Made from polyvinyl chloride, PVC piping is a mixture of plastic and vinyl that is extremely durable and easy to install. This material became popular in home plumbing installations in the 1950s because it offers many advantages over other types of plumbing, including copper, PEX piping and galvanized steel.
Today, PVC, and its more heat-resistant cousin, chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC), is one of the most widely used materials on the market. Available at nearly any home improvement or hardware store, it is easy to install and it offers a cost-effective alternative to other more expensive types of plumbing.
Flexibility Meets Durability
Durability is one of the major benefits of PVC plumbing. While copper tubing is physically stronger, PVC, because of its somewhat flexible nature – is more resistant to vibrations, water hammering and even earthquake damage. PVC is also far more durable than PEX piping, which is very flexible, easily damaged and prone to developing kinks when bent to fit around corners.
PVC Doesn’t Rust, Rot or Corrode
Up until the 1970s, galvanized steel was the industry standard. While it is still quite common to find galvanized fittings and piping at home improvement stores, experts recommend replacing bad sections of steel plumbing with a more modern material. In fact, if your galvanized plumbing is more than 20 years old, you may consider replacing the entire system to avoid a major disaster.
PVC piping gives you an inexpensive way to replace rusted steel or corroded copper, and it will save you from several plumbing nightmares. Both steel and copper can develop water pressure problems due to a buildup of rust, corrosion or minerals inside the pipes. These materials – particularly galvanized steel – can also cause problems with your water heater. Rust will build up in the water heater’s tank, and it may damage the heating elements of electric water heaters.
Corrosion and mineralization are two problems that are common among older copper water systems. Depending on the compounds present in your water supply, copper can corrode enough to develop a leak in as little as a decade. You can prevent these headaches before they start by using corrosion-resistant PVC piping.
PVC Goes the Distance
One of the best aspects of PVC plumbing is that it lasts longer than any other material. Properly installed PVC plumbing systems will last for at least a century’s worth of use. Compare that to the lifespans of other common plumbing materials:
- Galvanized steel lasts 20 to 50 years.
- Brass piping lasts 40 to 70 years.
- Copper plumbing lasts 50 years.
Cast iron is a commonly used material for sewer lines. Because it normally lasts for around 75 years, sewer leaks are quite common on old septic and sewer installations. PVC, because it doesn’t rust, lasts indefinitely when used for drains and sewer lines, which makes it an excellent choice to replace faulty cast iron drains. This could be just one of the changes you might want to make in order to prevent plumbing leaks in the future!
Installation is Easy
PVC is far and away the easiest type of plumbing to install. Copper and brass plumbing requires a highly skilled professional that can sweat the pipes together, while PEX, galvanized steel and other threaded pipes require the use of joint sealants and careful installation to avoid leaky fittings.
PVC, on the other hand, goes together with a simple solvent welding process. Simply apply the solvent to soften the pipe, put the pipe and fittings together, and a permanent weld will form in a matter of minutes. Threaded PVC fittings generally are installed using a PTFE tape or sealant.
In addition, PVC pipe is lightweight, which makes it easy to cut and install. A simple ratcheting PVC cutter or a hacksaw will let you cut the pipe quickly. There is no need to purchase specialized tools or call for help to install long sections of heavy metal piping.
PVC is the Budget-Friendly Choice
One of the biggest benefits to PVC is that it costs far less to install and maintain than any other type of plumbing. Costhelper.com lists average piping prices as follows:
- PEX piping is between 40 and 50 cents per linear foot.
- PVC is between 50 and 60 cents per linear foot.
- Copper is between $1.50 and $2.00 per linear foot.
On the surface, it would seem that PEX piping is the least expensive option. However, PEX requires special brass fittings, corner protectors, specialized tools and more time devoted to installation; each of these things drives the cost of PEX piping far higher than the cost of PVC.
For these reasons and more, PVC is commonly used by professional plumbers and do-it-yourselfers alike. Whether you’re replacing old, leaky pipes, or looking for an efficient way to extend your existing plumbing, PVC is the smart choice.
Amanda Hill is the Content and Creative Manager for Commercial Industrial Supply, based out of Rock Hill, South Carolina. CIS is a supplier of PVC pipe, fittings and accessories for plumbing contractors all across the United States