Do you know what materials your plumbing pipes are made from? If you don't, you’re at a disadvantage. The composition of your pipes affects your whole plumbing system and could be the difference between getting decades of use versus having to make replacements sooner than you anticipated. Whether your plumbing is made from lead, steel, copper, or various types of plastic, read on to find out more:
Lead: If your house was built before 1930, there's a chance you have lead pipes, which can leach dangerous contaminants into your drinking water. There's no need to panic, but you should send your water to a lab to get it tested. If there are high levels of lead, you can take immediate short-term steps like flushing the water from the faucet for several minutes before drinking, and only using cold water from your plumbing system for cooking or drinking. In the long term, think about getting a lead filtration system or replacing your pipes altogether.
Steel: Once lead fell out of favor, galvanized steel pipes gained popularity. Steel pipes are heavy duty and can last a long time, but they do eventually start to rust. That can degrade your water quality, as well as block up your plumbing system. Around the 1980s, steel pipes declined in popularity due to their expense and weight.
Copper: Copper pipes have been a top option since the 1960s. They are lighter and smaller in diameter than steel, meaning they are easier to work with, and they can last for decades. The downsides are the expense and the potential for lead contamination -- older copper pipes sometimes have lead solder which can leach out, posing a health hazard. Copper pipes can also be susceptible to pin leaks, especially if they are exposed to large temperature fluctuations over time.
PVC: PVC plastic has been a popular option the last few decades because it's cheap and easy to install, and won’t rust or corrode. There are various qualities of PVC pipes, and some are unsuitable for carrying hot water. They are often used for drain pipes, while another material (like copper) carries the water to your sinks and showers. CVPC is an exception and can be used for intake and outtake, but it does raise concerns among some plumbers who claim the material is susceptible to cracks and leaks, and that the glued joints are prone to deteriorate.
PEX: Also known as cross-linked polyethylene, PEX has been the go-to plastic pipe for the last 20 years. It's usually more expensive than PVC but doesn't come with the same durability questions. It's flexible and easy to install in most home configurations, while still less expensive than copper. PEX is not suitable for most outdoor plumbing because it can degrade in direct sunlight. However, because it is flexible it is less susceptible bursting if your pipes should freeze.
If you are having problems with your plumbing or need someone to evaluate the state of your pipes, don't hesitate to call a qualified plumber to help you understand your system and choose the best course of action.
Benjamin Franklin Plumbing® is always here to help. Call local Benjamin Franklin with any plumbing questions or concerns.