How to Choose the Right Pipe: Comparing Types of Plumbing Pipes

choosing the right type of pipe for plumbing system

Reliable and efficient plumbing systems are the backbone of any functional home or building. Selecting the appropriate pipe material is a critical decision that impacts a plumbing system's longevity, performance, and overall cost. This article offers a detailed comparison of the most commonly used plumbing pipes, highlighting their essential characteristics. It guides you in selecting the appropriate pipe for your system and identifies indicators signaling the need for pipe replacement.

7 Types of Plumbing Pipes

Copper Pipes

Copper pipe is a traditional material that has been used in plumbing for many years. It is known for its reliability and durability, offering a long lifespan under normal conditions. A copper pipe is non-permeable and resistant to bacteria, making it ideal for transporting potable water compared with other pipes. They are also recyclable, which contributes to their appeal in sustainable building practices. They come in various sizes, typically ranging from 1/4 inch to 12 inches in diameter, allowing for use in both high-volume commercial applications and precise residential installations.

Commonly Used: In hot and cold water lines, as well as in HVAC systems for refrigerant lines due to its ability to withstand high pressures and temperatures.


  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Can handle high temperatures
  • Bacteria and corrosion resistant
  • Recyclable and environmentally friendly


  • More expensive than plastic pipes
  • Can corrode in acidic environments
  • Requires soldering for installation, needing skilled labor

PEX Pipes

PEX stands for Cross-linked Polyethylene, a durable, flexible plumbing pipe that has gained popularity in modern plumbing. Its flexibility allows it to bend around corners and obstacles, reducing the need for fittings and decreasing the risk of leaks. PEX pipe is also resistant to scale and chlorine, which can damage other types of pipes over time. Sizes range from 1/4 inch to 4 inches in diameter, making PEX pipe adaptable for detailed residential plumbing tubing as well as larger commercial systems.

Commonly Used: Extensively for indoor water supply lines, radiant floor heating, and hot and cold plumbing systems due to their flexibility and durability.


  • Flexible, allowing for easier installation and fewer fittings
  • Resistant to scale and chlorine
  • Can be used for hot and cold water supply
  • Less likely to burst from freezing


  • Can be damaged by UV light if not properly protected
  • Concerns about potential for chemical leaching
  • Not suitable for outdoor use

PVC Pipes

PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, is a widely used plastic pipe that's lightweight, resistant to chemicals, and easy to work with. It's made from a combination of plastic and vinyl, making it rigid and robust for various plumbing tubing applications. PVC pipes are white or cream-colored and are often used in residential and commercial settings due to their durability and resistance to corrosion. PVC pipe for plumbing is available in a broad size range, from 1/2 inch to 4 inches in diameter, suitable for various applications from residential to industrial.

Commonly Used: Primarily used for transporting drinking water, sewage, and serving as main water supply lines in both residential and commercial settings.


  • Lightweight and easy to work with
  • Inexpensive and widely available
  • Resistant to corrosion and chemical damage
  • Good for low-temperature and non-potable applications


  • Not suitable for hot water applications
  • Can degrade under UV exposure
  • May release harmful chemicals if burned

CPVC Pipes

Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC) pipes are a variant of PVC, made more resilient and temperature-resistant through the chlorination process. This process enhances the pipe's ability to withstand higher temperatures, making CPVC pipes an excellent choice for hot water delivery. CPVC maintains many of the beneficial properties of PVC, such as resistance to corrosion and chemical damage, but with added durability against heat.

The material is also less reactive to chemicals, reducing the risk of leaching and making it safer for transporting potable water. Typically available in sizes from 1/2 inch to 2 inches in diameter, CPVC caters to a range of plumbing needs, from small repairs to whole-house plumbing.

Commonly Used: For hot and cold water pipes for house and businesses due to its ability to handle varying temperatures without degrading.


