In today’s economy, more and more people are choosing to remodel their homes themselves instead of hiring contractors and laborers. And with plumbing a relatively “easy” part of remodeling, homeowners now have total control as to what methods and materials they use.
Plastic: One of the most affordable materials for plumbing, plastic piping comes in many options, each with their own set of pros and cons. As a whole, plastic doesn’t transfer a lot of temperature, which makes it fairly efficient.
PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride (with another option being Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride—CPVC) costs relatively little, is biologically- and chemically-resistant, and withstands heat transfer fairly well. It’s also easy to cut and only requires gluing together, but cuts must be precise and can take a bit of practice to get right. Further, the right glue and solvent has to be used, or else the pipes can leak.
PEX: Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) is another type of plastic piping that’s also very affordable. It’s also incredibly flexible, which means that it can be bent instead of cut (except at 90-degree angles.) The heat-resistant PEX pipes come in different colors so you can code them for hot and cold water, don’t corrode or get pinhole leaks, provides high water pressure due to its straight lines, are less likely to burst in frigid weather, and last 25-50 years. But PEX isn’t a miracle material: they’re susceptible to sunlight and insect bites, carry a high price tag for fittings, and have had problems with yellow brass fittings.
ABS: Acryloitrile butadiene styrene is a mouthful to say, but it also boasts the widest temperature range of plastic range. Homeowners in extremely cold and hot climates use ABS because it can withstand temperatures between -40F to +180F. They’re very lightweight and retain their shape under temperature duress, making them suitable to install both under- and above-ground. But they do come with a drawback: ABS pipes are susceptible to UV radiation, but can be painted with water-based latex paint to prevent damage.
PolyPipe: This thick black pipe is mostly used outside—and buried underground—because of its ability to stay rigid and carry high-pressure water into and out of homes.
Metal: The other alternative to plastic piping is metal. Overall, it costs more, but it carries benefits that plastic doesn’t.
Copper: It may be expensive, but copper is incredibly strong, long-lasting (80-100+ years), resists corrosion extremely well, won’t burn in a fire, and can be recycled. However, copper is a highly-valuable metal (and is often stolen in abandoned homes, like in Detroit) and requires finesse and experience to install correctly.
Stainless Steel: Homes don’t use this metal often, and not just because it’s more expensive than other metals and difficult to find, but because it’s mostly used to resist salt (water) corrosion. It’s mostly marine environments that use stainless steel piping because the salt water would corrode other metals, even copper.
Galvanized Metal: A galvanized coating covers metal pipes to protect them from rusting, and is easily spotted by a dull gray color. They’re durable, but heavy—and heavy-duty—and are being replaced by PEX pipes.