Many homes built in the 1960s and 1970s use ABS pipe, but what is ABS pipe? Let’s find out what it is, why it’s prohibited in some areas, and how to work with it properly.
What is ABS Pipe?
ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) is a thermoplastic resin. This plastic material is used to make ABS pipe, which has been used since the 1960s to make drainpipes due to its shock resistance and strength.
Today, it is used mostly in outdoor situations because it can withstand extremely cold temperatures and is rust-resistant. That’s why it’s well suited for underground wastewater drainpipes. But ABS pipes will warp if placed in direct sunlight. It also transmits the sound of running water so it is not a “quiet” pipe. In those situations, PVC pipe is the better choice.
ABS pipe is similar, but not the same, as PVC pipe. One difference is its color. ABS pipe is always black while PVC pipe is white or dark grey. PVC pipe is more flexible and dampens the sound of running water. However, you can join the two different pipes together.
Why is ABS Pipe Prohibited
In some areas, California for instance, ABS pipe is prohibited (illegal) to use. Because ABS is often a recycled or “regrind” plastic resin (to make it cost-competitive with PVC), it was essentially weakened. This caused instances of pipe fatigue and failure which led some areas to ban its use. Essentially, it’s not as durable as once thought.
Many homes still use ABS pipes in their drains and sewer lines. In those cases, unless there’s a problem, there is no reason to switch it out with PVC or another material. However, whenever parts of the ABS pipe need to be replaced, or in new installations of drainpipe, PVC should be used.
Contact your city or county agency to determine if using ABS pipe is illegal in your location.
How to Work with ABS Pipe
To cut and attach ABS pipe, you’ll need to know how to connect fittings using a miter box or tube cutter. The tools you’ll need include a tape measure, backsaw and miter box, hacksaw, or pipe (tube) cutter, deburring tool or emery cloth, and a marker (for measurements).
1. Use ABS Cleaner & Cement
- Be sure to use products made for joining ABS pipe.
- ABS joints are made with cleaner, not primer, and ABS cement.
- Apply cleaner, such as the all-purpose product shown, to the pipe before applying the cement.
2. Cut the ABS Pipe
- Measure for cutting the pipe, taking into account the distance the pipe will trabel inside the fittings.
- Cut the ABS pipe using a hacksaw, a plastic pipe saw, or a power mitersaw.
- Take care to make square cuts; an angled cut will create a weak joint which could break or leak.
3. Clean & Glue
- Remove all burrs from inside and outside of the pipe using a deburring tool, sandpaper, or a knife.
- Asseble a dry run of pipes and fittings to make sure they all fit.
- Draw alignment marks wherever a fitting needs to face in a certain direction.
- Disassemble the dry run, placing the parts in order for reassembly.
- Wipe the insides of the fittings and the outsides of the pipes clean and apply ABS cleaner.
- Cement the joints one at a time.
- To make a connection, use the dauber (it comes with the cement) to apply cement to the pipe end and to the inside of the fitting.
- Withing a few seconds, insert the pipe into the fitting, twisting slightly as you push.
- Hold the fitting still for 20 seconds or so, then wipe away any excess cement.
- After all the pieces have been connected, wait 2 hours before running water through them.
I hope we’ve answered the question, “What is ABS pipe?” and much more. Knowing this will help you make smarter decisions on how to repair your drain pipes and if ABS is the material that’s right for your plumbing and drain situation.
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