6 Different Types of Home Plumbing Pipes and How to Choose One

Choosing the right plumbing pipes for your home is an important decision that requires careful consideration. The type of pipe you select will impact your home’s water flow, pressure, noise levels, susceptibility to leaks, and maintenance requirements. There are six main types of plumbing pipes commonly used in residential settings today. We will explore the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed choice when selecting pipes for your plumbing system.

Copper Pipes

Copper has been the go-to choice for residential plumbing for decades thanks to its durability, versatility, and resistance to corrosion. Here are some key factors to consider when deciding whether copper is the right choice for your home:

Pros of Copper Pipes:

  • Long lifespan – Copper pipes can last 50 years or more with proper installation. The material is very durable under normal household water pressure and plumbing conditions.
  • Resists corrosion and mineral buildup – Copper stands up well to water minerals and acids over time. It doesn’t rust or corrode as easily as many other pipe materials.
  • Withstands pressure fluctuations – Copper is strong enough to withstand pressure spikes from daily use or water hammer effects without bursting or leaking.
  • Recyclable material – Copper pipes are highly recyclable at the end of their lifespan, giving them an eco-friendly advantage over PVC and other plastics.
  • Fast, clean installation – Copper pipes are easily soldered together for quick, neat installations. The joints won’t leak or come apart over time when properly soldered.

Cons of Copper Pipes:

  • Higher upfront cost – The material cost of copper pipe is significantly more than PEX, PVC, or galvanized steel. Installation also takes more time and skill, resulting in higher labor costs.
  • Risk of soldering errors – Improper soldering during installation can lead to leaks or weaknesses in the joints over time. A professional plumber is needed.
  • Can erode at joints – While copper itself resists corrosion, the soldered joints are prone to erosion from acidic water. Periodic re-soldering of joints may be needed.
  • Freeze risk – Copper pipes are prone to bursting if water inside freezes and expands. Insulation and heat tape are required in cold climates.
  • Noise from water flow – Copper transmits water noise and vibrations easily, resulting in loud gurgling sounds from faucets or showers when in use.

Overall, copper makes an excellent choice for homeowners who want a very durable plumbing system and don’t mind the higher upfront cost. Proper installation is key to avoiding leaks down the road.

PEX Pipes

PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) pipe has surged in popularity in recent decades thanks to its flexibility, freeze resistance, and simple installation. Here are some of the pros and cons of using PEX for residential plumbing:

Pros of PEX Pipes:

  • Low cost – PEX is relatively inexpensive compared to copper and other rigid pipe types. Fewer fittings are required as well, keeping material costs down.
  • Easy to install – PEX tubes are flexible and don’t require soldering or gluing for connections. Less skilled DIYers can make watertight joints.
  • Resists freezing – The flexible material can expand and contract with water pressure changes to prevent bursting if water inside freezes.
  • Long lifespan – Estimated to last 30+ years with proper installation and use. Chlorine resistance is good.
  • Quiet water flow – The flexible tubing absorbs sound and vibrations for quieter operation compared to copper.

Cons of PEX Pipes:

  • Potential for leaks – Clamps and crimp connections can loosen or fail over time, especially if installed improperly. Annual inspections are recommended.
  • Chemical sensitivity – PEX is more prone to damage from solvents or petroleum products than metal pipes.
  • Rodent damage risk – PEX provides an easier chew target for rodents like mice or rats compared to hard metal pipes.
  • Sunlight degradation – PEX will become brittle and damaged if exposed to UV rays. It must be shielded from sunlight.
  • Limited temperature rating – PEX tends to soften and warp at temperatures above 180°F. It cannot be used for hot water lines requiring higher temps.

PEX presents a solid piping option for most homes but should be inspected annually for potential fitting leaks. Ensure chemicals and sunlight will not contact PEX during use or storage.

PVC Pipes

Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is a lightweight plastic piping commonly used for drain, waste, and vent lines in residential plumbing. Here are some benefits and drawbacks of PVC pipe:

Pros of PVC Pipes:

  • Extremely low cost – PVC is the least expensive residential drain pipe material. It requires few fittings to assemble.
  • Easy installation – PVC components glue together simply without special tools or skills. Even new DIYers can assemble it.
  • Highly customizable – PVC can be cut, glued, and assembled in virtually any configuration needed.
  • Noise reduction – PVC muffles drain and waste noise better than metal pipes.
  • Lightweight – PVC piping weighs less than other materials, putting less strain on pipe supports.

