ABS Pipe vs. PVC

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polyvinyl chloride piping both are made from plastic, but they aren't made the same. ABS is not quite as rigid as PVC, and the plumbing code doesn't allow its use for pressurized water delivery systems. But you can use either for drainage.

Plastic tubes
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Close-up of a stack of PVC pipes

Water Pipes

Sewage assembly
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A construction worker installs water pipes

Until the development of chlorinated polyvinyl chloride -- CPVC -- which has better heat tolerance than PVC, plumbers have used PVC pipes for residential water supply plumbing. PVC is commonly used to deliver water from its source to the home, for garden sprinkler systems and other landscape irrigation. PVC pipes are available in diameters as small as 1/2 inch. Because building codes permit ABS pipe for drainage use only it is not an acceptable choice for delivering pressurized water. The smallest common size of ABS pipe is 1 1/2 inches.

Drainage Pipe

plumbing pipe
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Close-up of ABS pipes installed in the frame of a wall under construction

PVC and ABS piping are more or less interchangeable when it comes to drainage, but because they consist of different materials they require different types of cement, and you can't glue one to the other. ABS is black and less rigid, so it degrades more quickly in sunlight and may warp in uneven heat conditions when compared with white PVC. For these reasons plumbers sometimes use PVC for the exterior portions of roof vents on drain-and-waste systems that are otherwise ABS. The flexibility of ABS pipe gives it a greater resistance to cold temperatures and better performance underground in some situations.

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.