How To: Recognize Different Types of Pipes

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Providing our clients with a solid knowledge base is key to our business.  To do this we will post a new how to each week.  Check out our drain pipe how to and learn how to recognize the different types of pipes within your house.

The most common pipes used today are copper, PVC, or ABS. However, when dealing with older homes, you might encounter a number of other piping material.  If your home was built before 1960 you may have galvanized steel or cast iron DWV (drain/waste/vent) pipe systems.


  • Cast iron: Commonly used before 1960 for the vertical drain, vent stacks, and sometimes the horizontal drain lines. Cast iron is durable, but can rust over time. Call a professional plumber to replace rusted sections with plastic (PVC or ABS) and the correct transition fittings.
  • PVC: This white or cream-colored pipe is the most commonly used pipe for drain lines. It’s strong, untouchable by chemicals, and seems to last forever! The rating and diameter is stamped right on the pipe.
  • PEX: The newest pipe for residential use. Approved in many regions of the country, PEX is easy to install because it cuts easily, is flexible, and uses compression fittings. However, more permanent connections require a special crimping tool. PEX is three to four times more expensive than copper or plastic.
  • Steel: Galvanized Steele Pipe is common in older homes. Galvanized pipe is strong, but lasts only about 50 years. Before repairing, consider replacing instead. Call a professional to deal with it.
  • Copper:  It is resists corrosion, so it’s commonly used pipe in water supply lines. It costs more than plastic but it lasts! There are two common types of copper pipe: ridged copper and flexible copper.
  • Ridgid copper, which comes in three thicknesses. Type M is the thinnest but is strong enough for most homes. Types L and Type K are thicker and used in outdoor and drain applications. To cut rigid copper, you’ll need a wheel cutter or a hacksaw. Pipes are usually connected with special fittings – compression fittings can connect the pipe to shut-off valves.
  • Flexible copper, which is often used for dishwashers, refrigerator icemakers, and other appliances that need a water supply. It’s easy to bend, but if it kinks, you must cut the piece off and replace it. Sections of flexible copper pipe are joined using either soldered or compression fittings.

We hope you find this information helpful.  Small DIY projects require a basic understanding of the different types of pipes in your home.  Some pipes can be fixed by DIYer’s but please contact us if you need more info, have cast iron pipes, or have a piping issue that requires a professional repair.



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