The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging Plumbing

The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging PlumbingLast week, we provided some insight into polybutylene plumbing, and why it’s a good idea to part company with it. Today, we’ll look at aging plumbing in general, and what you can expect as your plumbing gets older.

Plumbing is one of those things you take for granted until something goes wrong. Some common challenges emerge for property owners as a plumbing system ages. Here’s a look at what you might run up against, and how to deal with it.

Even plumbing gets old

No matter what your plumbing is made from, it gets old, just like everything else. Plumbing systems are under pressure (literally) every day. Sooner or later, that constant pressure will cause your plumbing to leak, break or stop performing as designed. Other conditions can also deteriorate your plumbing.

The water crisis in Flint, MI showed that municipal water systems can be vulnerable to changes in water treatment. Anti-corrosives, disinfectants and other chemicals added to the water can contribute to the deterioration of your pipes. Unfortunately, this happens from the inside out. You may not know you have a problem until you’re mopping up a lot of water!

Copper, galvanized steel, brass and plastic all get old. One good way to protect your home from unexpected damage is to know how old your plumbing is. Brass and galvanized pipe have a rated lifespan of 80-100 years. Copper will last 70-80 years. PVC will last 50-70 years. These are all ideals, of course. Conditions in your home, or the characteristics of your municipal water supply can radically change the life expectancy of your plumbing. (Usually not for the better.) If you live in an old home and you know your plumbing is old, a plumbing inspection can help determine the condition of your system. If your plumbing is already giving signs of its age – corrosion on the outside of the pipe, rusty water, poor water pressure, bad smells or tastes – you could be due for some major plumbing repairs.

If your plumbing is in reasonably good shape, it’s worth the effort to have your incoming pressure measured and adjusted. Municipal water is delivered at a higher PSI than your pipes can manage. Regulating the supply pressure can save on “normal” wear and tear.

When your sewer isn’t happy, nobody’s happy

No one wants to think about the sewer. Having been there, we can say that it’s not a nice place. It is, however, a necessary place, so it makes sense to take good care of your sewer. Having your sewer professionally inspected is probably the nicest thing you can do for your sewer and for your home. Sewer breaks announce themselves by back-flowing raw sewage into your home. In places you don’t want raw sewage. Like your kitchen. (It’s even hard for us to think about, but it happens.)

A video inspection of your sewer line can reveal breaks, tree root invasions and other problems that will not go away or take care of themselves. Clay sewer pipes last about 50 years. Cast iron sewer laterals can last 50-75 years. PVC and cement sewer pipes last about 100 years. Again, all of these lifespans are ideals. Your sewer pipe will be affected by the actual conditions in and around your home. It’s also important to remember that some materials (like cast iron) mineralize and corrode over time. This corrosion reduces the diameter of the pipe, which at some point, is going to cause problems! That’s why it’s important to watch your sewer pipe closely. Having it video inspected every five years or so will give you plenty of advance notice of an impending failure.

Repairs aren’t always all that

Some homeowners are pretty handy. Others – not so much. But that doesn’t always stop the dyed-in-the-wool DIY’er from performing repairs. “Temporary” repairs often end up being permanent, which can invite trouble down the road. Over time, these repairs may need to be redone. If your plumbing is a patchwork of original work and repairs, or a mix of materials, you could experience an increased rate of plumbing failure. If this describes your home, having a professional plumber evaluate your system can actually save you money in the long run. By performing more comprehensive repairs, you can eliminate temporary solutions and ongoing battles with low-quality patches.

If you’d like us to evaluate the condition of your plumbing, or help you avoid major plumbing problems, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an assessment.

Photo Credit: Nate Vack, via Flickr

Polybutylene plumbing can come back to haunt your house

Polybutylene plumbing can come back to haunt your houseMost people don’t think about their plumbing until they have a plumbing problem. If you have polybutylene pipe in your home, you have a plumbing problem! Polybutylene pipe (PB) is a plastic plumbing product that was commonly used between the early 1970’s and the mid-1990’s. PB was an attractive plumbing option because it was resistant to freezing. It could be used for either interior or exterior applications. It was flexible, and it was inexpensive.

The problem with PB plumbing is that the plastic deteriorates over time. Every material deteriorates over time, but PB plumbing breaks down much faster than it was supposed to. Materials engineers also discovered that the pipe deteriorated randomly when it came into contact with some water treatments. Over time, small fractures caused by water additives can grow. Eventually, these fractures compromise the pipe. That leaves homeowners with PB plumbing vulnerable to sudden bursts, leaks and the resulting damage.

