Water supply piping connection: copper to galvanize (C) Daniel FriedmanBuilding Pipe Types & Properties
Water Supply, Drain Piping & other Pipes in Buildings

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Water supply & drain piping:

This article defines and describes different types of building supply and drain piping with an alphabetical list of piping materials and properties. For each type of building piping material, in addition to giving its description and properties and use, we include special concerns or possible defects to watch-out for.

We will also discuss the life expectancy of lead water piping, the life expectancy of galvanized steel water piping and the life expectancy of copper and plastic water supply and drain piping

The articles at this website will answer most questions about water supply & drain piping, wells, & water tanks as well as many other building plumbing system inspection or defect topics.

We link to in-depth articles on inspecting, testing, and repairing problems with building plumbing: water supply and drain waste vent piping, plumbing traps, piping materials, clogged or noisy pipes, and types of pipe hazards or product defects.

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Definition & Properties of Types of Building Supply & Drain Piping Materials

ABS PVC drain pipe mixed (C) D Friedman

This page describes types of building supply and drain piping listed alphabetically.

[Click to enarge any image]

ABS Plastic Building Drain Piping

See ABS PLASTIC PIPE FAILURES for details. Excerpts are below.

In widespread use as drain piping, black ABS drain piping, or "All Black -hit," defective black ABS plastic waste pipe manufactured in the mid 1980's failed by cracking - not something that should be a problem with current ABS products.

Our photo illustrates ABS (black) and PVC (white) drain pipe materials used together. Currently there are primers and glues that can be used on either PVC or ABS or on a combination of the two. [Click to enlarge any image]

But watch out for older installations where these plastic drain materials may be mixed as it may be an indication of amateur work or use of improper glues that can result in leaks at joints and fittings.

Cast Iron Building Drain Piping

See CAST IRON DRAIN PIPING for details. Excerpts are below.

Cast iron pipe cleanout (C) Daniel Friedman

Cast iron drain piping has been used in buildings for more than 100 years. This heavy material is available in diameters from 2" and up, with typical main building drains of 4" to 6" in diameter. A hub system connects pipe sections, originally using melted lead.

Pipe leak repair methods

The cast iron pipe hub and stub were wiped with oil to remove water, avoiding a dangerous steam flash when lead was poured into the fitting. Most modern cast iron connections are made using rubber or plastic fittings that no longer require heating and melting lead.

The illustrations (left) show accessing a cast iron drain cleanout and two methods of emergency, temporary repair of leaks in drain piping.

Cast iron piping used for in-building drain piping as well as sewer lines is also illustrated at FIND the MAIN BUILDING DRAIN

And atUSE a POWER SNAKE to CLEAR a BLOCKED DRAIN you can see a common splice-in of ABS plastic drain piping into an existing cast iron sewer line.

Copper Building Water Supply & Drain Piping

See COPPER PIPING in BUILDINGS for details. Excerpts are below.

Copper plumbing types (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Guide to Types of Copper Piping used in buildings

The following summary notes about copper and other types of building piping are from Carson Dunlop Associates' Home Reference Book, used with permission:

Copper piping has been used extensively since the early 1950s for supply lines from the city main to the house as well as for in-building water supply and drain piping.

Copper water supply piping is typically 1/2 or 3/4 inch diameter. Copper piping is typically 1/2 or 3/4 inch diameter. Copper piping has soldered connections and the walls of the pipe are thinner than galvanized steel. Copper piping has soldered connections and the walls of the pipe are thinner than galvanized steel.

From 1950 to 1970, 1/2-inch diameter piping was used commonly. After 1970, 3/4-inch diameter copper service piping has been common.

The life expectancy of copper piping is dependent on water conditions. In many areas, its life expectancy is indefinite. In harsh corrosive water or corrosive soil conditions, it may fail within 20 years or even less. Occasionally manufacturing defects also result in early failure of copper building piping.

Carson Dunlop Associates' sketch (left) illustrates three types of copper piping used in buildings for water supply or drains.

Galvanized Steel Water Supply Piping in buildings

See GALVANIZED STEEL WATER PIPING for details. Excerpts are below.

Galvanized steel pipe rust and clog (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Galvanized steel is not commonly used as a service pipe, although galvanized steel fittings may be found at the point of entry into the house. Where galvanized service piping is used, it is typically at least 1 1/4-inch diameter. The word galvanized means zinc-coated.

The coating helps prevent the steel from rusting.

Galvanized steel piping was common until roughly 1950. This piping typically lasts 40 to 60 years. Some lower-quality pipes do not last as long and there are some oversized pipes still in use after 60 years. Where it is found today in single-family homes, it is usually near the end of its life.

Life expectancy of galvanized steel piping: Galvanized steel supply pipes are typically 1/2-inch diameter. The connections are threaded. When the pipe corrodes, the rust accumulation inside the pipe chokes down the diameter of the pipe, resulting in poor water pressure.

Rust also attacks the pipe walls, making the walls thinner. Eventually, the pipe will rust through, usually at the joints first, resulting in leakage.

Sketch above provided by Carson Dunlop Associates, a Toronto home inspeciton and report writing and education company, from their - Home Reference Book, used with permission.

Galvanized Steel Drain Piping in buildings


Galvanized plumbing drain (C) Daniel Friedman

Galvanized "iron" (galvanized steel) pipes were and continue to be used for both water supply pipes and water drain piping. Our photographs (below) show galvanized drain piping in use in buildings.