Cons of PVC Pipes:

  • Susceptible to chemicals – Exposure to solvents or corrosive drain cleaners can damage PVC over time, causing leaks or fractures.
  • Prone to impact cracks – PVC can crack if hit or impacted, unlike more ductile metal piping. Care is required during installation and use.
  • Potential for buildup – PVC’s smooth inner walls are prone to chlorine buildup and clogging in drain lines over time if not maintained.
  • Low maximum temperature – PVC should not be used for hot water delivery, as it can warp and bend at higher temperatures.
  • Not environmentally friendly – PVC is difficult to recycle. The material biodegrades very slowly and contains concerning chemical additives.

PVC presents an affordable plumbing option but requires careful maintenance and installation to avoid premature cracking or chemical damage. It’s best suited for cold water drainage applications only.

Galvanized Steel Pipes

Galvanized steel piping was commonly installed in homes built before the 1960s. It delivers adequate water pressure but is prone to corrosion issues over time. Here are some factors to consider:

Pros of Galvanized Steel Pipes:

  • Inexpensive material cost – Galvanized steel itself is relatively affordable, keeping material costs low.
  • Withstands high pressure – Can handle residential water pressure levels without bursting or leaking at joints.
  • Noise reduction – Galvanized steel dampens water hammer and flow noise better than copper and other metal pipes.

Cons of Galvanized Steel Pipes:

  • Corrosion and rust – The zinc galvanized coating erodes over time, exposing steel to corrosion and rust from the inside out.
  • Buildup and restrictions – Corrosion particles cause fouling and flow restrictions throughout the system over time. Water pressure drops.
  • Pipe deterioration – Extreme corrosion can cause leaks as galvanized pipes become brittle and develop pinholes from rust.
  • Difficult repairs – Sections of galvanized pipe often need total replacement rather than spot repairs once corrosion takes hold.
  • Toxic material release – Corroded galvanized pipes release lead, zinc, and iron particles into the water over time as they degrade.

While galvanized steel pipes represent the lowest initial investment, pervasive corrosion issues often make replacement necessary after 50 years or less. Regular water testing is crucial to check for worrisome metal content from deterioration. Consider PEX or copper for more durable water delivery piping.

CPVC Pipes

Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe features similar properties to PVC but with added durability and heat resistance. Here are some pros and cons to weigh:

Pros of CPVC Pipes:

  • Withstands hot water – CPVC withstands hot water up to 200°F, making it suitable for hot water delivery lines. PVC would warp.
  • Corrosion resistance – The CPVC plastic formulation provides better corrosion resistance than galvanized steel or copper.
  • Easy installation – CPVC installs similarly to PVC with the use of simple solvent gluing for watertight joints.
  • Non-toxic – Does not leach harmful chemicals into the water supply like corroded metal pipes may.

Cons of CPVC Pipes:

  • Higher cost – CPVC costs significantly more than standard PVC piping due to improved material properties.
  • Brittle material – CPVC becomes more brittle than PVC over time, increasing the risk of fracture. Freezing conditions accelerate this effect.
  • Specialized tools needed – CPVC pipe connections rely on solvent gluing rather than soldering. The correct glues and applicators must be used to avoid joint failures.
  • Flow noise – Provides less sound dampening than PEX or PVC, resulting in noticeable water flow sounds through the walls.
  • Difficult repairs – Small sections cannot easily be replaced. One failure often requires replacement of the entire CPVC line.

CPVC makes a good choice for high-temperature hot water delivery that standard PVC cannot handle. Take care to properly solvent-weld all joints to minimize leaks. Overall cost and long-term maintenance requirements are higher than PVC or PEX.

Lead Pipes

While very rare in homes constructed after 1950, lead pipes were commonly installed prior to understanding the severe health risks of lead exposure. Here are some factors to know if your home contains original lead plumbing:

Pros of Lead Pipes:

  • None – There are no benefits to lead water pipes. They should be completely replaced.