You might think that PB plumbing sounds ripe for a lawsuit. And it was. Lawyers in Tennessee filed Cox v. Shell Oil Co., in 1995. In that class action case, the courts awarded a settlement of $950 million, which allowed affected homeowners to replace their PB plumbing with something else. Homeowners who had PB plumbing installed between 1978 and 1995 were eligible to collect.

So far, so good – except that many homeowners with affected plumbing did not file claims under Cox. To complicate matters, new home buyers may have purchased homes with PB plumbing, not knowing that their properties contained faulty plumbing. Home inspectors may not have recognized PB plumbing for what it was, but insurance companies did not make that mistake. In other words, insurance companies will not pay to replace PB plumbing today because it is known to be defective.

Homeowners currently pay for polybutylene plumbing replacement

This “perfect storm” left unsuspecting homeowners with PB plumbing on the hook for major plumbing repairs, simply because they did not know that their homes had faulty plumbing, or that any potential claims they – or a previous owner – could have filed under Cox were already barred.

In late 2017, lawyers in Arkansas filed a second lawsuit on behalf of homeowners who had PB plumbing, but had been excluded for one reason or another from filing a claim under the Coxsettlement. Unfortunately, the court threw out that suit in such a way that it cannot be resurrected. In short, homeowners who still have PB plumbing in their homes are on the hook for the repairs.

So, how do you know that you have PB pipe? PB pipe is a plastic gray, blue, white, silver or black pipe. It’s stamped with “PB2110” and it was available in sizes between ½” and 1″. It is not rigid, like conventional copper, galvanized steel or even PVC piping. You might see copper or other metallic fittings on the ends or near joints in the pipe. PB pipes were used only on the “clean” side of a plumbing system, so they would be attached to the meter, sinks, showers, exterior hoses, pool plumbing and laundry equipment. It wasn’t used on the “dirty” side of a plumbing system, so you will not find it attached to drains or toilets. It was also not used on vent stacks.

Should you opt for polybutylene plumbing replacement?

You may have purchased a home with PB pipe unknowingly. No laws require home inspectors to identify PB plumbing, and there’s no good way to test the integrity of the pipe. If you have PB plumbing in your home, getting it replaced is a good way to protect yourself from unexpected water damage that won’t be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. The cost of replacing your plumbing won’t be cheap, but it will cost less than repairing the damage from an unexpected plumbing leak out-of-pocket.

If you think (or know) you have PB pipe in your home and would like an estimate on replacement costs, please give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy recommend high quality replacement options.

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Keeping heat in when the heat is on

Keeping the heat in while the heat is onThere’s no doubt that unusually cold winter temperatures are hard on heating systems. If your heating system is properly maintained, however, it should be able to manage colder temperatures without too much trouble. Nonetheless, keeping heat in your home can ease the burden on your furnace and make your home more comfortable.

Tips for keeping your heat in during super-cold weather

Don’t dial down at night. If you normally set your thermostat to 62°F, consider bumping it up to 64°F or even 66°F at night. A healthy furnace should be able to manage a drop in the mercury. At the same time, maintaining a higher temperature can prevent the unheated portions of your home from freezing overnight. If some pipes in your home are vulnerable to freezing, allow a trickle of water to run from the faucet. Moving water can help prevent freezing, and can relieve pressure in a freezing pipe.

Change your furnace filter. Keep your furnace happy by making sure it can breathe! Changing the furnace filter regularly can help ensure proper air flow to your heating system. In the fall, before heating season begins, have your furnace checked by a heating and cooling professional. Regular checkups can help ensure that you avoid unexpected breakdowns during the winter.

Seal drafts. Air leaks and drafts can make your home feel miserable. In addition to letting heated air escape, leaks can allow moisture in. The moisture level in your home has a lot of impact on your comfort level. Maintaining a proper humidity level can make your home feel warmer even when your thermostat turned down. Sealing drafts may not be a mid-winter task, but cold temperatures will sure help you find them! Windows and doors are likely leakers, especially if they’re older. You may also find generous gaps between your sill plate and the foundation. You may not use your basement for much, but that’s probably where your plumbing is! Frigid air slipping in at the sill plate can freeze your pipes, even when the heat is turned up. You can purchase spray foam insulation from a local home improvement store. It’s inexpensive and will seal these little spaces well.