  • Can withstand higher temperatures than PVC
  • Easy to install with solvent welding
  • Chemical damage and corrosion resistant
  • Suitable for potable water distribution


  • More expensive than PVC
  • Can become brittle over time
  • May be damaged by exposure to certain organic solvents

Braided Pipes

Braided pipes are not a type of pipe material but rather a specific form of pipe construction. They typically consist of an inner rubber hose encased in a braided metal sheath. The braided design provides both flexibility and strength, making these pipes resistant to pressure and kinking. The metal braiding, often made from stainless steel, protects the inner hose from damage and prevents expansion due to water pressure, ensuring the pipe maintains its shape and flow capacity. They are commonly available in lengths ranging from a few inches to several feet, accommodating the specific needs of appliances and fixtures.

Commonly Used: For connecting appliances like water heaters, sinks, and toilets, where flexibility and resistance to pressure are crucial.


  • High resistance to pressure and bursting
  • Provides flexibility for tight spaces and ease of installation
  • Durable construction


  • Limited to use in specific applications
  • Can be more expensive than solid pipes of similar dimensions
  • Requires professional installation

ABS Pipes

ABS plastic, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, is a thermoplastic pipe that is similar in composition to PVC but is more impact-resistant and can withstand lower temperatures. It is black and is commonly used for drain, waste, and vent lines because of its robustness and durability. ABS pipes are commonly available in sizes from 1 1/2 inches to 4 inches in diameter, making them suitable for various domestic and commercial applications.

Commonly Used: Mainly used in drain, waste, and vent systems, as well as sewer lines, because of their strength and durability.


  • Strong and impact-resistant
  • Good for drain, waste, and vent lines
  • Performs well in low temperatures
  • Easy to install with solvent welding


  • Not suitable for outdoor use due to UV sensitivity
  • Cannot be used for potable water systems
  • Less flexible than PEX and PVC pipe

Cast Iron Pipes

Cast iron pipes, known for their durability and strength, have been used in plumbing systems for centuries. These plumbing pipes are manufactured by pouring molten iron into molds, creating a robust and heavy product. The inherent strength of cast iron makes these pipes ideal for high-pressure applications and underground installations. They are especially favored for their sound-dampening qualities, reducing the noise of flowing water and other materials, which is a significant advantage in multi-story buildings and industrial settings.

Despite their weight and the labor-intensive installation and replacement process, cast iron pipes remain a preferred choice for sewer lines and large-scale drainage systems due to their longevity and resilience to wear and degradation. Cast Iron Pipes are typically found in larger diameters, from 2 inches up to 15 inches or more, making them ideal for main sewage drains and large-scale water distribution.

Commonly Used: Primarily in underground water systems, main sewage lines, and storm drainage systems due to their high strength and ability to dampen noise.


  • Extremely durable and long-lasting
  • Excellent at dampening noise from water flow
  • Resistant to abrasion and heavy loads
  • Suitable for high-pressure applications


  • Very heavy and difficult to install
  • Prone to rust and corrosion over time
  • Expensive to repair or replace due to weight and size


How to Choose the Right Plumbing Pipe for Your Needs

plumber performing pipe replacement in kitchen drains

When selecting a plumbing pipe, several factors need to be considered to ensure that the chosen type meets the specific requirements of the application. Here's why each factor is important:

  • Cost per foot: This factor affects the overall budget of a plumbing project. Understanding the cost per foot can help you budget, save money, and significantly influence the choice of pipe, especially for large-scale installations.
  • Durability (expected lifespan): The longevity of the pipe material is crucial for reducing future maintenance and pipe replacement costs. Durable pipes minimize the frequency of plumbing overhauls and ensure long-term functionality. Additionally, external security measures like spigot locks can play a significant role in protecting the plumbing system from unauthorized use and potential damage. By securing outdoor faucet locks, homeowners and businesses can prevent water theft and avoid unnecessary strain on their plumbing systems.
  • Temperature rating (hot and cold water capabilities): Pipes must withstand the temperature of the water they carry. While some materials are suitable for both hot and cold water, others may only be suitable for one, impacting their application in heating systems or cold water supply.
  • Pressure rating: The plumbing pipe’s ability to withstand water pressure is vital to prevent leaks, bursts, and other failures. Plumbing pipes with higher pressure ratings are essential for high-demand systems and multi-story buildings where water pressure increases with height.
  • Ease of installation: Installation complexity can affect labor costs and project duration. Materials that are easier to install can reduce the overall cost and time taken to complete a plumbing project.
  • Applications: The intended use of plumbing tubing (e.g., water supply, drains, vent stacks) dictates the material choice. Some pipes are better suited for specific applications, like PVC for sewage lines or copper for potable water, based on their material properties and performance characteristics.
Plumbing Pipes Cost per Foot Durability Temperature Rating Pressure Rating Ease of Installation Applications
Copper Pipes High High High High Medium Potable water, heating systems
PEX Pipes Medium High High Medium High Indoor plumbing, radiant heating
PVC Pipes Low Medium Low Low High Drainage, venting, water supply
CPVC Pipes Medium High High Medium High Hot and cold water supply
Braided Pipes High Medium Low Medium High Appliance and fixture connections
ABS Pipes Low Medium Low Low High Drainage and venting systems
Cast Iron Pipes High High Low Very High Low Sewage, vent stacks


