Before starting a residential or commercial plumbing project, it’s important to know the types of piping available, and what types of pipe are best for your project. Most plumbers use either the Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) pipes or the Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) option. These are two of the most commonly used pipes for plumbing systems.


Although ABS and PVC pipes share some common characteristics and are often used in similar applications, they also have key differences. For instance, they are both plastic pipes, which are known to be inexpensive, lightweight, and resistant to corrosion. They’re a perfect choice for keeping hot water hot, and unlike many metal pipes, they never collect condensation from cold water. However, these two types vary in performance. 


In this post, you will learn the significant differences between ABS and PVC pipes, when to use each type of pipe, as well as the unique benefits of each. 


PVC Pipes and Their Uses


Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic pipes typically come in white or gray color and are soundproof, making them an ideal choice for indoor plumbing. This means that they’re perfect for drains and wastewater, as you won’t hear the water flow through the piping system. They can also be used for outdoor plumbing, mainly drain or vent pipes. 


PVC pipes are lightweight, resistant to chemical attack, strong, and durable. They are also non-toxic and inexpensive. Most homeowners and plumbers alike prefer PVC pipes for indoor drains, waste, or vent piping. Electricians also use PVC pipes as insulators for electrical wiring.


ABS pipes and Their Uses


ABS pipes, also known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, are another type of plastic pipe that’s mostly available in black color. Like PVC pipes, ABS pipes also serve pretty well for indoor or outdoor plumbing. They are generally installed as drain, waste, vent, or sewer pipes, and can be used as electrical wire insulation. The unique thing about ABS pipes is that they are strong, rigid pipes that are perfect for underground situations and in very cold temperatures. Unlike PVCs, ABS pipes do not do well when exposed to sunlight, as the light can degrade the plastic.


When you need a cost-effective option for commercial and residential plumbing installations, ABS piping is a great choice you can try. Unless punctured, ABS pipes do not flake, peel, degrade, dissolve, or leak. Most plumbers use it outside, underground, and in extreme cold applications, but usually away from direct sunlight. It’s often the choice of plumbers for use in drain, waste, and vent piping systems.


What’s The Difference Between ABS and PVC Pipes?


1) Presence of BPA

Although the majority of the differences between the two piping systems are situational or even insignificant, one of the key differences between them is that ABS pipe is made with BPA (Bisphenol A), while PVC pipes are not.


BPA or Bisphenol A, is a chemical commonly used to harden plastic. It is used to make various plastic materials, including plumbing pipes and containers for food and water. Although animal studies show concern regarding cancer, possible hormonal, neurological, and cardiological alterations, among other complications, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that BPA is safe at current levels occurring in foods. 


2) Color

You’ll notice that PVC pipes typically come in white or gray colors, while ABS pipes are black.


3) Installation

Another critical difference between ABS and PVC pipes is how the two pipes are installed. With ABS pipe, connections have to be made with special cement, while PVC has to be primed and then cemented together after the primer has dried completely. 


Essentially, PVC connections are a two-step process, while ABS piping has a one-step process for connecting pipes (the cement used doesn’t need to dry before the pipe is connected). This means that using PVC requires additional labor, while ABS will often cost you less.


4) Strength and Flexibility

PVC pipes are more flexible, while ABS pipes are stronger. PVC dampens the sound of water as it flows through the pipes, making it ideal for indoor plumbing. In comparison, the strength of ABS pipes confers on them the ability to resist high shock or impact. 


General Note

Both ABS and PVC pipes are similar in cost and are both resistant to chemical and water degradation. However, before you even start to consider which one of the two pipes to go for, you should check with your local building authorities, as they might have already decided for you. 


In some localities, the local building codes mandate the use of ABS or PVC pipes for drainage, sewage, or specific plumbing works. In some cases, consulting your builder or plumbing may be best since they know what works best, with the nature of your project and local regulations in mind. 


How to Join PVC and ABS Pipes

It is not a standard plumbing procedure to join ABS and PVC pipes and use them within the same piping system. With close observation, you’ll notice that plumbing codes in many areas actually restrict joining ABS to PVC. This is why we usually recommend checking the local building codes before even trying to glue both pipes. 


However, if it’s absolutely necessary to join them, and there aren’t any restrictions in your location, be sure to join them using recommended fittings rather than glue or pipe cement. The best method uses a rubber sleeve and metal jacket to hold the connection. The rubber sleeve is first positioned over the ends of both pipes to connect them. The metal clamp is then used to clamp the rubber sleeve into place. The coupling you’re using must be designated as plastic-to-plastic.


On the other hand, you can join ABS pipes together or one PVC pipe to another based on the one-step or two-steps processes described above. 


When to Use ABS vs. PVC

Both pipes are perfect for residential and commercial plumbing systems, but be sure to check the differences and juxtapose those with the best requirements for your plumbing needs before choosing. Finally, do not forget to check building codes before deciding. Have more questions about plumbing pipes, do not hesitate to reach us today at N.W. Sewer & Drain. 


Choosing a Professional Plumbing Contractor for Your Project

At N.W. Sewer & Drain, we have a reliable team of experienced sewer and drain specialists dedicated to fixing all your drainage issues, including broken drain pipes and clogged pipes in commercial and residential facilities. 

We currently service residential and commercial properties in Seattle, Everett, Marysville, Arlington, Oak Harbor, Burlinton, Bellingham, Bellevue, Kirkland, Shoreline, Renton,  Lake Forest Park, Mountlake Terrace, Auburn and other surrounding areas. For about 20 years, we have maintained top-notch drain cleaning services. Whether snaking, hydro-jetting, or trenchless sewer pipe repair, we follow the best practices in the industry.


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