Consider adding storm doors. If your home doesn’t have storm doors, consider adding them. Storm doors can create a little air gap between the outside and the inside. This little space can cut down on air leaks at the door.

Insulate! Insulation is one of the best ways to help your home retain heat. Many people don’t realize this, but insulation does break down over time. If you haven’t touched your insulation, an insulation professional can evaluate it for you. In many cases, you can simply add insulation to what already exists. If your insulation has been damaged by water or animals, you’ll want to remove and replace it. Replacing or adding insulation may not be a DIY job. Old insulation may have asbestos, formaldehyde or other unpleasantries hidden inside. Insulation that’s been damaged by animals may also be saturated with waste. A side benefit of contracting this work is that they’ll get the vapor barrier correct! Improper insulation work can lead to mold and mildew accumulation in your home.

Consider replacing your furnace. Mid winter probably isn’t the time to consider a voluntary furnace replacement. That being said, new high-efficiency furnaces can save a lot on operating costs. The added reliability of a new furnace also can give you peace of mind. If your current furnace was on the job in 1992, it’s probably time to consider a change. Furnaces older than this are not efficient at all. You can recover the cost of installing a new furnace through reduced operating costs in just a few years.

If you’d like more information about energy efficiency, or furnace repair or replacement, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss your options.

Photo Credit: David Lewis, via Flickr

The Lowdown on Wi-Fi Thermostats

The Lowdown on Wi-Fi ThermostatsIf you’re looking to lower your utility costs, there are a lot of things you can do. One place to start is at the thermostat. While you can save money in the winter by turning down the heat, some people are turning to high-tech thermostats to save some cold, hard cash.

Smart thermostats can help you reduce utility costs without reducing comfort. You can now find Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats in a wide price range. If this is the direction you want to go in, you’re sure to find a lot of options.

Ecobee Wi-Fi Thermostat

Ecobee currently offers several Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats to help control your utility costs. The Ecobee 4 is the company’s top-of-the-line model. It features a built in Amazon Alexa device and remote temperature sensors to help monitor cold spots in your home. The built in Alexa service means that you can control the temperature with voice commands, but you can also make a grocery list, update your calendar and get whatever other information you’re looking for. The Ecobee 4 is also compatible with Google Home devices. It can also control humidifiers, dehumidifiers and other heating and cooling support equipment

The Ecobee 4 also comes with a remote temperature sensor, but you can add more to your setup. The sensor does more than track temperature. It also monitors humidity, occupancy and proximity. That means you can tell the thermostat to prioritize heating and cooling for the occupied rooms in your home.

The Ecobee 4 has a list price of $249 and comes with a single remote sensor. A two-pack of remote sensors is an additional $80. You can also control this device with your smartphone or an Apple Watch. In addition, MassSave is currently offering a $125 rebate on Ecobee thermostats, which you can self-install or hire a contractor to do it for you. (Limit 3.) If having a built-in Alexa is overkill for you, the rebate-eligible Ecobee 3 ($169) is almost identical on functions but doesn’t have an integrated Alexa device.

Nest Wi-Fi Thermostat

The Nest thermostat has been on the market for a while and is widely available. Most consumers recognize it as the “learning” thermostat. The device learns what your schedule is and adjusts your home’s temperature accordingly. For example, the thermostat can communicate with your smartphone to determine when you’ve left the house. (Creepy, no?)

As one of the first players in this market space, the Nest has staked its claim on market share and is backed by Google. (It also works with Alexa.) As with other Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, the Nest doesn’t support all heating and cooling equipment. It’s important to know up-front whether you’re going to experience compatibility issues. The top-of-the-line “Learning Thermostat” can set you back about $250. You can also get a pared down Nest Thermostat E for $169. Like the Ecobee models, the Nest models can also support remote temperature sensors to provide better control over your living space. The Nest App for your smartphone allows you to control either device remotely. The Nest Learning Thermostat will provide additional information on the display, including time, current room temperature and weather information. The Nest E is a budget version so it doesn’t have this display feature.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat

If spending a lot on a Wi-Fi thermostat isn’t high on your list of things to do, consider a thermostat from Honeywell. The low-end Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats look more like the traditional programmable thermostats, but they cost about $100 less than their high-end cousins. Honeywell also makes contemporary Wi-Fi thermostats with a touchscreen design, but these models come with a price tag that’s similar to the Ecobee and Nest models. The Honeywell 7-day programmable thermostat comes with a smartphone app that’s compatible with Android and iOS phones. It also allows access from a computer.

