8 types of plumbing pipes you find in homes

Mon Apr 04 2022

Pipes inside a wall of a home

Plumbing is probably something you only think about when something goes wrong, but it’s actually one of the most important systems in your home. In fact, it’s so important that the types of plumbing pipes you choose can have a dramatic impact on your homeowners' insurance.

That’s right, the type of plumbing pipes in your home could actually mean some insurance companies won’t offer you a homeowners policy. Here’s what you need to know about the plumbing pipes that you find in your home.

1. PEX

PEX pipes attached to the basement ceiling of a home, angled view

Flexible PEX pipe can weave throughout walls, ceilings, and crawl spaces.

PEX is a type of plumbing pipe that is made of cross-linked polyethylene. This material makes it strong enough to handle water pressure while also being flexible so installation is easy. You can even form 90-degree curves with it. Unfortunately, it’s not part of building codes in all U.S. cities and counties, so you should check with a building inspector prior to installing PEX.

Where it is allowed, PEX costs up to $2 per foot, making it a cost-effective solution to replace copper or galvanized steel. Some insurers may hesitate to offer coverage to a home with PEX plumbing, particularly where the building codes do not allow it.

2. PVC

Image shows a plumber's hands installing white PVC pipes

PVC pipe is inexpensive and easy to use but should be installed by professionals.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes are used as drain or vent lines. Builders like it because it’s lighter and less cumbersome than working with steel or copper, but homeowners like it for the price. PVC pipes cost about $1 per foot, and a small home with five to 10 fixtures typically costs about $1,800 to fit. Joints are glued together which makes a well-installed system a good option; however,

Like PEX, PVC is not approved for home use in all states. You’ll want to check with a contractor to determine the viability of using it in your home. Plus, installing PVC pipes is probably not a DIY kind of job because poor installation can lead to leaks in critical areas. Most insurance companies don’t have an issue with PVC pipes, but it’s important to have a professional install them or you may have frequent leaks.

3. Copper

A closeup of thin copper pipes

Copper pipes are high quality, but their rigidity can make them difficult to work with.

Copper is the most expensive type of plumbing pipe available. It costs at least $4 per foot, and repiping a home with copper can cost up to $20,000. But many homeowners prefer copper pipes because they don’t come with the health concerns that some other pipes may have ﹘ an important quality for water intake lines.

Plumbers also like the quality of copper pipe but concede that it is difficult to work with. Because it is so rigid, working it throughout a house can be problematic. You have to cut copper pipes with a hacksaw or specialized copper tube cutter, and then solder the joints together. This requires experienced tradespeople. However, insurance companies almost always have a preference for copper because it lasts long and traditionally has fewer risks for leaks when installed properly.

4. ABS

Stacks of black ABS pipes

Like PVC, ABS pipes may not be allowed in your town.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) pipe has a lot of similarities to PVC pipe. They look alike, both used as drain and vent pipes and cost just about the same. And, as with PVC and PEX pipes, ABS is a type of plumbing pipe that is not permitted in all cities and counties, so you need to check local building codes before installing it.

That said, ABS is black and slightly softer than PVC pipe. It's also stronger and handles cold temperatures well ﹘ although it can warp in higher temps. More importantly, ABS pipes are hardened using bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that may cause negative side effects on fetuses, infants, children, and animals. Insurance companies typically insure homes with ABS pipes where the pipes are included in building codes. However, some may be concerned about the possibility of leaks forming in certain climates.

5. Flexible connectors

Two silver flexible connectors on a white background

Flexible connector pipes are usually small, connecting appliances to the water supply in a wall.

Flex connectors are used for linking appliances to the main intake lines throughout your house. For example, you can usually find them connecting your ice maker, dishwasher, or water heater to the main kitchen line.

Flex pipes cost more than other types of plumbing pipes, but they’re useful, even necessary, in small areas that require a pipe of an unusual shape. Homeowners can get frustrated with flex pipes as they are thin and prone to cracking, which also means they should be checked periodically. Using flexible connections most likely won’t hurt your home insurance rate.

6. Galvanized steel and cast iron pipes

A bundle of galvanized steel pipes in a warehouse yard

Galvanized steel pipe sometimes carries gas, but it should never be used for water supply.

You may see galvanized steel pipe in older homes, but it’s much less common now. It fell out of favor because the zinc coating and pipe can corrode, resulting in a build-up of lead that may end up in your water. Moreover, galvanized steel pipes connect by screwing threaded ends together or into connecting fittings. This makes the pipes difficult to install.

Cast iron pipes are more common than galvanized steel and are often used for sewer and drainage purposes. Like galvanized steel, cast iron pipes are difficult to install, but in this case, that’s because the pipes are heavy and hard to cut. Cast iron also rusts, which can lead to significant leaking problems if not properly maintained. Insurance companies may insure a home with galvanized steel or cast iron pipes, but the risk they pose for water damage could mean a higher premium.

7. Lead pipes

Red water valve on an old lead pipe

Lead pipe, while uncommon, may still be in homes built before 1986.

Homes built prior to 1986 may have lead pipes that have not been replaced. That’s a big problem because lead plumbing systems can cause serious health problems. In fact, the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act requires all new plumbing materials to be lead-free. If your home still has lead plumbing, insurance companies, including Kin, are unlikely to offer you a policy until your plumbing is replaced with safer materials.

8. Polybutylene pipes

Man manual cuts off a piece of pplastic pipe for installation water line

Polybutylene pipes tend to fail, so most home insurance companies won’t insure them.

Polybutylene pipes are made from a type of plastic resin and were commonly installed in homes from 1978 through 1995. They are no longer used because the disinfectants used to clean public water supplies cause microfractures in polybutylene. As a result, polybutylene pipes have a tendency to become brittle and fail, which can lead to extensive damage costing thousands in repairs.

Like most insurance companies, we won’t offer homeowners policies if your home still has polybutylene pipes. During your home inspection, you want to look for polybutylene pipes. They’re typically gray or white and have a dull finish rather than a shiny one.


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