In the last few posts, we’ve looked at some common materials that are used in residential plumbing, and their life expectancy. Today, we’ll look at three kinds of pipe that could have made their way into your plumbing system, and if they’re still there, they’ve outlasted their welcome. They are lead, polybutylene and bituminous fiber pipe.
Replumbing – bag these losers at any cost!
Three kinds of pipe should be removed immediately, regardless of their condition: lead pipes, polybutylene pipes and bituminous fiber pipe. Lead is known to be toxic to human health and was used widely in residential plumbing until the 1930s. Lead can still be found in supply lines linking the municipal water supply to the end user’s premises. It can also be found in plumbing solder joints that were made before 1986. Lead can leach into fresh water standing in supply pipes, and can cause an elevated blood lead level.
Recently, some cities, including Boston, have come under fire for the testing methods they used to identify elevated levels of lead in drinking water. Don’t count on lead pipes to fail, either. Some lead pipes installed by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago are still in place. Replumbing lead pipes anywhere in your plumbing system is urgent. You may be able to take advantage of special financing through the BWSC to get rid of lead pipes immediately.
Polybutylene pipe was used extensively in new residential construction between 1978 and 1995. It was used widely in the southern United States, as well as in the Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest. Polybutylene pipe is usually blue, black or gray in color. It reacts with chlorine and chloramines in the water, which can cause the pipes to fail at any time. Polybutylene pipe was the subject of a $1B class action settlement and is no longer on the market. If you have polybutylene pipe in your home, immediate replumbing as a precaution should be a high priority.
Unlike the other two kinds of pipe, bituminous fiber pipe (a/k/a Orangeburg pipe) was only used on the drain side of your plumbing. It doesn’t touch your drinking water, but it can be hidden beneath your home, serving pretty incompetently as your sewer pipe. Bituminous fiber is not substantial enough to resist long term exposure to water and tree root invasions. It will fail and it can leave you with a huge mess. If you have it, today would be a good day to get rid of it!
As a general rule-of-thumb, any signs of wear, the appearance of flaking, rust or discoloration on the outside of your pipes, the development of leaks (big or small), unpleasant odors, tastes or changes in the appearance of your tap water are all signs of age-related failures in pipes, regardless of their actual age. If you’re contemplating a whole house replumbing, having your water tested first is a good idea. An independent lab can conduct tests for the presence of toxins, metals and other contaminants. The tests can also identify the pH of your water. More acidic water will cause premature pipe deterioration, but there are steps you can take to reduce the acidity of your water and extend the lifespan of new plumbing components and water-consuming appliances.
In the case of Orangeburg pipe, a video inspection of your sewer line can not only reveal problems, but also identify exactly where leaks and breaks have occurred.
If you’d like to consult with us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating about the current condition of your plumbing, or any potential replumbing in your home, please give us a call anytime at (617) 288-2911. We can identify weakened plumbing components and help you develop a repair/replacement strategy that suits your situation.
Photo Credit: Amphopolis, via Flickr.com
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