Using a programmable thermostat – whether it’s Wi-Fi enabled or not – will help you save money on heating and cooling costs. Programmable thermostats eliminate the need to remember to “dial down” when you’re away. They also help warm up your home before you arrive. With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can also adjust your home’s temperature if your plans – or the weather – unexpectedly change.

If you’d like more information about programmable thermostats, Wi-Fi thermostat or you would like professional installation services, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help!

Photo Credit: PickMy.Tech, via Flickr

If your toilet could talk…

If your toilet could talk…Toilets are arguably the most unsung of workhorses around your home. We don’t just expect toilets to work; we need them to work. But sometimes, they don’t work. If only your toilet could talk, what would it tell you about taking care of your toilet?

Taking care of your toilet

We’re pretty sure that taking care of your toilet would be high on your toilet’s list of things to discuss. Taking care of your toilet goes beyond just cleaning it now and then. Here are a few things to consider, if you plan to help your toilet out.

Check for leaks now and then. Toilets can leak in a number of places. A “good” leak is one that allows water from the tank to leak into the bowl. This is a “good” leak because the water doesn’t end up where it’s not supposed to go. Leaking toilets can cost a lot of money over time, however. These kinds of leaks aren’t always obvious, either. If your toilet fills up the tank on its own periodically, you’ve got a leak. If your toilet takes forever to fill, you’ve probably got a leak. If you can hear water draining down into the bowl, or into the soil pipe, your toilet is leaking. You can buy replacement valves for your toilet at your local home improvement store. You can also adjust the amount of water your toilet uses.

A “bad” leak allows water to escape the toilet. A leaking toilet can either flow out the bottom of the tank, or out the bottom of the bowl. Tank leaks are clean. Bowl leaks not so much. If your tank is leaking (and not just sweating), you may have to replace the tank. Check for cracks in the porcelain and look for flimsy gaskets. If water appears on the floor following a flush, remove the toilet and replace the wax ring on the bottom. You may also notice a “sewer” smell when you have a bad wax ring. Wax rings are cheap but they can cause a lot of damage when they give up.

When does your toilet need maintenance?

There’s not much involved in regular maintenance, except for cleaning. Be sure to use cleaning products specifically intended for toilets. Standard household cleaners can stain porcelain and crack the glazing. This will decrease the lifespan of your toilet. If you have hard water, use products to soften the water in your toilet. This will help reduce or eliminate mineralization and staining. Check the filler adjustment now and then to make sure your toilet isn’t consuming too much water. Make sure the seat is tight and fits well. Also check the flange nuts to make sure the toilet doesn’t move when it’s in use.

These items qualify as abuse

Toilets are designed to take a particular kind of abuse, but sometimes people go too far. Here are a few things you should NOT flush down your toilet.

Paper that isn’t toilet paper. Toilet paper dissolves in water, which is why it’s ok to flush it down the sewer. Other kinds of paper – Kleenex, paper towels, etc., – don’t dissolve. If it isn’t toilet paper, don’t flush it.

Disposable … things… Toilets aren’t trashcans, but that doesn’t stop some people from flushing trash. Q-tips, cigarette butts, sanitary products, disposable wipes, condoms, dead goldfish – none of these things are toilet-friendly. They all belong in the trash. If these items make it all the way to the sewer, they need to be separated out before treatment. In most cases though, they don’t make it all the way to the sewer. They sit in your soil pipe or in your sewer lateral. Given the opportunity, they will return to you. Don’t flush these things.

You have been warned.

Grease and food waste. Flushing grease down the toilet is no better than washing it down your sink. In fact, it’s probably worse. Grease can clog your sink drain in no time. If it clogs a kitchen sink, it will do the same thing to a toilet. Don’t put grease down either the toilet or the sink. (But especially not the toilet.)

Hot liquids
Toilets (and bathroom sinks) aren’t tempered. A rapid shift in temperature between the water and the porcelain will crack it. (And things won’t get better from there.) Use the kitchen sink to dispose of hot, non-greasy liquids.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating is here to help with all of your toilet maintenance needs. We can also recommend and install low-flow toilets to help you save water! Call us at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an appointment.

