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Choosing the Right Material: Metal Piping vs Plastic Piping

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Choosing the Right Material: Metal Piping vs Plastic Piping

When it comes to navigating plumbing projects, one of the first aspects of the job is to consider which type of material to use. Both metal piping and plastic piping materials can accomplish most plumbing, draining, and fluid relocation tasks, but which material is better? Some contractors are partial to plastic piping materials due to their lower weight and price point; however, many old schoolers still believe that metal piping is the best option for most applications.
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Piping Material Options

There are several different types of materials that are used for piping applications. Each material offers its unique advantages and disadvantages. Due to hazardous leaching effects and water safety standards, certain metals cannot be used for plumbing applications. The metals and plastic materials that are most utilized for plumbing installations include:

Steel Pipe

Whether your application requires galvanized, black coated, or uncoated steel pipe products, steel provides outstanding strength, toughness, and durability. Steel is a versatile, cost-effective solution for water/sewer plumbing and pipeline systems.

Galvanized Steel Pipe

Galvanized steel pipe features a protective zinc coating that helps prevent corrosion, rust, and the buildup of mineral deposits, thereby extending the pipe’s lifespan. Galvanized steel pipe is most used in plumbing and other water-supply applications. In addition, galvanized piping materials provide a lower-cost alternative to steel, providing rust-free protection for up to 30 years while maintaining comparable strength with a durable surface coating.

Black Steel Pipe

Black steel pipe contains a dark-colored iron-oxide coating on its entire surface and is used for applications that do not require galvanization protection. Black steel pipe is mainly used to transport water and gas in rural and urban areas and deliver high-pressure steam and air. Thanks to its high heat resistance, it is commonly used in fire sprinkler systems. Black steel pipe is also popular for other water transfer applications, including potable water from wells and gas lines.

304 Stainless Steel Pipe

Stainless steel alloy 304 offers high corrosion resistance, superior durability, enhanced strength-to-weight ratio, fair thermal and electrical conductivity resistance, ease of fabrication, cleaning, and non-magnetic and hardenable by cold working. Premium 304 stainless steel pipe also can be used for transporting liquids.

Brass Tube/Pipe

Though brass piping is not as standard as it once was, it’s still used today for water supply and drain lines, as well as gas lines. Brass, an alloy made of copper and zinc, is highly resistant to corrosion, and if a lead-free brass alloy is chosen, it is considered safe for drinking water. Because it is a relatively soft metal, brass tube/pipe can be installed with a tight seal, preventing leaks.

Say No to Lead Piping!

Lead pipes and lead solder used on copper pipes have been outlawed since 1986, so any new plumbing projects should not cause further problems with lead poisoning. However, some types of plastic may absorb chemical contaminants from the water system. According to Chemical & Engineering News, all pipe materials can impart taste and odors to drinking water, which can often be mitigated by flushing the system.

Metal Piping Advantages

One of the main benefits of utilizing metal piping is that metal is hard and generally lasts longer than its plastic counterpart. The increased hardness is a considerable advantage for applications that require the piping to last for several decades. Metal piping backfills also do not need to be calibrated as plastic during installation.

Plastic Pipe Advantages

Plastic piping is manufactured from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride), or PEX (cross-linked polyethylene). In general, plastic pipe doesn’t rust or corrode, is lightweight, and is easy to cut and join – no welding required.

PVC Plastic Piping

PVC piping is a good, low-cost choice for many plumbing projects. It is easy to install and offers several methods for joining, such as clamps, mechanical couplings, or solvent welding. PVC outdoor lines can be buried, though they need extra care to prevent collapse. The main drawback of PVC piping is that it can’t withstand high temperatures, which means it cannot be used for hot water lines or drinking water due to possible heat degradation of the plastic.

CPVC Plastic Piping

CPVC pipe has all the benefits of PVC pipe and higher heat resistance due to the added chlorine content. It is also rated for drinking water and is flexible, fire-resistant, and well insulated to prevent energy loss for either hot or cold water.

PEX Plastic Piping

PEX tubing resists high heat and is commonly used for radiant hot water heating systems and drinking water lines. However, it can’t be directly connected to a water heater and requires a short section of copper tubing in between. It is highly flexible to be easily installed through walls and around corners. PEX lasts for decades and withstands freezing temperatures well, resisting cracks due to freezing and thawing of water in the lines.

Contact IMS for Premium Metal Piping Today

Industrial Metal Supply carries 304 stainless steel pipe, brass and copper tubing, and galvanized coated and uncoated steel pipe. We offer steel pipe products in a range of standard diameters and lengths, including diameters from 1/4-in. to 6-in. and lengths up to 21 ft., as well as cut-to-length services to meet your specific requirements.

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