Many houses are built with PVC pipes because they’re light, durable, and cheap. Unfortunately, from manufacturing to disposal, PVC poses problems: It produces carcinogens and dioxins, releases deadly hydrogen chloride gas if there’s a fire, and is seldom recycled.
Should you build with PVC-free pipes or replace existing PVC plumbing? Green builder Doug Parker, owner of Bighorn Builders in Boulder, Colorado, sheds some light.
1. Distinguish between water supply lines and drain or wastewater venting. Of greatest concern are supply pipes; there’s evidence that PVC manufactured before 1977 can leach vinyl chloride into water. (Newer pipes may be less hazardous.) There aren’t immediate health problems—just environmental ones—with using PVC for drain pipes.
2. Prioritize. To take steps in the right direction, install PVC alternatives in supply lines.
If you want to go all the way, replace the plumbing pipes as well.
• Is a stable material for supply lines, especially in drier climates. (Note: Use lead-free solder.)
• Is recyclable after house demolition.
• Potentially causes high levels of copper in water.
• Expensive, especially for large waste and vent pipes.
• Copper mining harms the planet.
• Is an inert, fairly benign metal.
• Is quiet. You don’t hear water rushing through the dense pipes.
• Because it’s so heavy, it’s expensive to install.
• Only used in waste lines.
• Has a long life.
• Requires little energy to manufacture.
• Good for sewer lines outside the building.
• Is very heavy.
• Is expensive.
Alternative plastics such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene)
• Light, strong, and flexible.
• Won’t rot or corrode.
• Made with fossil fuels.
• Manufacture is energy intensive.
• Is fairly expandable.
Additional information from CHECnet.org, TheGreenGuide.com, GreenpeaceUSA.org