Good plumbing lasts a long time. Brass and galvanized steel supply pipes can last for generations – even up to a century in ideal conditions. But ‘a long time’ isn’t forever. Sooner or later, even the best plumbing will need to be replaced. And if previous residents or owners haven’t been diligent in monitoring their pipes and fittings for problems, it could be sooner.
The Worst Case: Lead Pipes
Lead pipes – once common – have been banned in most new construction since the 1960s. If your home is older than that, though, and the plumbing has not been replaced, you may want to check to see what your pipes are made of. If you’re not sure, consult a plumber.
While lead pipes have not been in common household use for a couple of generations, the use of lead soldering, joints, flux and other components is much more recent.
Signs of Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning can result in vomiting, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, difficulty concentrating, appetite loss and weight loss. Long-term effects of lead poisoning can include kidney problems, developmental delays, attention deficit disorder, behavioral problems and high blood pressure. Lead poisoning can be particularly damaging for children.
Galvanized pipes were a popular solution up until the 1960s. Most of these installations will have to be replaced very soon. This is because galvanized pipes are prone to mineral and residue buildup inside the pipes. The hot water lines typically fail first. The problem can be especially bad in areas where the water has a high mineral content, or so-called “hard water” areas.
Other Older Pipes
All pipes are subject to problems and wear and tear. Joints can begin to leak, caulking and soldering can become compromised because of temperature changes or physical stress. Seismic events and simple house settling can strain connections over time. No material is immune to these events.
Go over all the accessible pipes in your home at least once per year. Look for excess corrosion or oxidation around joints, and evidence of leakage, including moisture, wet rot or mold damage around pipes and fittings. Chances are if you can spot one leak in a visible, accessible location, there are other issues developing in less visible areas.
Also, look at your water – especially after spending time away from the house. Is your water yellow or brown when you turn the tap back on? This is a sign that your pipes are getting rusty. It’s time to replace them.
Many plumbers will recommend copper pipes because of their durability and resistance to corrosion. However, be careful about connecting copper pipes directly to galvanized pipes. When two different metals come in direct contact, there is frequently excess corrosion as the metals react. To mitigate the problem, use dielectric coupling.
Piggyback on Renovation Plans
Are you planning on renovating soon? Don’t pass up the chance to knock out the replacement of part of your plumbing system. This will save you the costs of having to knock out and replace the wall or flooring covering the pipes, later. This can ultimately save thousands of dollars off your overall maintenance costs for the home.
Consider Newer Materials
In the old days, homeowners had to choose from among galvanized steel, bronze or copper pipes. That was it, and they were all expensive. PVC plumbing offered a good low-cost short-term solution in some instances, although the expected useful life of PVC turned out to be only a fraction of that of the metal pipes, so it’s debatable whether they saved any money at all for long-term homeowners.
A new material, called PEX, however, is a flexible tube designed to move water throughout the house. Because it’s flexible, it can be fed through the interior passages in walls without necessarily having to tear out the entire barrier – providing an extra layer of savings. The jury is still out on how long PEX pipes will last.
Generally, insurance will provide you protection against damages resulting from a sudden and unforeseeable pipe failure. Your policy will probably not protect you if you have not shown due care in monitoring and maintaining your plumbing system. Insurance protects against disaster, not normal wear and tear.
For example, your insurance may cover a burst pipe as a result of an ice storm. It won’t however, cover wet rot damage from a gradual leak that accumulates over years that you should have detected and addressed. Many insurance companies are specifically excluding or restricting mold damage as a result of chronic pipe leakage or uncorrected problems.
While a sudden burst of water from a plumbing system in many cases will cover damage to the structure, it probably won’t cover the replacement of the damaged pipe. Having your pipes inspected is ultimately the way to go as well as making necessary upgrades. Doing so will help prevent water damage risks, including potentially uncovered claims. In addition, you may also qualify for more favorable terms on your home insurance.
To review your coverage or if you have any questions, please call ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website.