Above our galvanized dain photo shows that the cleanout in a galvanized drain line has been lost, plugged with who-knows-what, and is an odor and leak source.

Below our photo shows a Sunday Night Emergency Plumbing Repair: the rope trying to secure the galvanized drain line to the cast iron sewer piping confirm a history of leak troubles and improper plumbing connections.

Galvanized plumbing drain (C) Daniel Friedman

Lead Water Supply & Drain Piping in buildings

See our detailed articles about lead plumbing pipes in buildings at 

Portions of the following summary are from Carson Dunlop Associates' Home Reference Book, used with permission:

Lead piping was used between the street main and the house up until the 1950s. A good deal of lead supply line is still in use, and the health authorities indicate that as long as it is used regularly, there is no difficulty with it. If the water has not been run for some time, many recommend that the water be flowed for several minutes before using it.

Our photographs show a lead water entry main or service pipe (below-left) and lead plumbing drain piping (below-right).

Lead Water Piping (C) Daniel Friedman

The life expectancy of lead water supply piping is indefinite in some soils and in more corrosive soils we have plumbers' opinions that the service life of buried lead water supply piping is 40 to 50 years.

Lead Drain Piping (C) Daniel Friedman



Orangeburg Pipes at buildings: definition, properties

Orangeburg pipe as downspout drain (C) D Friedman

Orangeburg pipes, named not for their color but for the town where the Fibre Conduit Company, a major pipe manufacturer was located, were used outside buildings to connect the building drain to septic systems or in some areas to sewer pipes.

Orangeburg pipes are black, and somewhat fragile bituminous-coated fiber pipes.

OPINION: think Orangeburg pipe? think "tar impregnated cardboard". Inexpensive, widely used. Orangeburg piping was used in both un-perforated form as septic distribution piping and more widely in perforated form as effluent distribution piping in septic drainfields and as buried downspout drain lines.

As we explain at AGE of PLUMBING MATERIALS & FIXTURES, Orangeburg drain & septic field piping, most widely used in drain piping and septic fields, was made of ground wood fibers bound with an adhesive mastic (coal tar), typically looking like black"tarred" piping. Orangeburg piping was first used in Boston in 1865.

Despite it's name, "Orangeburg pipe" is not orange in color and it never was, though if you want to see some orange-colored sewer piping see our description of Terra Cotta (clay) pipes below in this article.

The name Orangeburg pipe comes from the main producer of this product, the Fibre Conduit Co., in Orangeburg, New York. After 1948 the company changed its name to Orangeburg Manufacturing. Black coal-tar impregnated fiber piping was widely used in North American from 1950 to 1970.

Orangeburg drain piping and sewer piping was not made just by Fiber Conduit. Other manufacturers included American Piping Co., J.M. Fiber Conduit, Bermico (Brown Manufacturing), and American Manufacturing

We still come across Orangeburg pipe when excavating old septic drainfields and on occasion when inspecting an older home, say before 1970, you may see the top of a section of Orangeburg pipe peeking up above ground as a connection for a roof gutter downspout.

In our Orangeburg pipe downspout drain photo above we were pointing out (the pen) that perforated pipe was used as a buried drain right next to the building - inviting basement water entry even if the drain is not yet clogged. And figure, if you see a buried downspout drain using a material not commonly installed for 40 years, that the drain itself may be blocked or collapsed by now. Now think "Orangeburg pipe septic drainfield??"

Plastic Building Water Supply Piping & Tubing; Plastic Drain Pipes: ABS, PBS, PEX, CPVC pipes

Plastic sewer pipe installation (C) D Friedman

See PLASTIC PIPING ABS CPVC PB PEX PVC or the specific article links just below for details about plastic drain and supply piping in buildings, including its history, failures, warranty claims, class actions, and present usage in construction.

Photo above: PVC drain piping being installed at the author's home.

Plastic water service piping may be polybutylene (PB), polyethylene (PE), cross-linked and Tubing Tubing Tubing Tubing Tubing Tubing Tubing polyethylene (PEX), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC).

Most plastic piping is buried at least 18 inches deep. Exposed piping may be subject to mechanical damage and deterioration from sunlight. - Home Reference Book, used with permission.

See DRAIN LINE DEPTH for details about the proper depth for buried drains.

Terra Cotta Pipes at buildings - Clay Drain Pipes: definition, properties

Terra cotta drain piping (C) D Friedman

Terra cotta pipes are clay pipe that was used for external sewer (or septic system) connection in North America from about 1900 to 1940.

Terra cotta drain piping (C) D Friedman

Terra cotta pipe is often deep red to orange in color, round with hubs to facilitate pipe section connections. (Photo, above left).

In smaller sizes terra cotta may be hexagonal in external shape (photo above right) though round in its interior profile. Joints in terra cotta piping were made using cement to surround the piping.

The material was both durable (it does not corrode or rot) but fragile, easily broken by heavy traffic above or by improper bedding in the trench if exposed to heavy rocks.

Clay drainfield piping or "drain tiles" is also SHOWN IN FRAGMENTS [Image file] in our article on sewer line replacement, at DETERMINE NEED for DRAIN LINE REPLACEMENT.

We also provide this photo of another type of OCTAGONAL CLAY SEWER AND SEPTIC PIPING [Image file] that was often used in drainfields as disjointed sections.


Continue reading at ABS PLASTIC PIPE FAILURES or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see Drain waste and vent piping articles DRAIN & SEWER PIPING


Or see these

Building Piping Articles

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