Photo Credit: Scott Beale, via Flickr

Furnace repair: should you repair or replace your old furnace?

Should you repair or replace your old furnace?Furnaces never break at a convenient time. (Mostly because no one uses their furnace in the summer!) Worse, few homeowners plan for a furnace repair. The bill can represent a large expense, and some homeowners may wonder whether it’s better to repair or replace.

How old is your furnace?

Like most things, there’s more than one way to think about this! If your furnace is super-old, repair-v-replace may be a no-brainer. But what exactly qualifies as a “super-old furnace?” 1992 provides a good mile marker because the Department of Energy first started making furnace efficiency requirements then. Furnaces installed at that time had to be at least 78% efficient. That’s not to say that your 1992 furnace is still 78% efficient in the waning days of 2018. It’s not! Furnace efficiency deteriorates over time. Routine maintenance and repairs can help restore or preserve its rated efficiency, but your furnace just gets old.

The return on investment for furnace replacement

One way to answer the “repair or replace” question is by looking at the return on your investment. If your furnace was installed before 1992, it is wildly inefficient by today’s standards. You are spending money hand-over-fist to keep your old, inefficient furnace running. Replacing your furnace may have a high initial cost, but you can recover this through reduced operating costs. If this describes your situation, it’s worthwhile to sit down and calculate the point at which a new furnace will pay itself off. (It won’t take that long!) MassSave also offers low- and no-interest loans to cover the cost of furnace replacement. Believe it or not, you can still save money by borrowing to replace your pre-1992 furnace!

On the other hand, a repair cost is defined and it’s virtually certain to be less than replacement. However, repairing an older, less efficient furnace commits you to paying higher operating costs at least until the next repair. (When you have to make the repair/replace decision again.) Sometimes, repairing an old, inefficient furnace has a lower immediate cost, but a higher long-term cost. A higher operating cost could mean that you’re paying hundreds of dollars more per winter to keep your old furnace. That’s definitely not ideal!

The cost of fuel

If you’re using a more expensive fuel (e.g., heating oil), a breakdown could represent a chance to save big. Oil-to-gas conversion can reduce your home’s energy consumption, reduce your costs and let you switch to a cleaner fuel. The cost of heating oil this season has been relatively stable. (It’s actually dropped slightly since the beginning of heating season.) Price volatility is one reason, however, to consider switching to a lower cost fuel. Homeowners can spend 2 to 3 times as much per winter to heat with heating oil. Additionally, heating oil poses environmental quality dangers that other fuels don’t.

Ultimately, the repair-v-replace decision will be up to you. Making a lower-cost repair can help get you through the heating season. This may give you time to make a potentially big decision without being under pressure.

If you’d like more information about furnace upgrades, oil-to-gas conversions or calculating your savings on heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to schedule a consultation and show you how you can save on your heating and cooling costs.

Photo Credit: ewitch, via Flickr

The dark side of energy efficiency

The darker side of energy efficiencyIn the middle of the winter, it’s easy to find the drafts in your home. Sealing drafts can improve your energy efficiency, but there are some important considerations to think about. Building contractors talk about the “thermal envelope.” If you haven’t heard the term, it refers to the “tightness” of a building’s enclosure. The tighter the enclosure is, the less air travels between the building’s inside and its outside.

Energy efficiency requires ventilation improvements

Gaps can naturally occur between the foundation and the home’s structure. They also commonly occur in the attic, where the roof joins the walls. Windows, doors, vents and other openings degrade the thermal envelope. These hidden openings enable air to travel freely between the home’s exterior and interior. That means your warm air in the winter, and cool air in the summer will dissipate. This raises the cost of your heating and cooling bill, and admits unwanted moisture into your home.

Conventional wisdom said that these gaps helped to control the growth of mold and mildew. That is true. But it also means that older homes are draftier, leakier and cost more to heat and cool. If you decide to seal drafts in your home (which will decrease your energy usage), test your home’s ventilation! You may need to add supplemental ventilation to avoid moisture build-up and other problems.

Your water heater can’t go it alone

One of the big targets for energy efficiency is upgrading the furnace. Older furnaces aren’t energy efficient, so they consume a lot of fuel. Traditional furnace designs vented the by-products of combustion out the chimney. (“By-products of combustion” = carbon monoxide.) Newer heating equipment may instead vent flue gases out of the side wall of the home. This may have implications for your water heater and you!

