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What to Know about Using PVC for DIY Projects :: PVC – Plumbing & Beyond


Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC, is a thermoplastic that has great strength and corrosion resistance. These properties, along with its relatively low cost, make PVC one of the most widely used construction materials in the world.

Though the material is easy to handle and maintain, there are a few things you’ll want to know before diving in. Save yourself some time, money, and frustration by soaking up some quick PVC tips!

Uses for PVC

Though PVC comes in a variety of different forms, pipe is the most common. Because PVC is corrosion resistant, it’s often used for handling waste water drainage and irrigation.

PVC is generally a safe choice for water handling as long as temperatures stay below 140F. For applications with a higher expected max temperature consider CPVC – which is similar to PVC but with a slightly different chemical makeup. CPVC can handle max temperatures up to 200F.

It has also become a staple for all sorts of DIY building projects.

PVC Sizing

PVC pipe materials are sort of like industrial Legos. (Furniture Grade linked via Amazon Affiliate account back there.) You can make all kinds of things using the basic parts. Pieces of PVC pipe fit together with special joints called fittings. These fittings are also made of PVC and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

PVC pipe and fitting sizes is characterized by two features – wall thickness and Nominal Pipe Size. The wall thickness of pipe and fittings is called the “schedule”. The two most common schedules are 40 and 80. Schedule 40 PVC is usually white and is used in residential plumbing and irrigation applications. Schedule 80 PVC has a thicker wall. It is usually dark gray in color, and is used more commonly in commercial and industrial applications.

Nominal Pipe Size is a little tricky to understand. It’s best not to think of it as an exact measurement of pipe diameter, but rather as a sizing standard. For instance, a 1/2” Nominal Pipe Size (NPS) pipe has an actual outside diameter (OD) of .84” while a 10” NPS pipe has an actual OD of 10.75”. Nominal Pipe Size is notated in inches with sizes ranging from 1/2” all the way up to over 20”, and as long as you use the same pipe schedule for your whole job (as you should), all pipe and fittings of the same size will fit together just fine.

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Buying PVC

If you’re in a pinch, your local hardware store should have most of the common schedule 40 pipe and fitting parts in stock. These stores cater to do-it-yourselfers, so their prices can be a good deal higher than other sources. If you don’t need the parts immediately, or you are working on a large project, you’ll find much better pricing and selection online. Do a little comparison shopping, as prices can vary even online. Make sure you calculate the length of pipe and determine which fittings you’ll need before you order. There’s nothing worse than being halfway through a project and running out of materials.

Cutting and Gluing PVC

PVC is super easy to use compared to most types of pipe. That being said, here are three main tips PVC users should keep in mind:

1) Measure Twice, Cut Once

The first one is pretty self-explanatory. Taking careful measurements before cutting will save you from making careless mistakes and wasting pipe. When it comes time to cut there are a few different tools you could use. For small projects a simple hacksaw will work. For larger projects you might want to invest in a specially designed PVC cutter tool or use an electric miter saw. Make your cuts slowly and precisely, and sand or file down any rough edges after you cut.

2) Dry Fit Your Pipe

Before you begin to glue it’s a good idea to fit all your parts together to see if they need adjustment. This is called dry fitting. Doing a dry fit can let you know which edges need a little more filing, or if your pipeline is a few inches shorter than you thought. Figuring these things out before the glue starts flowing is always best – especially since PVC cement doesn’t come un-stuck.

3) Glue When Wet

PVC parts bonded together using specially formulated permanent cement. This cement uses chemicals that react with the PVC and actually fusing together the pipe and fittings. Because of this fusion, PVC that is properly cemented will not come apart. For strong joints, make sure you glue as you go. For jobs that need to be water-tight, you’ll also want to use a PVC primer before gluing. (Check out this great article from Family Handyman for more info on how to glue pipe.)


Hopefully your project seems a little more manageable – whether it’s plumbing a new irrigation system or creating a PVC guitar rack. With these tips, you should find PVC a pretty fun and versatile material to work with.


Amanda Hill is the Content and Creative Manager for She is affectionately known as the “Queen of PVC.” She has made everything from a laptop stand, to a survival kit from PVC. To connect with Amanda or to follow her PVC creations. ~jb

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