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Common Piping Materials Used in Commercial Building Settings

Piping materials

Piping materials

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A commercial building's plumbing infrastructure is vital to its operations. If the right piping material is not chosen during construction, plumbing issues can arise that may cause downtime in production or severe injury or health conditions for people working within the building. Therefore it's the contractor’s duty to select the best material for the building's plumbing, no matter the size, design, or purpose of the facility.

Differences Between Commercial and Residential Plumbing

A contractor with experience in residential plumbing cannot easily translate their skills to a commercial plumbing project because these projects are bigger and more complex. Of course, a technician can learn how to service a commercial building more quickly than a homeowner with minimal plumbing experience.

With that said, construction contractors should note that commercial plumbing systems will be much larger than residential ones. Office buildings, retail buildings, and high rises are all occupied by more people than a typical family home. For this reason, these buildings will need to be outfitted with larger pipes across multiple floors. Contractors may be responsible for installing branch lines that reach as high as 40+ floors.

Additionally, technicians will need to know the differences in plumbing codes for residential and commercial buildings. For example, PVC piping is often prohibited for above-ground drains, and copper or stainless steel pipes should be used instead. Finally, contractors will need to understand that the property owner will likely not be present when they work on repairs or maintenance, so they will need to be comfortable communicating with a variety of people in various manners and understand specific building policies. 

Types of Piping Materials Used in Commercial Buildings

There’s an array of piping materials available for use in commercial facilities. Depending on the particular application, one of the following types of pipes may be used.


When a building needs durable, corrosion-resistant, and pressure-resistant pipes, copper is the ideal material. Copper pipes can be used in hot- and cold-water applications, such as underground service conduits or refrigerant lines. However, they are quite expensive, so they may not suit every budget.


PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, and this material is ideal for indoor projects and drainage applications because it cannot stand up to extreme heat or UV lights. Despite this, PVC pipes are highly durable, flexible, lightweight, and inexpensive, making them suitable for many commercial applications.


CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl) pipes are another low-priced option for plumbing systems, but unlike PVC, they can withstand higher temperatures and pressures, which means they can be used in drinking water and water supply applications. However, it's important to note that both PVC and CPVC pipes are not suitable for freezing temperatures because the cold causes them to crack.

Stainless Steel

Property owners prefer stainless steel pipes when corrosion is a concern and desire the dependability of strong pipes. However, stainless steel is an expensive piping material, so it is not commonly used in commercial plumbing projects.


Because it is rust and corrosion resistant, brass pipes are frequently chosen for hot and cold water supplies in commercial facilities. They last a long time and are easier to thread than stainless steel pipes.


This piping material withstands high pressures and can carry large amounts of liquid, making it ideal for sewer lines and water distribution in commercial facilities. They are also resistant to fire and do not create much noise, which is why they are commonly used in apartment buildings and condominiums.


PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) pipes are used exclusively for water supply lines. One of the greatest benefits of PEX is its flexibility. It can bend around corners or other pipes for easy installation. However, it is not ideal for all commercial plumbing applications. Similar to PVC, it should not be used in outdoor applications because it will adversely react to exposure to UV lights.

Determining the Best Piping Material for Each Commercial Setting

Whether the building is being newly constructed or the piping system needs to be replaced, this is the opportunity to incorporate the best plumbing materials. The selected pipes will determine the overall functionality of the plumbing system. For this reason, several factors need to be considered before deciding on the best piping material for a commercial setting.


Contractors should take into account what the pipes will be used for. Depending on the application, one piping material may be better than another. For example, irrigation, waste, and freshwater applications will likely require different kinds of piping.

Temperature Tolerance

High-temperature fluids are especially demanding when it comes to the type of material pipes should be made of. If the material isn't strong enough to handle the hot liquid, the pipe could corrode, causing extensive damage and workplace hazards. Therefore, metal pipes are often the best choice in applications where temperatures are extremely hot.

Pressure Tolerance

In commercial facility applications where the pressure of the liquid is high, pipes with thick walls and a high-pressure tolerance should be chosen. If the commercial plumbing material cannot withstand the extreme stress, leaks, flooding, and injury may occur on the property.

Likelihood of Corrosion

When it comes time to select the piping system for a commercial building, technicians should consider how corrosive the liquid flowing through the system will be. For applications with highly corrosive fluids, stainless steel or galvanized steel pipes should be implemented.

UV Exposure

Some commercial piping materials will be exposed to natural sunlight all year long. For this reason, contractors should take into account the amount of direct UV exposure the piping system will receive. Based on this estimate, they may be wise to avoid materials that break down from prolonged sunlight exposure; otherwise, the building owner may have to pay for frequent plumbing repairs.

Piping Flexibility

Piping materials that are too rigid may cause leaks and system inefficiencies in some commercial building applications. If a system requires some pipe flexibility to prevent cracks in the piping, contractors will likely choose PVC pipes because they are flexible, lightweight, and versatile.

Selecting the Right Plumbing Pipe for Commercial Properties

Access to safe, running water is just as essential in a commercial facility as in a residential home. One of the major components of a functioning plumbing system is the piping system. Water lines, drain lines, emergency plumbing, and main sewer lines must be constructed with suitable materials.

Before choosing between PVC piping or stainless steel piping, for example, contractors should consider factors such as the plumbing application, the temperature and pressure tolerance of the pipes, and the corrosive nature of the liquids flowing through the system. With so many piping materials available, there is a perfect pipe for every application, but it can also be challenging to narrow down the options. Working with a piping professional who understands various commercial settings can help simplify the selection process.

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