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What types of pipes are used for underground water supply lines?

Updated February 21, 2017

Exposed to moisture and prone to accidental shovel blows, buried water lines must be made of materials that resist both deterioration and punctures. Longevity is particularly important for inaccessible pipes, such as under-slab supply lines. Plumbers use several types of pipes to construct underground service and water lines, including synthetic and metal pipes. Because climate and site conditions often affect a pipe's performance, it's best to consult local planning regulations or a building professional before installing an underground water supply line.

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Familiar to novice gardeners and landscapers, polyvinyl chloride plastic, or PVC, carries water supply both above and below ground. Although PVC is available in a wide variety of types, standard home improvement centres commonly stock a white, thin-walled schedule 40 PVC and a grey, thick-walled schedule 80 PVC. Separate PVC pipes and fittings connect via a gluing process, called solvent welding, or with threaded, screw like fittings. Although some allow allow PVC for residential potable water transport, many areas restrict PVC to irrigation water delivery systems.


Like PVC, chlorinated polyvinyl chloride, or CPVC, is a plastic pipe that carries water supply both above and below grade. However, CPVC withstands greater temperatures and pressures than standard PVC. Therefore, manufacturers rate CPVC for use in both hot and cold water systems. Like PVC, approval of CPVC for interior potable water supply varies according to local codes. Among its above ground applications, CPVC frequently appears in recreational vehicles and manufactured homes.


Plumbers often use copper to connect underground water service lines. Although copper pipes are rigid and resistant to corrosion, copper pipes deteriorate under certain soil conditions. Where soil or site conditions threaten to corrode copper supply lines, builders often sheathe the copper pipe within synthetic sleeves. Unlike other materials, copper has near universal code approval for a broad range of applications. However, the cost of copper building products fluctuates with changes in the precious metals market and copper pipe is generally more expensive than plastics such as PVC and CPVC.


Cross-linked polythene, or PEX, is a plastic water supply line suitable for both buried and above ground applications. Like a thick, strong hose, PEX is a flexible tubing material capable of stretching around bends and turns without pipe fittings. PEX withstands chemical damage, high temperature and high pressure. Unlike PVC and CPVC, which connect via glued fittings, PEX connects via threaded, compression fittings. PEX appears underground in potable water applications and embedded within concrete slabs for radiant flooring.

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About the Author

Based in Hawaii, Shane Grey began writing professionally in 2004. He draws on his construction experience to write instructional home and garden articles. In addition to freelance work, Grey has held a position as an in-house copywriter for an online retailer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts from Humboldt State University.

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