Choosing the Right Piping Material

By: Michael Camber

A large component of reducing compressed air system energy costs and increasing plant efficiency is choosing the right air distribution system. Piping is quite often overlooked when it comes to optimization projects. It’s also one of the first project costs cut when an installation budget needs trimming. Truth be told, piping material selection greatly impacts pressure drop, air quality, and leak load. Here’s an overview of common piping materials and some considerations to keep in mind when selecting pipe for your installation.

Common Piping Materials

The most common piping materials include stainless steel, aluminum, copper, galvanized iron, black iron, and PVC. The table below lists the advantages and disadvantages of each. PVC is included in the chart because it’s commonly used, but it’s not a material we would recommend using because of the safety concerns associated with installing it.

Generally speaking, aluminum and copper would be the best choices since they are not prone to build-up and will provide years of low pressure drop air delivery. Also, aluminum is available as a system—complete with perfectly matched connectors for leak-free design.

Copper is also a solid choice, however installation does require an open flame and quality brazing to prevent leaks. The material cost can also be high.

Stainless steel is not prone to build up or leaks, but it is very expensive and really only called for in specialty applications—if you need it, you’ll know.


Piping Installation Considerations

When selecting piping for an installation, consider the following:

  • Material cost: Will you need to purchase special tools to install or maintain the pipe?
  • Installation: Will you need to outsource? Also, do you anticipate growth or making changes to your piping? (Aluminum pipe can be disassembled easily and adding in drops to accommodate growth is fast. Copper is not as quick to install as aluminum, but it is still faster than threaded pipe).
  • Air quality: Can your process tolerate contamination from rust or other build-up flaking off from the pipe? (Black iron and galvanized iron are notorious for this).
  • Maintenance: Do you have the time and manpower to continually monitor and fix leaks that can occur with materials that are more susceptible to rusting at joints and leaking? (A concern for black iron and galvanized iron. Also, the brazing on copper should be inspected regularly).

So when it’s time to choose piping materials, look at more than the cost of the pipe. Think about your system needs today and long term. Looking ahead can help you make the right investment at the right time.


3 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Piping Material

  1. Aluminum piping is good but you have to keep the ambient temperature in mind as well when installing it in close proximity to a ceiling. Also plastic connectors are rather pricey with the system. I’d rather have metal fittings. The pro-press copper system gives the aluminum a run for the money.

    1. You are right that temperature should be a consideration when planning an aluminum piping system where temperatures may be excessive. This can include using flex connections or intentional off-sets to allow for expansion and contraction.

      With Pro-press fittings, something to keep in mind, yes, they may be less expensive (especially in smaller diameters), but they are single use and require a special tool to install. Aluminum piping in smaller diameter tends to have nylon, push-to-fit connectors that are reusable and don’t require any special tools. They can also easily be modified or altered as an installation needs change.

  2. It’s good to know that when it comes to choosing a pressure pipe there are a lot of different things that we need to consider before making a purchase. Like one things to think about is the material it is made out of, that way you will know if it is the right pipe for the job. I like how you said that when it comes to the stainless steel option, this is the kind that is not prone to leak or anything. To me that seems like the smarter option to go with.

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