A furnace is a big piece of equipment, and it can create a generate a big draft in the chimney. This air movement enables the flue gases to escape the chimney. If you have a gas water heater, it may also vent out the chimney. It probably leans on the furnace to create enough draft to expel its products of combustion safely. If you upgrade your furnace but leave your water heater standing, your water heater may not be able to generate enough draft to clear the chimney of noxious gases.

This can set up a dangerous situation known as back drafting. Back drafting allows the nasty, noxious gases to pool in the chimney, or worse, escape into the house. This can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the house. Major danger!

There are a few solutions for discouraging back drafting when your water heater is the last man standing. Your heating and cooling professionals will want to line your chimney when they upgrade your furnace. This reduces the inner size of the chimney and allows the water heater to create a better draft. You could also upgrade your water heater to a “power vent” model. A power-vented water heater mechanically creates draft in the chimney to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.

Heating and cooling professionals can help!

Air sealing, insulating and upgrading your heating and cooling equipment all save money, but they change your home’s environment. It’s very important to avoid the unintended consequences that can come about from tightening your thermal envelope.

At Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating, we can help you choose the most efficient heating and cooling options. We can also help you ensure that your home remains safe and comfortable, while also saving you money!

Call us at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an appointment today!

Photo Credit: David Singleton, via Flickr

When should you replace your plumbing?

When should you replace your plumbing?As plumbers, we naturally think that plumbing is a good thing, but all good things must come to an end. We’re not saying that plumbing is going away anytime soon, but the clock is ticking on your pipes. You might not think about it much, but the plumbing in your house wasn’t designed to last forever. How long should your plumbing last and what should you know about failing pipes?

Straight talk about replacing plumbing

The lifespan of your plumbing depends upon your pipes. Here’s a guide to help you think about (and plan for) replacement of your home’s plumbing.

Brass

Brass plumbing has a rated lifespan of 80-100 years. Original brass plumbing in homes built between World War I and World War II is now reaching the end of its useful life. Brass has been used in plumbing fixtures for a long time. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Varying the amounts of these major components can make the resulting brass harder or softer. Brass can also contain small amounts of other metals like aluminum, lead and arsenic. For plumbing applications, lead is absolutely forbidden, however some lead may still be present in older brass fixtures. Lead plumbing solder was common before 1977, and brass can increase the amount of lead that leaches into the water.

If you have brass plumbing, make sure you have no lead in any fixtures or solder joints. If you do find lead, at the very least, eliminate the offending fixtures. Remove old solder and replace it with lead-free solder designed especially for plumbing applications.

Copper

Copper has a rated lifespan of 70-80 years. Many homes built in the 1960’s and most homes built after 1970 have copper plumbing. Original copper plumbing in homes built around and immediately after World War II is now likely reaching the end its useful life. Copper carries a certain mystique about it. People believe that copper plumbing will last forever. It doesn’t. The actual lifespan of copper may even be significantly less than 70-80 years. In practice, copper plumbing can deteriorate rapidly after just 20 years of service.

Copper plumbing fails for a couple of important reasons. First, the “clean” side of your plumbing is under constant pressure. This constant pressure takes its toll on the joints and connectors in your system. You may begin to see leaks and drips, especially if the pressure from the source is too high. Municipal water transmission systems often have a pressure of 100-150 PSI. The recommended pressure for a residential system is lower – more like 80 psi. The extra pressure can really wreak havoc inside your home. You can reduce the water pressure from the source by installing a pressure regulator. The regulator will help ensure that your pipes and fixtures aren’t overwhelmed by sky-high PSI.

Acidity and copper

Copper can also fail when the pH of the water falls below 6.5. The natural pH of water falls somewhere between 6 and 8.5 depending upon the source. The lower the water’s pH, the more acidic it is. Acidic water can react with copper and deteriorate the pipe. Damaged pipes will shed copper into the water. Your body needs minute amounts of copper to be healthy, but large doses can be toxic.

A healthy body has mechanisms to prevent excessive copper storage, but in some people, these mechanisms may not work properly. Copper toxicity can cause gastrointestinal problems, liver and kidney damage, psychological problems and low blood pressure. In addition, some research shows that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease have increased free copper levels in their bloodstreams. This does NOT mean that copper causes Alzheimer’s Disease. (In 2018, the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease remains unknown.) It might just mean that Alzheimer’s Disease damages the body’s mechanism to eliminate excess copper.