Signs for Plumbing Pipe Replacement

Recognizing the signs of a failing plumbing pipe is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your plumbing system and preventing potential damage. Here are common indicators that you may need pipe replacement:


The most obvious sign of a problem, leaks suggest cracks, holes, or loose connections in the pipes. Even small leaks can lead to significant water damage over time and indicate that the integrity of the pipe has been compromised. Cracks, holes, or loose connections often result from pipe corrosion, physical damage, or wear and tear over time. Not winterizing your plumbing system can also cause pipes to burst.

Discolored Water

If you notice brownish, reddish, or yellowish water, it could point to rust or corrosion inside the pipes, especially in older metal pipes like iron or copper. This can lead to contamination and is a sign that the pipes are deteriorating.

Low Water Pressure

A sudden or gradual decrease in water pressure can indicate a blockage or leak in your plumbing pipes. It could be caused by blockages from mineral deposits, sediment build-up, corrosion narrowing the pipe's interior, or a significant breach in the line. Leaks in plumbing pipes can also lead to reduced pressure.

Strange Noise

Banging, whistling, or gurgling sounds from the pipes can be due to air trapped in the pipes, high water pressure, or the onset of blockages, which disrupt normal water flow and cause vibrations or noises. These noises might suggest that the pipes are not functioning correctly.

Recurring Clogs

Frequent clogs in your sinks, toilets, or bathtubs can indicate that there is a deeper problem within your plumbing system. This may be due to obstructions deep within the plumbing pipe system, narrowed pipes from mineral or grease buildup, or problems with the main sewer line.

When encountering these signs, it’s crucial to consult a licensed plumber for a thorough diagnosis and appropriate repairs. Plumbing system issues can be complex, and a professional can determine whether pipe replacement or repair is necessary. For information on plumbing codes and standards in your area, consult your local building department or refer to resources from the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).


FAQs on Plumbing Pipes

What size pipe for house plumbing?

The most common size for residential plumbing pipes is 1/2 inch for individual fixtures and 3/4 to 1 inch for main supply lines. The size can vary based on the overall demand, layout of the home, and local building codes.

What is the best pipe for water supply in home?

PEX piping is often considered the best water pipes for house due to its flexibility, ease of installation, and resistance to corrosion and scale. It is suitable for both hot and cold water lines and has a long lifespan.

What type of pipe is used for main water lines?

For main water lines, durable materials like copper or PVC are commonly used. Copper pipe is preferred for its longevity and reliability, while PVC pipe is favored for its cost-effectiveness and resistance to corrosion.

Which is better PVC or steel pipe?

The choice between PVC and steel pipe depends on the application. PVC piping is better for water distribution in residential settings due to its corrosion resistance and ease of installation. Steel pipes, often galvanized, are better suited for industrial applications or where high pressure and temperature resistance are needed.

What type of pipes lasts the longest?

Cast iron and copper pipes are known for their longevity, often lasting 50 years or more with proper maintenance. PEX piping also has a long lifespan but hasn’t been used as long as copper or cast iron, so its long-term durability is still being evaluated.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.