sized polyethylene piping, although this is usually only done for specific industrial applications.

Benefits of Polyethylene Piping

PE piping has several benefits to other types of piping, like PVC or copper. Some of the reasons are listed above: it’s cheaper, lighter and easier to make. In residential applications, it can also be advantageous to use PE piping because it’s flexible (and thus easier to install these pipes in atypically-shaped or sized homes and buildings) and doesn’t need elbow joints. This material is great for applications with water because it doesn’t rust or corrode.

Tips for Working with Polyethylene Piping

As opposed to joining lengths of PE piping together with joints or fasteners, like with other materials, you can actually fuse pieces together with heat (such as with a welder). This will help keep your pipe strong and leak-free.

Other tips for working with PE piping include being careful when you cut it with a saw, because cutting has a tendency to leave behind burrs and rough edges. Remember to smooth them out.