What type of plumbing does your home have?

Do you know what type of plumbing materials your home uses for its water supply lines? Even if you're planning to hire a plumbing contractor to maintain or upgrade your home's plumbing system, knowing the basics of your home's plumbing contruction can help you gain a fuller understanding of why a system may not be operating properly.

Knowing what type of materials your system utilizes may make a repair or replace decision easier to determine, and it can allow plumbers to give you more accurate estimates or price ranges before they arrive at your home for a service call. 

Here are the four most common types of plumbing materials you may find in your home's water supply lines:

1. Galvanized steel pipes

Galvanized or zinc-coated steel pipes are not commonly used in modern new construction. However, if your home was built from the 1930s to the 1980s, it's common to find galvanized pipes.

Galvanized steel pipes appear thick and heavy and feature a gray or silver metallic exterior finish. Since steel pipe is naturally heavy, it's more difficult to work with relative to other pipe materials.

Galvanized steel is very durable, however, it does have a limited lifespan: The zinc coating can eventually break down and cause the pipe to rust internally, which may lead to reduced water pressure and clogged water lines.

2. Copper tubing

Copper began appearing in homes built around the 1930s; however, it is most common in homes built from the 1960s to present.

Copper plumbing is typically thin walled, which makes it appear smaller in diameter when compared to steel pipe. Copper may appear in colors ranging from metallic copper to brown or green depending on the amount of oxidation over time.

Copper is known for its durability, heat tolerance and long life span. One concern with copper, especially in older homes, is that the tubing's joints may contain lead-based solder. Another big disadvantage is that the long-term increase in the market price for copper as a commodity has made it a very costly plumbing material.

3. PVC tubing

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly called PVC, can be found in homes built from the 1950s to present.

PVC is plastic in appearance and it's typically white with distinctive markings down the length. These markings identify the type of PVC and its temperature rating and diameter.

The main advantage of PVC plumbing is that it doesn't corrode, rust or degrade over time. The big disadvantage is that it's not suitable for hot water supply lines, which means a different type of plumbing material is required for these locations.

4. PEX tubing

Cross-linked polyethylene, commonly know as PEX tubing, has become the standard for home plumbing since the late 1990s.

It can be found in almost any color, but most homes use red tubing to indicate hot water supply lines and blue tubing to designate cold water supply lines. PEX typically features a slight natural curve and displays identifying markings similar to PVC pipe. As with all plastics, there is no worry of rust or corrosion.

PEX is very flexible, easy to install and it can be used in most new plumbing installations, including retrofits for existing homes. The disadvantages to PEX are that it must be kept out of direct sunlight and some fittings can be costly.

Ready to tackle repairing or replacing your home's water supply lines? Check Angie's List for ratings and reviews on more than 4,500 plumbing conractors in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area.

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Should I install PEX or copper piping?


pex piping
Angie's List member Jeffrey T. of Fishers, Ind. chose PEX for the water lines when he remodeled his basement.

Whether your building a new home or need to replace a section of pipe, you have several options to choose from. Two popular options include copper and PEX.

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