Did you know that the average U.S. homeowner spent more than $3,000 on home repairs and upkeep this past year? While that number can seem high, this is for routine maintenance, and any unexpected problems may cause that number to increase two-fold or worse. If you live in a house you own, home maintenance is costly because so many independent systems come with separate issues to resolve. But even with the best oversight, plumbing problems do occur. These problems are caused by various factors, such as condition, weather, and neglect. Read on to learn more about these problems, their causes, and how you can avoid them.
Understanding How Old Pipes Cause Plumbing Problems
One of the major systems in a home is the plumbing system. This system is a series of faucets and drains that lead to an interconnected web of piping that is mostly behind walls or below ground. Like any system, it relies on regular maintenance and homeowners who are knowledgeable about it. Old pipes are more susceptible to the wear and tear of usage. Identifying if they are old, taking care of their existing system, and getting a pipe replacement as needed are all necessary steps to avoid a serious problem.
What Age of Pipes Is Considered Old?
What makes a pipe old depends on the construction material. Metal pipes have the shortest lifespan, capping out at around 50 years. However, some types of metal are more susceptible to breaking down, especially if the water they transport has high acidity. This includes cast iron pipes and galvanized steel piping, although sometimes a galvanized pipe can last longer.
Plastic pipes have a much longer shelf life, lasting up to 100 years. Not all plastics are equal, and some end up having a shorter life expectancy. Polybutylene piping, in particular, can have a much shorter lifespan, with leaks starting after just 10-15 years. The first consideration for the age of the pipes in your home is the home itself. If it is fairly new construction, then you don’t have anything to worry about. But if you have an older home, say 60 years or so, getting an inspection to determine their condition could be prudent.
What Pipe Materials Become Dangerous Over Time?
The most obvious case of piping materials becoming dangerous is when you are dealing with lead pipes. Over time, lead piping can corrode can release toxins into the water that flows through it. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney problems
- Reproductive problems
- Pregnancy complications
Lead is especially dangerous for children and can cause the following:
- Learning problems
- Hearing problems
- Stunted growth
You should know that small amounts of lead aren’t harmful. Showering in lead-contaminated water isn’t dangerous since absorption through the skin isn’t possible.
How Often Should Old Pipes Be Inspected?
A general rule for homeowners is to get their home’s plumbing system inspected every two years. By maintaining this schedule, you are able to get ahead of a problem before it becomes more severe and, thus, more expensive. A complete plumbing inspection should include checks on water pressure and drains. A sewer camera can also be used to inspect sewer lines for any potential issues. The piping in the kitchen area is more at risk for corrosion and leakages. A good inspection will also include checking out the water heater. The other two areas that a plumbing inspection will include are any outside piping and underneath the home, if it is on a raised crawl space. Outdoor piping is more susceptible to the elements and can become damaged. The professional may take samples for testing when the condition of the pipes can not be determined.
In between hiring a professional, homeowners can perform simple inspections to look for leaks and other damage. Some visual signs include the pipes’ discoloration, dripping water, and rust. Without being too paranoid, any unusual sounds, smells, or changes in appearance might be reason enough to have a professional take a look.
Can Old Pipes Break Easier?
Many factors cause a pipe to break, including high water pressure, blockage, tree roots, and freezing weather. But old age is another major factor. The biggest threat to older pipes breaking is that with time, they erode. This erosion makes older pipes more vulnerable to breaking by the above-mentioned factors. Metal pipes that are vulnerable to corrosion present another issue, as narrowing pipes are vulnerable to blockage. This is in addition to the general buildup that occurs over the life of the pipe.
What Are the Signs of Older Pipe Issues?
By performing basic visual inspections, you can spot the plumbing problems that come with older pipes. Spotting leaks in exposed pipes is fairly easy, as obvious warning signs include puddles of nearby water and discoloration of walls or floors. The signs of possible corrosion are not as obvious. Although some are similar to leakages, these signs include discoloration and stains. Other signs of corrosion include dimples, pimples, and flaking. There are also signs that you can not visually inspect to identify when old pipes are failing. One way is to check the color of the water coming out of the sinks, bathtubs, and shower heads. If it has a brown or yellowish tint to it, there could be rust. Another method for checking pipes that aren’t visible is to keep a close eye on your water bill. If the balance has increased and remained high without any drastic change in usage, this could signal that you have a leak out of sight.
Do You Need to Replace Old Pipes?
