PVC is probably something you’ve heard a lot about but don’t know many specifics. You’ve seen it around your house in its most common form as long white pipes or the bendy plumbing under your sink, but you may not know much more than that. Luckily for you, today we are going to learn all about PVC.
What does PVC stand for?
Polyvinyl chloride, more frequently known as PVC, is widely used across many different fields ranging from plumbing to crafting and electrical to irrigation. Scientifically speaking, it is a thermoplastic polymer, which means that it is a plastic that is easily heated and molded into a variety of shapes.
What can PVC be used for in addition to plumbing?
PVC is incredibly versatile and comes in two different forms: flexible and rigid. In its flexible form, PVC is used as insulation on wires and in flooring where cleanliness is important (hospitals, schools, etc.). Its rigid form is used most often in construction.
PVC is valuable in the construction field because it is strong, durable, cheap, and it resists decomposition. Also, by its very nature, it is pretty easy to recycle into new material, though some environmental and health risks can come from not doing it correctly. Typically, recyclers will either grind the PVC down into tiny pieces, reheat until melting, and then use a mold to reform the recycled material into new items, or they will use a specific chemical to achieve the same effect. Burning the PVC directly will release hydrogen chloride fumes which can be extremely dangerous when inhaled, so most modifications to PVC are done through chemical processes.
Where did PVC come from?
PVC was originally invented by Eugen Baumann in Germany in 1872, but that material is very different from what we use today. Back then, it was a very brittle substance, and it wasn’t until the mid ‘20s that the researcher Waldo Semon added plastics to PVC to make it stronger and more flexible.
What makes PVC different from other plumbing materials?
There is a hot debate among plumbers as to which plumbing material is better: PVC or copper pipe, but frankly, there isn’t a simple answer. PVC and copper pipes both have positives and negatives associated with them.
PVC is a great choice for plumbing because it is a lot less noisy than copper pipes—even when there is a lot of water pressure. It is also pretty cheap and easy to install because it doesn’t require any special tools or processes to add joints or bends. All you need is PVC cement, and you’re good to go. It’s also less corrosive than copper, which can make it a good choice if you live in a place with highly acidic water.
On the other hand, due to its very nature, PVC is inflexible, so you have to plan for a variety of different joints – each of which takes up space. PVC is also quite a bit thicker than copper piping, which makes it more difficult to use in tight places. Over the course of time, PVC can be less durable because the cement and glue can break down, causing leaks.
Copper pipes have been standard in construction for most of recent history, and for good reason. They are much more flexible and take up significantly less space than PVC. This quality makes copper the ideal material for small spaces in between walls. It also lasts longer than PVC and handles vibrations from natural disasters better because it is more flexible. People who are health and environmentally conscious also like copper better because they don’t like the idea of their water passing through pipes made via chemical processes (even though no health risks have yet been identified).
But for all of copper’s benefits, it is slowly being phased out of construction. That’s because it is noisier than PVC, but it’s also a lot more expensive both in terms of cost and labor. Copper piping requires plumbers to use special tools and soldering techniques in order to keep everything well-sealed and leak-free. Under the wrong circumstances, copper can also corrode, which can require costly remediation.
Is PVC right for my home?
Once again, this depends on your individual situation and needs. Typically, it’s best to stay with what your home currently uses if you’re not having any problems. In cold environments, it’s important to note that PVC is more likely to burst due to its inflexible nature – especially when exposed to freezing water. If you’re in the market to update, fix, or replace the plumbing in your home, you might want to talk with a certified plumber to help you figure out what is best for your circumstance.