A Guide To the Different Materials Used in Water Main Pipes

Water mains are something every building, commercial and residential, rely on for on-demand access to clean water. These structures are most often under streets and work as the middle-man between the water source and homes. We’ve compiled a guide to the different materials used in main water pipes.


Copper is one of only two materials used in New York City for water main pipes. Copper is the preferred material due to its impressive corrosion resistance. Many workers also choose Copper over other options because it’s non-toxic. Copper is very durable and cost-effective.


Cast iron piping was the original metal used to make water mains. The practice of using metal and metal alloys began in the 20th century and continues until the 1970s as the go-to method of creating water mains.

Today, cast iron piping is considered functional but not the ideal metal for water mains. New York City doesn’t use cast iron pipes. There are currently two standard metal pipes: Ductile Iron and Copper.

Ductile Iron

Ductile Iron pipes are the most common pipe found in New York City for water mains. They are popular for their increased flexibility and decreased brittleness over cast iron.


Steel pipes are more expensive than ductile iron but come with additional features. Steel pipes are engineered for resistance to rust and corrosion while offering increased strength from ductile iron pipes. Steel pipes are very susceptible to temperature-induced strains and work best in moderate environments. They are not used in New York City.

Clay and Concrete

The first water supply systems in the world were in Mesopotamia more than 6,000 years ago. These systems heavily relied on clay pipes. These clay and concrete pipes were the standards until the early 20th century. There are still functioning clay and concrete pipes; although today, they are no longer regarded as the highest quality option.

There are more potential materials that water mains may be made of. This is simply a guide to the different materials used in water main pipes in general. Metal, concrete, and clay are the most commonplace across the United States. Here in New York City, iron and plastic are the primary materials in water mains. For expert water main pipe installation by professionals well-versed in NYC water systems, contact Harris Water Main and Sewer Contractors today.

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