There is no known health reason to remove copper pipes in good condition from your home. You should replace any copper pipe that is showing signs of damage or deterioration, regardless of its age. If your water is chronically acidic, copper piping might not be the best choice for your home. Water that normally has a pH greater than 6.5 won’t deteriorate your copper pipes.

Galvanized steel

Galvanized steel has a rated lifespan of 80-100 years. Original galvanized plumbing in homes built between World War I and World War II is now reaching the end of its useful life. Galvanized steel pipes (also known as “galvanized” pipes) are zinc-coated steel pipes. The zinc coating helps to prevent the pipe from deteriorating. This kind of pipe is commonly found in homes built before 1960.

The zinc coating on galvanized steel doesn’t last forever. After decades of exposure to water, the coating will fail and the pipes will begin to rust. As the pipe deteriorates, its inner diameter reduces, and rust may flake off. Rust particles can end up in the water, or they can clog faucet filters. They can also leave rust stains on toilets, sinks and tubs. The narrowing diameter of the pipe can also cause water flow and water pressure problems for attached fixtures.

A potentially larger issue is that the zinc coating on galvanized pipes made between 1880 and 1960 contained impurities including lead. It is possible to find lead in the water carried by galvanized pipe, even when there’s no other lead source in the system. In systems where lead pipe or lead-containing fixtures were attached to galvanized pipe, the galvanized pipe may have caught and retained lead particles. Deterioration of the pipe eventually releases these lead particles and the water can test positive for lead contamination. Given enough time, a deteriorating galvanized pipe will rust through and require replacement.

PVC pipe

The rated lifespan of PVC pipe is 50-70 years. Some testing shows that PVC pipes could potentially last 100 years or more. Although PVC pipe seems like it’s “new,” PVC was actually first used in Germany in 1932. It arrived in US homes in 1952, so PVC pipe that pre-dates 1968 is approaching the end of its useful life. True PVC pipe is rated for safe use only with cold water. CPVC pipe, a chemically similar cousin, is rated for use with both hot and cold water service. Some PVC pipe made before 1977 could potentially leach harmful chemicals into fresh water. PEX pipe – which is a flexible plastic hose – can also be used to connect fixtures to plumbing systems. Plastic pipes of any kind (PVC, CPVC, PEX) that are labeled “NSF-61” or “NSF-PW” have been certified as safe for carrying drinking water.

Lead

There are no safe ways to use lead in plumbing. Lead poses a serious human health hazard and can cause permanent damage and death. Lead should be removed from plumbing systems immediately, regardless of its age or condition.

(That’s all we have to say about lead.)

Ultimately, no plumbing lasts forever! If you’re considering replacing your plumbing, or you’re beginning to see signs of deterioration in your plumbing, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to evaluate your plumbing and make recommendations about repairs or replacement.

Photo Credit: Patrick FInnegan, via Flickr

Brown Friday: Tales from the Thanksgiving front

Brown Friday: Tales from the Thanksgiving frontBelieve it or not, the day after Thanksgiving (known as Brown Friday in plumbing circles) is one of the busiest plumbing days of the year. While that’s good for us, it’s not good for you. Who wants to deal with plumbing problems on Thanksgiving? In most cases, you can avoid inviting us to your home for the holiday by observing a few simple rules.

Preparing your toilet for holiday gatherings

Most holiday plumbing problems involve either the toilet or a drain – sometimes both. Let’s start with the toilet. If your toilet isn’t in great shape to begin with, adding 20 relatives to your bathroom isn’t going to help much. Your toilet might not be in great shape if you use the toilet as a water-driven garbage can. The only things that should find their way into your toilet are human waste and toilet paper. Don’t flush anything else – grease, cigarette butts, “flushable wipes,” sanitary products, diapers or even Kleenex down the toilet. Throw these items in the trash, and encourage your guests to do the same.

Check the toilet for leaks BEFORE your guests arrive. Toilets can leak from the tank into the bowl, or from the bowl onto the floor. (Yuck!) If your toilet is leaking from the tank to the bowl, you’ll want to fix this, but it’s probably not an urgent repair. You can get a flapper valve kit for the toilet at any home improvement store. They’re not hard to replace, and they can stop a running toilet in its tracks. Also, if the flush handle is loose, tighten it.

