The Different Types of Plumbing Pipes

Indoor plumbing may feel like a “modern invention” but the first hotel in the U.S. with the “luxury” of toilets and running water opened almost 200 years ago.

“On October 16, 1829, what many consider to be the first modern hotel in the United States opened on the corner of Tremont and Beacon Streets. Called the Tremont House, the hotel was a site of luxurious firsts: free soap, locked guest rooms, bellboys, a reception area, and perhaps most important of all, indoor plumbing,” reported Boston magazine.

And just four years later “indoor plumbing” came to the White House with a purpose to supply the President’s home with drinking water and have a reservoir for fire protection.

“An engineer named Robert Leckie built the system of reservoirs, pumps, and pipes that supplied the White House, and the Treasury, State, War, and Navy buildings with water. Very soon, a "bathing room" was established in the east wing to take advantage of the fine water supply. The room featured a cold bath, a shower, and a hot bath heated by coal fires under large copper boilers,” says the White House Historical Association.

In a way, the history of plumbing is truly about the history of pipes.

“Different types of plumbing pipes can be used in a number of ways, from carrying water to your kitchen faucet to delivering waste to your sewage system,” says the New England Institute of Technology. “The Greeks used clay pipes to transport water to homes and public buildings. Moving into the early twentieth century, materials like cast iron, terra-cotta, copper, and galvanized steel became more popular. Today, there are many different types of pipes available, each used to serve a specific purpose.”

Plumbing Pipes Historical Timeline

Centuries before the Tremont House opened or running water came to the White House, men were utilizing plumbing pipes to better their lives.

“Water is an important element for survival and the advancement of plumbing has made providing water much more convenient,” says the Timeline History of Plumbing. “Plumbing originated during ancient civilizations such as the Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian and Chinese cities as they developed ways to irrigate their crops and provide public baths, wastewater removal, and potable water.”

The earliest plumbing pipes were made of baked clay and straw, and the Greeks used clay pipes to transport water to homes and public buildings. Archeologists have found copper pipes in Egyptian pyramids constructed over 4,000 years ago.

Here are some key moments in the history of plumbing pipes:

  • 300-2500 B.C.E.: The Indus Valley Civilization develops advanced plumbing systems, including indoor plumbing, public baths, and sewers.

  • 2600-1800 B.C.E.: The ancient Egyptians built aqueducts to transport water from the Nile River to their cities.

  • 2500 BCE: The ancient Greeks developed lead pipes for plumbing.

  • 2000-1700 BCE: The ancient Chinese built the first flush toilets.

  • 1500 BCE-1st Century CE: The ancient Romans used complex plumbing systems including aqueducts, underground sewers, public baths, bronze and lead piping systems, and marble fixtures.

  • 500 BCE: The ancient Greeks developed terracotta pipes for plumbing.

  • 1596: The first prototype of the flush toilet was invented by Sir John Harington, a courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, in England.

  • 1775: Alexander Cumming patented what would become the modern toilet.

  • 1810: The first shower was invented.

  • 1829: The first hotel with indoor plumbing opens in Boston.

  • 1830: The first public water main was installed in New York City.

  • 1833: Indoor plumbing was installed in the White House.

  • 1848: National Public Health Act was passed in England and became the role model for plumbing codes around the world.

  • 1856: The first integrated sewer systems opened in Chicago.

  • 1883: John Kohler created the first cast iron bathtub.

In the 18th century, lead pipes were popular for plumbing but later these pipes were found to be harmful to human health.

In the 19th century, cast iron pipes became the preferred material for plumbing. These pipes were strong and durable, and they were widely used in cities for water and sewage systems.

In the 20th century, copper pipes became popular for plumbing. Copper is a lightweight and corrosion-resistant material that is easy to install.

Today, plastic pipes such as PVC and PEX are commonly used for plumbing. These materials are affordable, lightweight, and easy to install.

The Pros and Cons of 5 Different Types of Plumbing Pipes

Depending on the age or location of your home, you may have one of several types of plumbing pipes running throughout.

Let’s look at 5 different types of plumbing pipes and the advantages and disadvantages of each:

  1. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): PVC pipes are made of plastic and are commonly used in residential plumbing systems for drainage and venting. They are versatile, lightweight, and easy to install and affordable. Typically found along sink, toilet and shower drain lines.


    • Lightweight and easy to handle and install.

    • Affordable compared to other materials.

    • Resistant to corrosion and chemicals.

    • Resistant to blockages because of their smooth inner lining.

    • Can withstand constant high water pressure.


    • Not suitable for hot water applications (ASTM standards allow PVC to be used in applications not exceeding 140 degrees F).

    • May crack or break under extremely cold temperatures.

    • Cannot be used for drinking water supply lines without special treatment.

    • Limited size options make it harder to install in tight spaces.

  1. PEX (Cross-Linked Polyethylene): PEX pipes are flexible plastic tubing that is often used for hot and cold water supply lines in residential plumbing systems. They are easy to install and can be bent and curved around obstacles, reducing the need for fittings and connectors. Typically used for water supply lines.


    • Flexible and easy to install in tight spaces.

    • Resistant to corrosion and chemicals.

    • Suitable for hot and cold water applications.


    • Can be more expensive than PVC pipes.

    • Can degrade in the presence of UV light and certain chemicals.

    • Some building codes may limit the use of PEX in certain applications.

  1. ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): ABS pipes are a type of plastic pipe that is often used in residential plumbing systems for drainage and venting. They are lightweight and easy to install. These black-colored pipes are typically used for drain and waste lines.


    • Lightweight and easy to handle and install.

    • Resistant to corrosion and chemicals.

    • Suitable for drainage and venting applications.

    • Have a long lifespan.

    • Resistant to cold weather


    • Not suitable for hot water applications.

    • Can warp under direct sunlight or strong ultraviolet rays.

    • May crack or deform under extreme cold temperatures.

    • Limited availability in some regions.

    • Will not contain the sound of running water inside the pipes like PVC does.

  1. Copper: Copper pipes are a durable and long-lasting material that is often used for hot and cold water supply lines in residential plumbing systems. They are a good choice for areas with hard water because they resist corrosion and mineral buildup. They come in rigid and flexible choices.


    • Durable and long-lasting.

    • Resistant to corrosion and mineral buildup.

    • Suitable for hot and cold water applications.

    • A “green option” as they can be recycled.


    • Can be expensive compared to other materials.

    • Can be difficult to install due to the need for specialized tools and skills.

    • Susceptible to damage from acidic water or soil.

  1. Cast Iron/Galvanized: Cast iron and galvanized pipes are a type of metal pipe that was commonly used in older homes for drainage and venting. Cast iron pipes are thick and heavy, while galvanized pipes are made of steel coated in a layer of zinc to protect against corrosion. Rarely installed anymore but older homes may still have them in use.


    • Durable and long-lasting.

    • Suitable for drainage and venting applications.

    • Can handle high water pressure and heavy usage.

    • Heat resistant.

    • Reduces the sound of running water.


    • Heavy and difficult to install.

    • Prone to rust and corrosion over time.

    • Galvanized pipes can leach lead into drinking water over time.

Consult the experts at Pilot Plumbing today for the proper plumbing pipes for your residential or commercial projects in the Montgomery County and North Houston area.

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