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Plastic Piping 101: Understanding Plumbing Options for Your Home

Posted By PPFA, Sunday, April 19, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, April 14, 2020

plastic pipes in ceiling

 

What is going to add safety, reliability, and value to your home remodel? It starts behind the walls with your choice of piping materials.

 

While homeowners don’t often give their piping material much thought, it plays an important role in your family’s well-being, ensures the space functions as you need for as long as possible with minimal maintenance and may increase your home’s value.

 

Know Your Plastic Piping Options

Understanding the differences between pipe materials can help you better communicate your wishes to your remodeler or contractor. Discuss piping material early on in the project to make sure the materials you want installed are specified from the start.

 

Always check with your local code or enforcement authorities to ensure piping materials are approved for the application. If they’re not, you can often apply for an alternative material exemption. Another tip: Ask your neighbors to see what piping they have in their home and whether they’ve encountered any issues.

 

How Plastic Pipes Are Used in Your Home

The three most common uses for plastic piping in the home include:

      Water service lines: the pipes leading from the street to your house that provide water from your local water department or utility.

 

      Water distribution systems: the pipes inside your home that deliver hot and cold potable water to your faucets, showers, devices, and appliances.

 

      Drain-waste-vent (DWV) systems: the pipes that collect and remove water, sewer gases and waste from toilets, showers, sinks and appliances.

 

The Benefits of Using Plastic Piping in Your Home

Regardless of which plastic piping you use for your home remodel or new-home build, rest assured knowing that all plastic piping share these benefits:

      Safe and certified
Plastic piping undergoes third-party certification against an extremely stringent health-effects standard written by NSF International. Plastic pipes have been certified to meet performance requirements and safe drinking water requirements, such as NSF/ANSI/CAN 61. If your piping has the NSF (or other third-party) certification mark, it’s safe to use for drinking water.

 

      Affordability and cost-savings
Plastic piping is a lower weight piping option, so it costs less to ship and is often easier to install. The time and labor savings mean you typically pay less and the project can be completed more quickly.

 

      Flexibility
It’s easy to snake flexible plastic piping through walls, so you often can avoid tearing open existing walls—and costly associated repairs on retrofits and remodels.

 

      Compatibility with existing systems
Plastic piping is compatible with most existing systems, so it’s easy to retrofit in an older home.

 

      Durability and low-maintenance
Plastic piping is impervious to rust and corrosion. Many plastic piping systems will last 50 years or more, depending on the application.

 

      Sustainability
Life cycle assessments show that plastic pipes have a
smaller environmental impact compared to other materials.


What Are Plastic Pipes Made Of?

The majority of plastic piping is made from thermoplastics, which are materials that can be melted, shaped and molded, and cooled. Each type of pipe material is unique and ideal for certain applications in your home.

 

ABS — Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene


ABS is a rigid thermoplastic that was originally developed in the early 1950s for use in oil fields and the chemical industry and was approved for residential use in the 1960s.

 

ABS uses and applications in the home:

      Drain-waste-vent systems — toilet, sink, and shower drain lines and vent stacks

 

What’s the average life of an ABS plumbing system?

50-70+ but check with your manufacturer for details. As with any plumbing system, lifespan is dependent upon proper application and installation.

 

Explore frequently asked questions about ABS.

 

PVC — Polyvinyl Chloride

 

PVC is the most widely used thermoplastic in the plumbing and construction industry.

 

PVC uses and applications in the home:

      Water service lines

      Drain-waste-vent systems—toilet, sink, and shower drain lines and vent stacks

      Electrical conduit

      Exposed outdoor use if the pipe contains sufficient stabilizers and UV inhibitors to shield against ultraviolet radiation or is painted with compatible water-based latex paint

      Lawn sprinklers

      Municipal sewer lines

 

What’s the average life of a PVC plumbing system?

50-70+ years, but check with your manufacturer for details. As with any plumbing system, lifespan is dependent upon proper application and installation.

 

Explore frequently asked questions about PVC.

 

CPVC — Chlorinated Poly (Vinyl Chloride)

 

CPVC is a rigid thermoplastic pipe and fitting material made when PVC is treated with additional chlorine. One of the benefits of CPVC comes from that added chlorine, which adds additional heat capability and also makes it resistant to damage from highly chlorinated or aggressive water. Many water treatment facilities in the U.S. use chlorine as a disinfectant, at varying levels depending on where you live, to kill disease-causing bacteria before water enters your home.

CPVC uses and applications in the home:

      Hot- and cold-water distribution

      Residential fire sprinklers

 

What’s the average life of a CPVC plumbing system?

50-75 years, but check with your manufacturer for details. As with any plumbing system, lifespan is dependent upon proper application and installation.

 

Explore frequently asked questions about CPVC.

 

PE — Polyethylene

 

PE is a flexible thermoplastic material made by turning ethylene, a gas, into a polymer.

 

PE uses and applications in the home:

      Potable water service or distribution lines

      Natural gas distribution

      Lawn sprinklers

      Municipal sewers

      Low-temperature heat-transfer applications, such as radiant floor heating

      Geothermal

What’s the average life of a PE plumbing system?

50-100+ years, but check with your manufacturer for details. As with any plumbing system, lifespan is dependent upon proper application and installation.

 

Explore frequently asked questions about PE.

 

PE-RT — Polyethylene of Raised Temperature


PE-RT is a flexible plastic material made from a higher-performance polyethylene resin, making it suitable for use in higher temperature applications than regular polyethylene pipe. PE-RT is similar in both appearance and application to PEX.

 

PE-RT uses and applications in the home:

·      Potable water service or distribution lines

·      Low-temperature heat-transfer applications, such as radiant floor heating

·      High-temperature heat-transfer applications, radiators, hot-water baseboards, etc., up to 180℉

What’s the average life of a PE-RT plumbing system?
50+
years, but check with your manufacturer for details. As with any plumbing system, lifespan is dependent upon proper application and installation.

 

PEX — Cross-Linked Polyethylene

 

PEX is a flexible plastic material made from medium- or high-density polyethylene. (Learn more about the PEX manufacturing process.)

 

PEX uses and applications in the home:

      Potable water service or distribution lines

      Residential fire sprinklers

      Low-temperature heat-transfer applications, such as radiant floor heating

      High-temperature heat-transfer applications, radiators, hot-water baseboards, etc., up to 200℉; check with manufacturer

 

What’s the average life of a PEX plumbing system?

50+ years, but check with your manufacturer for details. As with any plumbing system, lifespan is dependent upon proper application and installation.

 

Explore frequently asked questions about PEX.

 

PP — Polypropylene

 

Polypropylene is a polymer of propylene. It is sometimes glass reinforced and a rigid heat fusible piping system.

 

PP uses and applications in the home:

      Potable water service or distribution lines

      Residential fire sprinklers

 

What’s the average life of a PP plumbing system?

Consult with the manufacturer for the specific material and application. 

 

For more specifics on what plastic piping is right for your home, including what questions you should be thinking about, read our blog post, "Finding the Right Plumbing Pipes for Your Home."

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