Signs your pipes may be a drip­ping time bomb

Cecil Whig - - OURCECIL -

— Win­ter isn’t just the hol­i­day sea­son; it’s also burst-pipe sea­son. If your pipes are older or you’ve al­ready had a few leaks to re­pair, you may worry about how well they’ll weather Old Man Win­ter’s tem­per­a­ture tantrums. Leaky pipes can in­di­cate a big­ger prob­lem, and it may ac­tu­ally turn out to be cheaper in the long run to ad­dress it pro-ac­tively, rather than wait­ing for pipes to rup­ture in the cold.

Leak­ing or rup­tured wa­ter pipes can cause ex­ten­sive and ex­pen­sive prop­erty dam­age. Repip­ing — en­tirely re­plac­ing mal­func­tion­ing or leak­ing wa­ter pipes through­out a home — could solve the prob­lem and save your bank ac­count at the same time, says Jeff But­ler, pres­i­dent of Repipe Spe­cial­ists, the coun­try’s largest res­i­den­tial repip­ing com­pany.

“Plumb­ing prob­lems can start out with mi­nor ir­ri­ta­tions like a poor shower due to low wa­ter flow, and evolve over time into re­peated leaks that cause hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in dam­age to a home’s walls, wooden struc­tures, floor­ing and fur­nish­ings,” he says. “Ad­dress­ing dam­age from those re­peated leaks in­di­vid­u­ally can cost tens of thou­sands of dol­lars, whereas com­pletely re­plac­ing mal­func­tion­ing metal pipework typ­i­cally runs only be­tween $4,000 and $ 9,000.”

Metal plumb­ing can mal­func­tion for a num­ber of rea­sons, lead­ing to the need to repipe. Sed­i­ment buildup in­side older gal­va­nized iron pipes can re­strict wa­ter flow and ul­ti­mately lead to the pipes fail­ing. Cop­per pipes


will also wear out over time, and even new cop­per pip­ing can de­velop pin­hole leaks if cor­ro­sive el­e­ments are present in the wa­ter.

“We’ve repiped 5-year-old homes that had cop­per pip­ing that was ex­pected to last much longer,” But­ler says. “Ul­ti­mately, any­thing you can do to get away from ma­te­rial that can cor­rode — metal — is go­ing to be a bet­ter in­vest­ment in the long run.”

Know­ing you need to have your home repiped isn’t al­ways as ob­vi­ous as deal­ing with a cat­a­strophic leak that dam­ages dry­wall. But­ler points to com­mon signs that home­own­ers should watch for:

* Poor wa­ter pres­sure in show­ers or from faucets may ac­tu­ally be low wa­ter flow caused by a buildup of scale within metal pipes. Even­tu­ally, the scale will com­pletely block the pipes.

* Wa­ter tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions — shower wa­ter turns scald­ing when some­one flushes the toi­let or runs the dish­washer — may also in­di­cate con­stric­tion is tak­ing place in metal pipes.

* Rusty or cloudy wa­ter comes out of the faucet af­ter you’ve been away from home for a while and the pipes have been un­used.

* You see ob­vi­ous signs of wa­ter leak­age, rang­ing from pipes that are al­ways damp to wa­ter stains on dry­wall.

* Your neigh­bors had to have their home re-piped.

In many ar­eas of the coun­try, PEX (crosslinked poly­eth­yl­ene) pipe is the ma­te­rial of choice for re-pip­ing jobs. That’s be­cause prod­ucts like flex­i­ble Uponor PEX last longer, are eas­ier to work with and re­duce the need to open walls, re­sist cor­ro­sion and scale buildup, ex­pand up to three times the pipe’s di­am­e­ter to help min­i­mize dam­age from frozen wa­ter in the pipes, and typ­i­cally cost less than metal pipes.

“Their ex­pan­sion fit­ting sys­tem makes it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to make a mis­take fit­ting a joint to­gether, so it re­ally elim­i­nates a lot of the hu­man er­ror in­her­ent in repip­ing work,” But­ler says.

Most con­struc­tion codes across the coun­try now al­low for the use of PEX. “Whether you’re re­plac­ing metal pipes that have worn out over time, or deal­ing with hard wa­ter that’s short­ened the life­span of newer metal pipes, chances are PEX is a good op­tion for your repip­ing project,” says Jayson Drake, di­rec­tor of plumb­ing at Uponor.

“If you’d asked me 20 years ago, I would have said I would al­ways want to use cop­per in a re-pip­ing job,” he says. “But I started us­ing Uponor’s PEX in 2007 af­ter thor­oughly re­search­ing which sys­tem would be best for my cus­tomers. In nine years, we’ve had fewer in­stal­la­tion is­sues and seen first-hand that PEX lasts longer, doesn’t cor­rode and re­sists freez­ing. If I had to re-pipe my own house, I would use PEX.”

Re-pip­ing — en­tirely re­plac­ing mal­func­tion­ing or leak­ing wa­ter pipes through­out a home — doesn’t have to strike fear into your heart, or drain your bank ac­count.

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