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Which plumbing pipes cost the most money?

Plumbing pipes
Don Farrall/Getty Images
Plumbing pipes
Don Farrall/Getty Images

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We tend to take for granted the plumbing pipes in our homes (until and unless they break, of course). But if you’re building, adding onto or renovating a home — especially an older one — the type of pipe is something you may well have to consider.

Not all pipes are created equally, and they certainly don’t have the same price tag. In fact, costs range from about $0.40 to $8.00 per linear foot, depending on the type of pipe material. Metal pipes cost more than plastic ones as a general rule.

The cost to replace plumbing will depend on which type of pipe material you choose and the rate for installation in your area. Some pipes are easier to install than others. Bear in mind that installation may require the removal and replacement of any drywall or flooring, too.

Still, the bulk of your costs are likely to come from the pipes themselves. Your primary choices are:

  • Copper
  • PEX
  • CPVC
  • Galvanized Steel
  • Cast Iron

Let’s look at the pros and cons and the costs of each type of pipe.

Copper pipe

What it is: Copper is sort of the gold standard in pipes. Known for its durability, it can last as long as 100 years. Copper pipes are naturally resistant to bacteria and are less likely to break down if exposed to UV rays. Many brass pipes, which are not used as commonly, are also composed primarily of copper with slightly less durability.
Cost: $2-8 per linear foot

Pros:

  • Stands the test of time
  • Handles heat well
  • May increase home value

Cons:

  • More expensive than other types of pipes
  • May be subject to theft if materials are left unsupervised
  • Like any metal, can be subject to corrosion

CPVC pipe

What it is: Chlorinated polyvinylchloride (CPVC) piping is one of the oldest types of modern pipes, in use since at least the 1960s. It’s the cousin of PVC piping, made of very similar material but altered with chlorine to make it better able to withstand a wider range of temperatures, especially on the high end. This type of plastic pipe has thick walls that can be used for both cold and hot water lines (PVC only works well for unheated water), and it’s extremely well-priced. Unfortunately, it can also be more likely to leak, especially if not fitted precisely at the time of installation. It also has a shorter lifespan — about 50-70 years.
Cost: $0.50-$1 per linear foot

Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • Time-tested
  • Can be used for a variety of projects

Cons:

  • Requires joints to make certain angles
  • Doesn’t last as long as other types of pipes

PEX pipe

What it is: Cross-linked polyethylene pipes (PEX) are highly flexible, both literally and figuratively: They can be used with other types of pipes, making them ideal for repairs or complex system replacements. Developed in the 1990s, they are a relatively new type of piping material that is quite durable — theoretically about on a par with copper, though the exact lifespan is yet unknown — and unlikely to leak.
Cost: $0.40-$2 per linear foot

Pros:

  • Less expensive than copper
  • Good for in-floor heating
  • May last for 80-100 years

Cons:

  • Not always compatible with every existing system
  • Require specialized tools to install
  • May burst with age

Galvanized steel pipe

What it is: Galvanized steel pipes, sometimes called just galvanized pipes, are apt to be found in homes that are 40 years old or more. They are made from steel dipped in a zinc coating and used to be quite popular. While the zinc coating survives, the pipes can be quite durable. However, once their coating corrodes over time, the exposed steel is very likely to rust and become unstable.
Cost: About $8 per linear foot

Pros:

  • Durable while the zinc coating is strong
  • Can handle high pressure situations
  • Lifespan is only about 40 years

Cons:

  • Can lead to rust and particles in your water
  • Expensive to replace

Cast iron pipe

What it is: Cast iron pipes were the standard until about the 1960s, when steel and PCVC began to take over. Their walls are thicker than that of steel pipes, and they may also sport a protective lining. Unfortunately, while strong, cast iron pipes are not flexible and are susceptible to rust. While these pipes may still be an optimal choice for sewage and drainage, nowadays they are unlikely to be recommended for a residence because they are heavier and more likely to become corroded than the more malleable materials that are now available.
Cost: $2-10 per linear foot

Pros:

  • Thick pipe lining
  • May be retrofitted with newer pipes for repairs
  • Can be ideal for commercial settings/use

Cons:

  • Heavy and hard to cut
  • Highly subject to rust, corrosion
  • Little to no flexibility

What do pipes cost to install?

The right pipe for your project should consider the durability and longevity you require, plus the cost of materials and labor. Less flexible and heavier pipes can be more expensive to install because they require expertise and are more complex to work with. Costs for labor are typically about $1-2 per linear foot, with metal costing more to install than plastic.

Material Material Cost Per Linear Foot Material and Labor Cost Per Linear Foot
Copper $2-$8 $3-$10
PEX $0.40-$2 $1.50-$3
CPVC $0.50-$1 $1.40-$4
Galvanized Steel ~$8 $9-$10
Cast Iron $2-$10 $3-$12

Bottom line on types of plumbing pipes

Nothing lasts forever… including your home’s plumbing system. If you’re ready to replace outdated pipes, you won’t be left wanting for choices.

It’s widely recommended that, because of corrosion issues, homeowners replace galvanized steel and cast iron pipes with either traditional copper (which costs the most, but also comes with a very long lifespan) or one of the newer plastic options (PEX and CPVC).  Of those two, CVPC is cheaper and offers lots of bang for the plumbing buck; but PEX is widely praised for offering copper’s durability at close-to-CVPC prices — plus its own characteristic flexibility.

Written by
Lara Vukelich
Insurance Contributor
Lara Vukelich is a freelance writer who has written for Bankrate, Huffington Post and Quiet Revolution to Expedia, Travelocity, and MyMove. She is based in San Diego, California.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor