In reading Nick’s Day 60 post, it struck me that this isn’t really the 60th day of our renovation, but really just the second week. But that’s okay. As Nick said, seeing that toxic purple glue on the PVC pipe was like a glimmer of hope.
But about that PVC pipe. PVC is an extremely toxic substance, both to manufacture and to just, well, be around. (That “plasticky” smell of vinyl shower curtains–that’s the smell of PVC, plastic that’s softened up with phthalates, a chemical suspected of disrupting the endocrine system, which can lead to health problems, especially in children.) The only alternative I know of is copper tubing. It’s a lot more expensive, but I think it would be a lot healthier.
This article on Builders Websource gives a great overview of copper pipes vs. PVC tubing. The basic summary is that copper pipes won’t harbor bacteria, they don’t contain any chemicals (and lead is no longer part of the copper alloy), and they are a time-tested choice. Drawbacks are they can be noisier than plastic when water rushes through at high velocities, they don’t do well with acidic water, and they aren’t insulated, leading to thermal loss.
PVC, like most plastic things, is easier to work with, lightweight, durable, and cheaper. The major drawback, as I said before, is that it’s just not that good for human health or the environment due to how it’s manufactured.
My green dream would be to have copper pipes running throughout the house. I suspect the reality will be a microcosm of our times: cheaper, faster, easier, plastic.
UPDATE: According to BuildingGreen, in some ways copper isn’t any more environmentally friendly than PVC, due to the intensive nature of its extraction from the earth and accompanying manufacturing practices. Let’s hope our new pipes our polypropylene. I’ll let you know what the plumber lays down…