Pipes do not need to be replaced just because they are old. Even if you have a home that is more than 20 years old, if you aren’t experiencing any plumbing problems and have had routine inspections performed, your pipes are probably okay. A consideration for homeowners of a home built from 1970 to 1990 is that they could have lead or polybutylene pipe material. As mentioned earlier in this piece, lead presents some major health risks, and polybutylene is a weak and brittle material that can break easily. So while the risk isn’t as great, you could also check for any cases of lead piping in your area as a precaution.
How Expensive Is It to Replace Older Pipe Materials?
Replacing old pipes is often a massive undertaking. The cost to replace old piping can vary greatly based on multiple factors, such as:
- Amount of piping that needs replacement
- Difficulty in accessing the piping
- Needing other tradesmen besides a professional plumber
- Heavy equipment needed (below-ground piping or tree and brush removal)
A homeowner should expect to pay more than $1,000 for any significant project. Depending on the aforementioned factors, the price tag could reach $10,000 and up. It’s always worth checking, but pipe repair and other plumbing problems aren’t always covered by a homeowners insurance plan.
What Preventative Measures Can Homeowners Take?
Besides getting an inspection by a professional plumber and doing your own inspections, there are other steps you can take to avoid major plumbing problems that lead to a hefty price tag. These can occur before and after a home is purchased. Some of these include:
Presale Home Inspection
Being preemptive is always smart. Regardless of the home’s age, you should have a thorough home inspection that includes a review of the plumbing system, including water lines, before purchase. If this inspection turns up potential pipe replacements or pipe repair, you may use this information to renegotiate the price or require it to be fixed before buying.
One major area of concern is sewer drains. When sewer drains clog, they can cause pipes to burst, especially with older pipes. You can spot several signs to indicate that you may have clogged sewer lines. When you wash dishes or take a shower, do you notice if the water remains standing or drains slowly? If there isn’t any visible obstruction, this might be cause for concern. Other signs to look for include unusual odors and noises when using drains. The water may still be flowing freely, but these could indicate a problem down the line.
If you live in an area that freezes during the winter months, you need to get your pipes winterized. Freezing water expands and can lead to blockages or outright bursts. Winterizing pipes is as simple as wrapping them with heat tape or another material to keep them above freezing.
Dispose of Materials Properly
Part of keeping pipes and drains running smoothly is not putting items through them that have the potential to cause a clog. Some items, such as leftover animal bones from cooking are obvious, but others are less so. These include:
- Coffee grounds
- Cooking oil
- Animal fat
- Grains and seeds
- Hygiene products
Items like coffee grounds and seeds don’t dissolve in water and can build up in piping. While these items appear to be liquid, fat and oils solidify with time, making them a serious risk. Substances like flour get sticky when wet, and a clog may occur when large amounts are drained at once.
Proper Installation of Appliances
While this might not seem like a major issue, properly installing items like a water heater and dishwasher is beneficial for the pipes involved. Besides preventing leaks, it may also prevent blockages and backflow of water. Taking this step can also prevent more serious issues like gas leaks and fire hazards.
What to Look For in a Repair Service
When scouting for potential repair services, there are several qualities that you should look for. Checking reviews and asking around can help narrow down the field. Some factors to consider include:
Experience in Pipe Repair and Replacement
Due to the complexity of plumbing systems, the more experienced the plumber you hire, the better. A more experienced company is likely to have experience with removing old pipes. This experience can also carry over to the inspection side of piping. They may even have items like heavy digging equipment, which eliminates the need for finding another professional service.
Training and Certifications
While most state and local governments have regulations and licensing for plumbers, you should still review the technicians and personnel before hiring anyone. Many companies list the combined experience of their workers.
Multiple Services Offered
Since piping has many facets to it, a good plumbing company is experienced and capable of handling any of them. Aside from piping repair and removal, you should check that a prospective company offers the following:
- Drain cleaners
- Drain maintenance
- Water heaters
- Sewer lines
- Appliance installation
- Backflow prevention
Are You Ready to Get Serious About Pipes?
Now that you know more about how old piping can contribute to plumbing problems, what are you waiting for? Just because a span of piping is old doesn’t mean it is ineffective. Many factors can determine if the pipes in your home need replacement, including the material type, weather, and general use over its lifetime. Having the right professionals is a must. Having one with experience, the proper certifications, and that offers all the services is essential too. If you’re ready to get started on your next project with old piping, contact us for all your plumbing needs today.