Aah, yes. The “repair or replace” debate. We know it well, and we’ve offered our opinions on when to replace toilets and pipes in the past. Questions about whether ’tis more sensible to repair or replace plumbing are among the most common we receive.

It’s not hard to see why. Nobody wants to replace something they could repair, but nobody wants to repair something that breaks constantly, either. It can be hard to know which decision is the right one, and the stakes can be high. That’s why we’re going to give our best general “repair or replace” advice for any borderline cases in your life. Here are the things you should consider when you’re weighing your options.

Is It Made of Outdated Materials? 

If your answer to this question is “yes”, it supersedes all other considerations. Old plumbing pipes aren’t just inefficient and prone to breaks; they can be dangerous to your families’ health. Pipes that were installed in the 80s or earlier might contain lead components that can poison your water. Find out what your damaged pipe is made of before you make any other decisions.

This is still an important question if you’re looking at repairing or replacing a non-pipe plumbing fixture. An older water heaterwater softener, or even a showerhead or faucet probably won’t work as well or have the features that new ones would. Consider whether a new fixture would save you money in the long run, especially if you’re planning on staying in your home for a long time.

How Often Do I Have a Problem With It? 

A single, first leak is one thing. Seven leaks in a year is a different thing entirely. Keep track of how often you have to repair the fixture. If you repair that leak, will you have to deal with some other repair problem right away?

Every plumbing fixture has its own “canary in the coal mine” repair problems. Plumbing pipes clog frequently, leak, or become corroded. Toilets clog even more than pipes, and may spring leaks or run constantly no matter how many parts you replace. Showerheads discolor water or stop working even after you clean them. Water heaters heat unevenly, leak, or overheat. Figure out what kind of problems you have and how often you have them. Repairing a fixture doesn’t make much sense if you’ll be back to square one in less than a month.

How Much Longer Will It Last? 

Even if you’re confident that a repaired fixture won’t bother you for some time, it’s worth figuring out how old it is and how much longer you think it’ll hold up. Unfortunately, even the sturdiest plumbing fixtures have finite lifespans. Repair problems might be one-offs, or they might be the first signs of a system that’s succumbing to its age. If you can, you should try to figure out how old the problem fixture is. When did you have it installed? When was the home built? How frequently do you use it?

If you can figure out how old your fixture is, you’ll have a much better idea what kind of problem you’re dealing with. We’re not saying you should always replace older fixtures, but the notion that you’ll have to replace everything eventually should be a consideration. For us, it often comes down to math: how much time will you get out of repairing this appliance? What will happen the next time this fixture has a problem? Considering these two questions leads us to our next one:

How Much Money Will Not Replacing It Cost Me? 

This is the natural thing to ask yourself after you figure out how often you have a problem. Will the repair last long enough to justify the cost? Will you live here long enough that you’ll eventually have to replace it again? If and when that time comes, will you regret spending money on a repair?

Obviously, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly how much money these decisions will save or lose. You’ll have to make an educated guess based on the information you have: how long you’ll be in your home, how old the fixture is, how severe or frequent the problems are, and how much each job would cost. If your fixture has a minor problem, is relatively new, or you’re not going to be around for long, a repair is probably the solution for you. If you’re in your “forever” home, then replacement is often the way to go.

You probably have a pre-existing opinion about the “repair vs. replacement” debate. It’s kind of like “double-down vs. quit while you’re ahead” in that respect. Just like in that case, however, repair vs. replacement feels totally different when it happens to you, and often there’s no easy answer.

The next time you’re struggling with yourself over how to solve a “repair or replace” problem, clear your head and follow these steps. Most importantly, remember that you’ve got help. You can always call Ben Franklin. We won’t hoist one job or another onto you. Instead, we’ll help you figure out what your best option is with impartial advice and expert opinions.