If your toilet is leaking from the bowl onto the floor, that requires attention immediately. The most likely cause of this kind of leak is the wax ring that seals the toilet to the soil pipe. If your toilet leaks when you flush it, or you notice unpleasant smells in the bathroom, you may need to replace the wax ring. Fix this kind of problem before your guests arrive.

Have a plunger on hand in every bathroom in your home.

Keep an eye on the kids to make sure they’re not sending Aquaman out on a reconnaissance mission.

Clear off the tank lids for quick access, just in case. Also test the shut-off valves for each toilet. If they work, great! If they don’t, replace them! They’re cheap, which is both why you’ll have to replace them periodically and also why you can afford to replace them when they break.

Keep your drains running clear

The first rule of having a plumber-free holiday is don’t dump the turkey grease down the drain. If you’ve ever let turkey (or chicken) drippings get cold in the pan, you’ll notice that poultry forms a gelatinous goo. This goo formation isn’t limited to your pans. It actually happens in your drains, too. It’s pretty effective at sealing off a drain, which can lead to backups and other problems. You may be thinking that hot water will help you. It will not. Hot water cools off as it moves through the drain. Your gooey turkey grease might melt in one spot, only to reconstitute farther down the drain, where the hot water can’t reach it. Hot water won’t solve your problem; it will only move it out of reach.

To get rid of turkey grease, pour it into a container with a lid and toss it in the trash. Old soda bottles, Gatorade bottles, milk jugs, etc., work fine for this. Some people reserve the turkey stock by refrigerating it. This causes the fat to rise and congeal. Skim the fat off the top and use the stock for soups or gravy. You can store stock in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it and use it whenever you want.

Be very selective about what you put down your garbage disposal. Certain foods – like celery, eggshells, coffee ground sand vegetable peels don’t do well in the disposal. Worse, they don’t do well in your drains. (Especially when they combine with turkey grease.) Also avoid sending pasta, potatoes, flour and rice down the drain. They can reconstitute in a cement-like way in your drains. Also, when you run the disposal, give it some extra water to make sure your food scraps make it all the way out to the street.

Clear your drains before your guests arrive. If your kitchen or bathroom drains are already running slow, don’t borrow trouble. Clear your drains using a healthy shot of baking soda with an equally healthy vinegar chaser. This combo will kill any organics that are growing in your drain, allowing other debris to move along. You can also use an enzymatic drain cleaner overnight to accomplish the same thing. If your drains are super-slow, you may have to manually clear them with a snake to get the water moving again.

If you run into big trouble, we do offer on-call service contracts for all of your plumbing and heating needs. Give us a call at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to help.

Photo Credit: Mr. TinDC, via Flickr.com

Thinking about a pot filler for Christmas?

Thinking about a pot filler for Christmas?A pot-filler is a luxury item that you can find in a higher-end kitchen. A pot filler is a swinging, articulated faucet that sits above your stove. Because it’s articulated, it can reach virtually any burner, and can help you fill a pot of water quickly. It also eliminates the need to carry a full pot of water from the sink to the stove.

Depending upon the design of your kitchen, the trip between the sink and stove might not be a big deal. But if you cook a lot, or use large pots while you’re cooking, a pot-filler can be indispensable. You can use the pot filler for more than filling pots, too. Some pot fillers have a flow rate of up to 4 gallons per minute. You can use it to water large houseplants, fill water bottles and other awkward containers (think portable humidifiers). When you’re not using the pot filler, it rests neatly against the wall.

To add a pot filler, you’ll need to add some plumbing. (Most kitchen designs don’t run water near the stove.) Once the plumbing is in place, adding a pot filler is as simple as adding a faucet. The pot filler is a cold-water-only fixture and you don’t need a drain, so the setup is simple.

A second water source in a busy kitchen can make a lot of sense. When you’re cooking, the sink tends to fill up with dirty dishes and food scraps. As you approach showtime, it can be difficult to get near the faucet! A pot filler can save the day, allowing you to get water, even when the sink says “No!”

Pot fillers are also handy for outdoor cooking areas. If you have a professional-grade outdoor kitchen, a pot filler can save trips back to the indoor kitchen. It’s also a great source of drinking water for your outdoor gatherings.

The fixtures range in price from about $150 to over $1,000. That doesn’t include the cost of the plumbing, but once you put a pot filler in your kitchen, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one!

If you’d like more information about adding a pot filler to your kitchen, or you’re planning a remodeling project and you want to include a pot filler, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911 to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: mel0808johnson , via Flickr.com