Swimming Pool Pipe Material Types
When it comes to your swimming pool the pipe material that you choose will have a direct impact on the overall quality of your pool installation but more importantly the longevity. The majority of the plumbing system is buried and not-very-servicable to say the least. There are a host of problems that you can encounter with a slow leak in your pool pipes not to mention the obvious damage that a total pipe failure can have.
There are a lot of different materials that have been, and continue to be used for swimming pool construction. While all of these "get the job done" there are a few standout choices that you should probably be using, and certainly some that you should never use on a swimming pool.
Rigid PVC Pipe - Polyvinyl chloride piping is the ideal choice for swimming pool plumbing. The thickness of the walls of the pipe is called the "schedule" and pools should be plumbed with a minimum of schedule 40 PVC. Schedule 80 is also acceptable if not a little overkill, but schedule 20 is too thin and should never be used for pools. Schedule 20 is commonly used for central vacuum installations and is available from big box hardware stores where schedule 40 and 80 PVC will usually have to be sourced from plumbing suppliers. It can be tempting to use the easily available thin wall PVC but this is a shortcut that you certainly do not want to take with your pool.
Flexible PVC Hose - Technically rated as hose and not pipe, flex PVC is one of the most commonly used plumbing materials in the swimming pool and hot tub industry. Not as high quality as properly installed rigid PVC, this would be the next best choice and the most commonly purchased for economy installations which make up the vast majority of the pool industry.
CPVC Pipe - Chlorinated PVC pipe is light gray in color and made for higher heat resistance than PVC pipe. This is commonly used for the inlet and outlet ports on pool heaters to prevent melting of the pipes and also in commercial settings where code requires heat resistant pipe. The cost of CPVC is very prohibitive so CPVC is generally not used for anything more than heat resistance in specific areas prone to failure. Ideally pool heaters should have 36" CPVC on the inlet and outlet sides to prevent melting.
Poly Pipe - Polyethylene pipe, HDPE (High density Polyethylene), LDPE (Low density polyethylene) and polypropylene were the previous industry standards before PVC pipe took over the market. Poly pipe is still used, and preferred, by some installers and exists by the thousands on existing pool installations from previous decades. Poly pipe is easily identifiable as black pipe with a color stripe that uses interior fit barbed fittings and stainless steel clamps. All black poly pipe with no stripe is non-pressure rated drainage pipe and should not be used on swimming pools. White stripe poly pipe is for lower pressure applications and is also not suitable for swimming pool installations. Red stripe poly and green stripe poly are for higher pressure applications like swimming pools and hot tubs.
ABS Pipe - Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene pipe is sometimes used for swimming pool installations due to its easy availability however it is not a good choice for pool plumbing. The length of the slip connection (the glue joint) for ABS is much shorter than with PVC and ABS is not ideal for the pressure of the closed loop plumbing system of a pool.
Metal Plumbing - Copper or galvanized steel plumbing systems should not be used for swimming pools and hot tubs however there are still some copper plumbed pools in operation. If you have metal plumbing lines on your pool you can bet that you will end up replacing those pipes at some point.
Plumbing Pipe Compatability With Chlorine
One of the biggest factors that will impact how long your plumbing system will remain intact and leak free is the ability for the pipe material to resist damage from chlorine. PVC pipe is compatible with chlorine and resistant to long term damage from weakening. ABS, metal and poly pipe all experience deterioration from long term exposure to chlorine based systems. While it is widely known that ABS and metal piping is not suitable for chlorine based systems, poly pipe is also subject to premature failure from chlorine and free radical oxidation. If you want to read more about the testing, failures and lawsuits that have originated as a result of polymer based pipe failures in chlorine systems you can find some interesting information on www.hdpeoxidation.com
What Type Of Pipe Should You Use On Your Pool?
1.5" is the most common size for swimming pool plumbing systems of all types
The most common pipe style for swimming pools is flex PVC and it is suitable for burial and above ground installations. Easy to work with and relatively low cost are the primary reasons that this pipe is so popular versus rigid PVC which is higher quality but requires a more skilled hand for proper installation. Flex PVC will flex under load while rigid PVC has very little flexibility and can crack if it is installed without proper support, specifically underground.
2" PVC is the common day standard for new swimming pool installations
New pool pumps are very powerful and require a great deal of flow to operate efficiently. Where 1.5" pipe used to be commonplace, new swimming pools and energy efficient swimming pools should have 2" plumbing lines. At the very least the suction lines for the pool (main drain and skimmers) should be plumbed in with 2" pipe, as should the pump room installation. For a little more cost the flow dynamics for your pool will be improved forever which means water that is easier to keep clean and pump motors that last as long as possible.
Black 1.5" flex PVC is suitable for systems where white pipe is not desirable
When running up the side of your house to a solar heater using white PVC can stand out like a sore thumb. Using this black flex PVC will minimize any visual distraction, and this pipe can also be used for pump room and mechanical installations where the look of black piping is required. This pipe uses standard schedule 40 PVC glue & primer style fittings.
The pipe choice is only one part of the total equation when it comes to installing your pool equipment. Be sure to read all of the sections on how to install pool equipment to make sure you are using the right products.