What Are the Best Pipe Materials for Sewers?

Rarely do we think about our sewer lines until we have a problem with them. It is crucial to protect and maintain your drains and water pipes because their failure brings life as we know it to a halt. When dealing with home drain maintenance, it helps to know what the best pipe materials for sewers are. You should also have some idea of what are the worst sewer pipes and when to call in the professionals to replace the old lines with something new and better.

The Different Types of Drain Pipes

Depending on the age of your home, you could possibly have older pipes typically found in buildings that were constructed in the early period of the last century. Otherwise, you could have piping common to recent building plans in a newly built home or an updated replacement in older homes where the pipes outlived their use age. Among the most common sewer piping systems we see today are copper, PVC and ABS. Pre-1960s homes typically have pipes made from iron or steel, if they have not already been replaced. For comparison, the following briefly explains the various materials used for sewers lines:

Cast Iron

Before 1960, homes commonly featured cast iron vertical drains, although we sometimes see them in horizontal drains and vent stacks. Houses were built with iron or steel piping up until 1986 because it is a strong material that was made to last for 50 years, yet cast iron degrades with every exposure to wastewater. The eventual erosion of the zinc properties in steel lead to rust and clogs, which weaken the water flow.

When spot repairs are made, inevitably there will be the need for more work on the same segments of pipe and the segments before and after the problem pipe. People often find plastic replacement for bad segments is helpful, if not replacing the entire line with plastic piping. Galvanized steel is very similar in these respects. Overall, steel is heavy and outdated; it delivers irregular water pressure; it is corrosive, which produces discolored water and can release lead.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

For ease of identification, this pipe is simply referred to as ABS or “black piping.” It was the first example of plastic piping that came along around the mid-1970s as a low-cost, easy-to-repair alternative to metal pipes that were failing. Over the duration of its use, it turns out not to have proven to be as durable as the metal pipes it was used to replace. In some zones, ABS is a banned material in new home construction.


Polyvinyl Chloride

This plastic piping is commonly called PVC pipe and has been the leading choice for use as residential drain piping over the last 40 years. Light-colored in appearance with identifiable markings that indicate the diameter, PVC type and temperature threshold, it is a most favorable material for its rust-proof texture and apparently infinite durability.

So far, PVC has stood the test of time as a suitable material for toilet and drain piping. Due to its lack of heat tolerance, PVC is not suitable for the incoming water flow. However, chlorinated polyvinyl chloride, or CPVC, can withstand heat and works well for running tap water. Damaged segments are easily removed and replaced with pieces that can be cut with handsaws and refitted with adhesives.

Unfortunately, it is not a green product as it cannot be recycled and uses strong toxic chemicals to produce the material contributing to a high level of pollutants. Despite these shortcomings, CPVC remains a durable piping material that rarely needs maintenance and has no effect on the quality of tap water. Overall, it is favored for its rust-proof quality, high-pressure threshold and low cost, but it lacks heat tolerance and may warp.

Copper Pipes

There are several reasons why copper was a preferred material that gained traction during the decade of the 1960s. Compared to galvanized steel, copper was thinner and therefore smaller and lighter, plus it was easier to maintain. It is a strong, durable, heat-resistant material that seldom causes problems. However, the use of lead-based solder for fitting joints can be an issue. Copper is more expensive than other materials and takes on the classic green patina over time.

Clay Tile Pipe Systems

Clay has its advantages such as being resistant to chemical degradation. Clay lasts a long time, but it is naturally porous, which makes it a most attractive source of water for thirsty tree roots. The combination of the strength of strangling roots around the brittle nature of clay pipes leaves them susceptible to cracking and crushing. We typically see clay tile pipelines replaced with alternative materials when these blockages and leaks arise.

PEX Pipes

PEX is the latest durable, rust-proof material gaining favor as an industry standard in the supply line. Where PVC is preferred as an outgoing line, PEX is used as the incoming line. It is strong and can tolerate heat. Pex pipe can be made in different colors, so for residential properties, red is used for the hot water line while blue is used for the cold.

The attributes of PEX piping include flexibility, direct routing, greater water pressure at fixtures, low cost, easy installation, non-corrodible, ability to merge with existing lines, both hot and cold suitability and less likely to freeze. Drawbacks include degradation from sunlight, perforation caused by insects, problems resulting from the use of yellow brass fittings, fitting expenses, limited adhesives and odors or chemical taste in potable water.

Asbestos Containing Pipe

For a time, there were few to none of the areas of building, construction and manufacturing that did not make use of asbestos in one form or another. It was widely used for its physical properties such as tensile strength, resistance to fire and heat and affordability. From its early use beginning at the end of the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1978 that the EPA finally prohibited its use due to the risk of people developing mesothelioma from exposure to its fibers.

Transite, a concrete pipe made from a mixture of Portland cement and asbestos, was first introduced to both the U.S. And Canada beginning in 1931. It took 22 years before the American Water Works Association imposed standards governing the use of transite in municipal water systems. People who live in areas where transite was used to build community water systems may be at enhanced risk of developing peritoneal mesothelioma from ingesting loose asbestos fibers.

The problem with ACP or transite is that anyone touching the material must adhere to stringent procedures for asbestos abatement in NJ now that the dangers presented by the potential for loose fibers has become known. One of the most dangerous elements, it is best to call in a professional company such as ICUNJ to handle asbestos-containing objects. The risk to homeowners is low as the use of ACP was predominantly limited to the municipal water supply. However, if you find you have concrete pipe and it needs service, you are better off calling in the professionals.

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