Signs your pipes may be a dripping time bomb
— 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.