What’re Your Water Pipes Made Of? (Hint: You Should Probably Find Out)

by | May 3, 2024 | Residential Infrastructure Day

Author: Rowan Guthrie

Maybe you don’t think about what your water pipes are made of, but you should. The type of pipe material has a big impact on your plumbing system, your water quality and your wallet. Therefore, knowing the different types can help you prevent leaks, repair damages and plan for upgrades.

What Are Some of the Most Common Types of Materials Used in Home Plumbing?

Commonly used home plumbing pipes offer a variety of pros and cons.

Plastic Pipes

These are generally cheaper, lighter, easier to install and more resistant to corrosion and scaling. Also, because they have a lower thermal conductivity, they’re less likely to freeze and more likely to retain heat. The most common types include:

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) Pipes

This type is rigid and strong is and mainly used for drain lines, sewer lines and irrigation systems. It can handle high water pressure and is very durable. However, hot water can cause it to warp or crack, and it releases toxic chemicals when burned or exposed to sunlight.

CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride) Pipes

A modified version of PVC pipe, it can withstand higher temperatures, making it suitable for both hot and cold water supply lines. It has similar advantages to PVC pipes, but it’s more expensive, and installation requires special tools and fittings.

PEX (Cross-Linked Polyethylene) Pipes

This pipe material is also suitable for hot and cold water supply lines. It can bend around corners and obstacles without needing joints or fittings, making it easier to install. It’s also resistant to corrosion, scaling, freezing and bursting. However, it’s unsuitable for outdoors as it can degrade under UV rays.

Metal Pipes

Metal pipes are generally stronger, are more durable and have greater heat resistance than plastic pipes. However, they’re typically costlier and heavier, harder to install and prone to corrosion and leakage. Additionally, their higher thermal conductivity means they lose heat and are more likely to freeze.

Common options include:

Copper Pipes

Copper is widely used for water supply lines, as it’s corrosion-resistant, long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing. It can handle high water pressure and temperatures, and it doesn’t affect the taste or quality of water. However, it can be expensive, and installation requires soldering and special tools. Acidic water can also affect it, causing pinhole leaks or green stains.

Galvanized Steel Pipes

This pipe is coated with zinc to prevent rusting and is most commonly found in older homes. It’s strong and durable but also heavy, hard to install and prone to corrosion and scaling. Additionally, it can release lead or iron into the water, causing discoloration, bad taste and potentially health issues.

Cast Iron Pipe

Heavy and sturdy, cast iron pipe is mainly used for drain lines and sewer lines. It’s durable enough to last for decades, but it’s also difficult to install and repair, as it requires cutting and joining with special tools and techniques. Additionally, it’s susceptible to corrosion and cracking.

How to Find Out What Type of Pipes You Have

Here are a few ways you can find out what types of pipes are in your home. 

Check the Exposed Pipes

View the exposed pipes in your basement, crawl space, attic or utility room. You can identify the type by its color, shape and markings. For example, copper pipes are usually shiny and reddish-brown, PVC pipes are often white or gray, with the letters PVC printed on them, and galvanized steel pipes are frequently dull and gray and have threaded ends.

Check the Pipe Fittings

Pipe fittings are the connectors that join the pipes together. Different types of pipes have different types of fittings. For example, copper pipes have soldered or compression fittings, PVC pipes have glued or slip-on fittings, and galvanized steel pipes have threaded or flanged fittings.

Check the Water Quality

Different types of pipes can affect the taste and quality of the water flowing through them. For example, rust, discoloration or a metallic taste are signs you might have galvanized steel pipes. Green stains or pinhole leaks are possible in copper pipes. Low water pressure or slow drainage suggests clogged or damaged plastic pipes.

Why You Should Care About Your Pipe Materials

Each type of pipe has different maintenance and repair needs. Therefore, knowing the type can help you prevent or fix problems before they become worse.

Plastic Pipes

Avoid using harsh chemicals or boiling water to unclog them, as they can damage the pipe material. Also, protect them from sunlight and freezing temperatures, which can cause them to degrade or burst.

Metal Pipes

Check them regularly for signs of corrosion, scaling or leakage, as these can affect the water quality and pipe integrity. You should also insulate them to prevent heat loss and freezing and replace them if they’re old or damaged.

Finally, unless you’re a confident DIYer, you should hire a professional plumber to install or replace pipes because it’s a complex and risky task.

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