ABS Pipe vs. PVC

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Close-up of a stack of PVC pipes
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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.

Water Pipes

A construction worker installs water pipes
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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

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

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Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.

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