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What’s The Best Choice For Air Compressor Lines?

Running air compressor lines to use pneumatic tools in a commercial setting seems like it would be simple, but especially in smaller commercial applications, there are many would-be options for transporting the compressed air. Here are the most commonly used options and their pros and cons.

Black Iron Pipe

Metal pipes can help compressed air, which contains moisture, to cool. This helps water separators in the line — essentially, filters that remove excess moisture before it can make its way to sensitive tools — to do their job more effectively.

Black iron is extremely durable, although it can corrode over time. It can be heavy and it must be threaded to join pieces together, which requires more professional time and expertise. Thus, black iron can be harder to work with than copper, plastic or rubber, but it has fewer drawbacks than those materials for transporting compressed air in a commercial facility. It also may be more expensive than other options.

Galvanized Metal Pipe

It’s tough and can last a very long time and resists condensation, but can be harder to work with; like black iron, it is heavy and must be threaded. 

Another drawback is that the galvanization protecting the metal from corrosion can come off inside galvanized pipe under the pressure of the compressed air. It won’t happen all at once, but the steady flaking can produce small chips that clog up regulators and separators. 

Aluminum Pipe

Aluminum is gaining in popularity for commercial compressed air systems because it is lightweight and does not corrode. Connectors are available for aluminum that make working with it easier than some types of metal pipe. But costs can be higher and aluminum is not rated for high pressure, so it may not be appropriate for some commercial uses.

Copper Pipe

Copper is an effective choice for running compressed air. Generally, copper fittings require soldering, but there are also flared fittings available that can be used without solder. Both of these methods of connecting joints can, in some commercial applications, come loose, so if used they must be inspected regularly.

The biggest problem with copper tubing is that it is not durable enough for some commercial settings. For example, if it’s accidentally hit with a tool, it can dent and may even break. 

Air Hoses

Air hoses are designed to carry compressed air to any type of air compresser, including commercial — but they aren’t suitable for the commercial environment except in very short lengths. 

The reason? Long lengths of rubber air hose can actually encourage moisture in the air to stay in a vapor form, even when passing through water separators. That means that water can make its way into commercial tools, causing early failure and more frequent maintenance. Air hoses should only be used in a commercial setting for very short lengths or temporary applications.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Pipe

At first glance, PVC pipe may seem suitable for carrying compressed air. However, the plastic used in the pipe can degrade when it is repeatedly exposed to light or heat. When the pipe is carrying liquids, as it was designed to do, failure may be messy but it doesn’t pose a hazard. However, when compressed gases are carried by a plastic pipe that fails, an explosion may occur. 

Use of PVC pipe to carry gases in the workplace is considered a hazard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) following a series of incidents that occurred in the late 1980s.

In addition to the safety issues of using it to carry compressed air, PVC is also susceptible to coming apart at glued joints and is not very durable for many commercial applications.

Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) Pipe

Some types of ABS pipe are rated for use with compressed air. Unfortunately, these can be hard to find; the more popular and widely available varieties of ABS are not suitable for use in transporting air and have a much larger diameter than needed for air. If you can find ABS pipe that is rated for use with air, it is generally not as cost effective as other choices. 

ABS also requires connection via gluing joints, which can be a weak point in the system. Other methods of connecting pipe are generally safer with compressed air.

For most commercial use of compressed air, black iron pipe is the safest and most durable option. Talk to your installation contractor for more information about your choices in a commercial facility. You can try here for more information.