Cons of Lead Pipes:

  • Lead poisoning risk – Lead leaches into drinking water from the pipes, causing cumulative poisoning with severe neurological impacts.
  • Brittle pipes – Lead pipes become very brittle over time, leading to cracks, leaks, and water pressure issues.
  • No modern repairs – Lead pipes cannot be properly repaired. Complete replacement is mandatory.
  • Difficult to identify – Many older pipes are encased in concrete or buried, making identification tricky. Testing is required.
  • High replacement costs – Full lead pipe replacement often requires extensive drywall or concrete demolition for access. Costs quickly skyrocket.

If your home contains original lead plumbing, full replacement should be your top priority to protect your household’s health and safety. Many local municipalities provide assistance programs and loans to help offset the high replacement costs.

How to Choose the Right Pipe for Your Home

When selecting new plumbing pipes, consider factors like your budget, water type, home layout, climate, and anticipated lifespan.

Copper offers the longest working life but comes at a premium cost. It performs best with neutral pH water. PEX presents a happy medium between cost and longevity for most homes but requires protecting from UV light and chemicals. PVC and CPVC both install at low cost but have shorter lifespans than copper or PEX.

Consult with local plumbing codes to ensure your pipe selection meets standards for potable water delivery and drainage systems. A professional can assess your existing plumbing and help match the ideal pipe solution to meet your specific needs and budget.

Proper installation is just as crucial as the piping material itself. Always hire a licensed plumber for any gas or interior water pipe installation to ensure codes compliance and minimize leak risks. Consider having a plumbing inspection after 10-15 years of use to check pipe condition.

Regular pipe maintenance also promotes longevity. Flushing pipes annually, insulating exterior lines, and using pipe-friendly cleaners prevents buildup and deterioration issues over decades of use. Catching even minor leaks early prevents expensive repairs down the road. Contact a plumber at the first sign of trouble.

Investing in quality pipes suited for your home and lifestyle will reward you with decades of reliable plumbing performance. Take time to understand each piping option before choosing the ideal material for your upcoming project. With proper installation and maintenance, your new pipes will deliver clean water for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Home Plumbing Pipes

What are the most common materials for water supply pipes?

The most common materials used for modern water supply pipes are copper, CPVC, PEX, and PVC. Very old homes may still have galvanized steel or lead pipes. Copper offers the greatest durability, followed by CPVC and PEX.

Which pipe material is the quietest?

PEX and PVC pipes provide the best noise reduction for water flow compared to copper, CPVC, galvanized steel, and lead. PEX is extremely flexible and dampens vibration. PVC has smooth walls that muffle water noise.

Do plastic pipes burst more than metal ones?

Plastic pipes like PVC and CPVC don’t burst as easily from physical impacts. However, they can fracture over time as the material degrades or if exposed to freezing temperatures. Metal pipes like copper and galvanized steel resist impact better but can burst from freezes.

What are signs that pipes should be replaced?

Signs your pipes need replacement include chronic water leaks, diminished water flow, drops in water pressure, severe corrosion, recurring clogs and backups, and signs of lead contamination. Have your home’s plumbing thoroughly inspected by a professional if any of these issues arise.

How much does it cost to replumb an average home?

For an average 2-3 bedroom home, a full re-pipe with PEX may range from $4,000-$8,000 in materials and professional labor costs. Copper pipes will be more expensive. Galvanized steel and lead pipe replacement may cost $8,000 to $15,000 or more.

Should I insulate pipes in my house?

Insulating both hot and cold water pipes can prevent freezing in winter and reduce energy costs from wasted cooling in summer. Foam, fiberglass, or rubber tubing insulation slows heat transfer to keep water hot or cold as it moves through the plumbing system.


Choosing the optimal plumbing pipes during new construction or a re-pipe project is an important decision. Copper delivers excellent longevity but comes at a high initial cost. PEX and PVC present more budget-friendly options for most homes when properly installed. Galvanized steel and lead pipes should be replaced entirely due to corrosion and lead risks. Consulting local codes, a plumbing professional, and considering your climate, water characteristics, and budget will help narrow down the ideal piping solution for your household. Proper installation and maintenance will maximize the lifespan of your plumbing.