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How to Select the Best Pipe for your Air Compressor Lines

DeAnna Hagen, Channel Partner Manager – Midwest Region

When considering installing a piping system for compressed air, there are many options and important factors to consider. Learn more about different piping systems and their applications.

Factors to Consider

  1. Know your installation & ambient conditions.

Consider the environment the piping system will be installed in. Many elements can induce corrosion. Some harsh chemicals or fumes could harm the pipe. Installation conditions could play a role in the effectiveness of your system and life cycle of the pipe.

  1. Know your flow, the temperature, and the pressure minimum and maximum requirements.

For safety and overall performance, the flow, the temperature, and the pressure should be reviewed and discussed thoroughly before choosing a type of pipe. Options exist for different installations. Knowing this information helps select the best solution, keep your team safe, and provide a longer service life.

  1. Review the budget and plan for possible expansion in the future.

The three pipe examples below are all valid options. They have different price points, different installation requirements, and options for future expansion. It’s best to consider all of these factors before choosing the product that is best for your installation.

Black Iron Pipe

The “Black Iron” or “Black Pipe” can be an advantageous product. The initial cost is relatively low. It can be designed for high-pressure systems and withstand high temperatures.

Most pipes have a “schedule” that determines the thickness of the pipe (most pipe uses schedule 40), and with that schedule, you can determine the ratings for the compressor pipe fittings. This versatility can make finding fittings locally easy and ensure you have the correct fitment for your installation.

For the installation, you will need assistance. Black pipe for air compressors is heavy and requires pipe threading equipment. Many service technicians consider Black pipe installations to be “back-breaking” work. Do not forget the multiple fittings needed for any installation. This can cause delays in the process if you have to make multiple trips to the hardware store for forgotten or overlooked items.

During the installation, take the time and determine if there will be a potential for system expansion. The drops and or “T” fittings will need to be prepared during the initial installation. If that step unplanned during the installation cutting the pipe will be required. Expanding the system after the fact can be a daunting task if the plan wasn’t set in motion during the initial process.

Black pipe can be great for high-pressure ranges and high temperatures. It can have an initial lower cost versus some of the other options; however, with its tendency to rust and corrode over time, the initial low cost may not be beneficial. The corrosion and rust can cause tools to be destroyed, raise electric bills, and contaminate your system. This initial low cost may have a high risk over time.

Stainless Steel Pipe

Stainless steel pipe can be an excellent option for high temperatures and high-pressure installations. The pipe is available in a variety of schedules and can be sourced locally.

For the installation, there will need to be an experienced installer available for consulting or hired to do the entire installation. The cost of stainless steel piping is one of the more expensive options. It is important to remember the need for a professional when starting the installation. This will add to the overall budget for the entire job.

The best fit is typically oil-injected air compressors, and the oil can benefit the piping system by prohibiting corrosion inside the pipe. It is resilient to water and oil, making stainless steel piping a top choice for corrosive environments and installations that require high purity of air quality.

Stainless steel piping can present a challenge when adding drops or expanding the system, and these areas are best planned during the initial installation. There could be hidden costs associated with adding these at a later time.

Stainless steel requires planning and experience with a large budget, but the outcome can be an impressive installation with excellent air quality and a clean, sharp appearance.

Copper Pipe

Copper pipe for air compressors can be purchased in standard pressures and for standard temperatures. If your installation calls for high pressures and or high temperatures, it will serve your installation better to find an alternative pipe for your system. Copper pipe sticks and fittings can be found at local hardware stores, making it convenient to use.

Air compressor copper pipe is very resistant to corrosive materials and chemicals. Clean copper pipe can deliver a high quality of air. There are options of a “bag & tag” system that is pre-cleaned and specially packaged to prevent contamination during storage and shipping.

Installation can be moderately challenging for a beginner. The installation requires welding and brazing. Without experience in these techniques, the installation can be complicated and could present costly mistakes. For experienced installers, the copper pipe will be slightly easier to install over the black pipe.

For expanding the system in the future, much like black pipe, it is best to plan and prepare during the initial process. Coming back for additions can be difficult and require skill to cut and re-weld the existing pipe.

The initial price point is higher than the black pipe but lower than the aluminum systems. The price of copper affects the overall pricing of the product.

Aluminum Piping

Aluminum compressor piping is quickly becoming the preferred piping system. Installation is easy; the sticks are light and can be installed with one technician. The skill level is beginner, and most fittings are push to fit and connect. No tools required other than the cutting tool.

The pressure ratings and temperature ratings are limited. 250psi seems to be standard max operating pressure. The details of the installation are essential to ensure a safe and efficient system. Avoid going beyond the specifications of any piping system.

The corrosion resistance found with aluminum piping is exceptional. It works well in corrosive environments. It produces a high quality of air, and in many cases, it is certified for specific quality standards.

The initial cost is typically higher than both black and copper pipe systems; however, in many cases, there is little maintenance or replacement that will be needed. Expanding systems are an easy modification, components are re-usable, and the systems are typically highly efficient with little to zero corrosion.

Many options can fit your installation. The rule of thumb would be to do your research, find the best fit for your budget and system requirements. Plan accordingly for future needs, and have a plan for the outcome.

Whether you intend to DIY with aluminum piping or hire an experienced installation team, you want the best return on your investment. If you take your time and consider all the options you will feel confident in your decision and see the difference in your bottom line.

To learn more about air compressor piping material and the critical role of piping in your compressed air system, locate and contact your distributor at

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