The Pros and Cons of Different Piping Materials

Need a whole-home repipe or your main sewer line replaced? You might be wondering which of the commonly-used plumbing materials is the best choice for you. Check out this blog to learn the pros and cons of each of the three main pipe materials and what the best application might be for each of them.

Copper Pipes

Pros: Copper pipes are widely regarded as the industry’s “gold standard” for plumbing. These pipes are durable, strong, relatively easy to build with, and will withstand the test of time. In fact, many copper pipeline systems can easily reach 50 years of age and beyond when properly cared for. While they might be an investment (more on that in a moment), they almost certainly return value on that investment in the form of a stable and reliable water supply that’s free from a number of other problems.

Cons: Copper pipelines are prone to a number of problems. First, they’re generally a lot harder to work with compared to other materials. Even a simple service like replacing a damaged pipe is labor-intensive and difficult, especially when compared to working with modern plastics like PVC. Likewise, copper pipes have another big flaw in the form of their cost. Copper is expensive, and that cost only rises as supplies dwindle while demand continues to increase. As a result, you’re going to pay a premium to repipe with copper, but that might be worthwhile as we’ll discuss in a second.

Best use: Copper is widely regarded as one of the most versatile pipeline materials, and can be used for just about anything. However, it’s often used primarily for water lines, as it is corrosion-resistant and capable of withstanding fairly high pressure from within. When installed properly, copper pipes are durable and fairly resistant to leaks (though no pipe material is completely leak-proof). If your home is relying on older cast iron or galvanized steel water lines, we strongly recommend upgrading to copper piping with a whole-home repipe service from our team.

Cast Iron Pipes

Pros: Iron is an incredibly plentiful metal, meaning its generally lower cost than copper pipes. It’s also far easier to make these pipes thicker, larger, and longer, meaning they can span wider distances far easier. This makes cast iron a tremendous material for main lines, including sewer mains and large drain outlets. Iron is also incredibly durable when properly cared for, and can last for 50 years or more when undisturbed and properly installed in a protected location, such as underground.

Cons: Iron is a corrosion-prone metal, meaning that water and waste can and will eventually eat through it. Over time, this means that everything from water lines to drains and sewers will eventually weaken to the point where they need to be replaced. While no plumbing line is immune to all types of damage, cast iron lines need to be regularly inspected to ensure their condition hasn’t eroded to the point where your property could be in danger from it.

Best use: As we stated before, cast iron lines are great because of their comparably lower material cost and ability to be built into pipelines of larger size. As a result, they’re a fantastic material for sewer lines and major drain outlets. They’re not ideal for water lines, as the iron itself could slowly dissolve into the water flowing through them, resulting in strange tastes or funky colors in your water. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better material for your sewer line than the durable, long-lasting lines made of cast iron.

Plastic Pipes

Pros: As plastic pipes are the only ones on this list that are not made from some sort of metal, they straightaway have some advantages that metal materials could never hope to match. Notably, this means a general resistance to corrosion that so often plagues metal pipes as they age. Whereas your iron or steel pipe will corrode with age, resulting in serious damage, plastic pipelines corrode or fall apart far slower, resulting in increased longevity. Plastic pipes are also far lighter and easier to work with than their metal counterparts, and they’re far cheaper as the materials used to construct them are almost entirely artificially created. The low cost makes them a great choice for those on a budget but who don’t want to sacrifice functionality.

Cons: The greatest benefits of plastic pipelines are also some of their greatest downfalls. For example, while plastic pipelines are generally lighter and easier to work with, they’re also more prone to damage. Under pressure, plastic lines are more likely to burst than a metal line, particularly as the plastic begins to wear out with age. While fixing a damaged line is generally easier in a plastic pipe, you’re more likely to have a damaged line in the first place. Likewise, their general durability isn’t up to the same level as a metal line, meaning you may need to repipe your property again sooner if you install plastic water lines than you would with metal. However, if you need a whole-home repipe and you’re on a tight budget, that may be a tradeoff you’re happy to take.

Best use: Plastic pipes come in such a wide variety of shapes, sizes, styles, and applications that they’re good for almost anything. They are used as sewer lines, water lines, drain lines, and more. They are even heat resistant, making them a great choice to use as hot water lines as they’re somewhat self-insulating. However, that being said, they are more prone to damage from external forces, and for that reason we advise going with a metal sewer line if possible—California’s earthquake-prone land can seriously damage a plastic line far easier than a metal one (although metal is also not impervious to earthquake damage).

Schedule a repipe service by calling All Pro Plumbing, Heating, Air & Electrical at (909) 253-0664 today!

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