PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a very popular type of plastic that is used for many piping systems. PVC pipe became widely accepted because of its low cost, durability, weather resistant properties, lightweight features and flexibility in terms of part sizes and connections. However, the compounds used to make PVC are hazardous to the environment and can cause problems over time, and environmentally conscious homeowners may prefer alternatives when building plumbing, sprinkler or drainage systems.
Concrete and Clay
If you want durable pipes for drainage and irrigation, consider using concrete pipes. These pipes are made with molds, where concrete is poured and dried into various pipe sizes. Although is more vulnerable to weather damage than other options, concrete pipe is very strong and has one of the higher durability ratings after PVC. These pipes are sealed with rubber gaskets, caulk, joint sealer and similar compounds. Concrete pipe is not flexible and is not typically used for forced water systems, so stick to sewage and drainage options. Do not use concrete pipes for plumbing inside your house.
Clay pipe is very similar to concrete but exchanges durability for more flexibility. These pipes can be used for simple water systems and, like concrete pipes, drainage options. Again, use clay pipes for irrigation and waste disposal since they are not strong enough to be used indoors.
Metal is the traditional option for indoor plumbing, and for good reason. Metal pipes last a long time, can be made in many different sizes, are easily sealed and last a long time. They also tend to be quieter than PVC pipe. The two most common metal pipes are copper and stainless steel. Copper pipes are free of PVC elements and are the most traditional option for plumbing. Choose copper if you have an older house, because the plumbing systems were probably designed for copper and copper has the widest range of fittings and joints.
Stainless steel is also a popular choice, since it tends to be more leak-free than copper and is very rust resistant. There are two stainless steel options: normal pipes, and pipes covered with a layer of PVC plastic for added protection. Both will be more expensive than copper piping. There are also very lightweight aluminum pipes that are used for indoor plumbing, but these pipes are laminated with plastics both inside and out, and do not always lower water's exposure to PVC.
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