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Silt And Sediment Can Cause Plumbing Problems

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission periodically does work on the water infrastructure. Local water main replacements and repairs can leave homeowners without water for a period of time, but they can also introduce silt and sediment into residential Boston plumbing once service is restored.

Larger silt and sediment particles can collect in hot water tanks and the faucet filters on most sink fixtures in a home. It can also collect in the valves on washing machines, dishwashers and other appliances. If you have a whole-house water filter, you may find that your filter becomes clogged more quickly than normal following water main repair or replacement. Other “events” like the opening of a fire hydrant, can also dislodge silt and sediment, sending it into fresh water supply pipes.

To ensure that your faucets are running free and clear, periodically remove the faucet filter and clear out any sediment, debris or mineralization that may have become trapped or built up in the filter. Doing this regularly will improve the flow of water through your faucet and will help prevent leaks and longer term damage to the fixture. Regular maintenance on your hot water tank should also help keep sediment build-up down.

If BWSC replaces or repairs a water main in your area, or if a nearby fire hydrant is opened, purge your pipes by opening an unfiltered cold water tap, such as a bathtub or wash tub. Let the water flow freely for several minutes to help flush out any sediment that might otherwise make its way to a filtered fixture. After you’ve purged your water line, check the filtered fixtures about once per week to remove any residual silt or sediment particles. Do this weekly until you no longer find sediment in your filters. Then check your filters monthly to remove any stray materials. Keep in mind that water main work or the use of a fire hydrant can increase sedimentation in the fresh water supply for weeks or months afterward.

If you notice a high degree of sedimentation in your fresh water supply even if no water main work has been done recently, you may have a problem with the deterioration of your supply pipes. Copper and PVC don’t deteriorate like other materials do, but galvanized and cast iron supply pipes can produce a lot of sediment when the pipe begins to fail.

Galvanized or iron pipe could be a dull silver, rust or black color. The sediment particles are most likely rust. While they’re not harmful, they’re not very appetizing, and they can also discolor the water, and stain sink fixtures, toilets and clothing in the washing machine.

If you have a problem with sedimentation build-up in your faucet fixtures, or rust staining in your sinks, toilets or laundry appliances, please call us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll evaluate the status of your galvanized plumbing and make a recommendation.

Many Different Kinds Of Pipes In Residential Boston Plumbing

Your home may contain an odd collection of pipes, with some runs being made of one material, and other runs being made of other materials. Often, a mixture of materials can signal problems that may have been addressed by former owners of your home in Boston. Plumbing materials have changed over time, and I thought it might be useful to identify some of the most common plumbing materials.

Copper
Copper is the “gold standard” when it comes to plumbing materials. Copper is typically used on the supply side of the system. That is, copper pipes carry fresh water into your home, to your taps and water-using appliances. Copper is a metal, and has a distinctive orange color. In certain circumstances, copper can change color from orange to green. This usually happens with exposure to air.
Copper pipes can also be used to provide an electrical ground point for your home’s wiring. If you do your own wiring, only use cold water lines to provide an electrical ground. A ground fault that is dissipated through a hot water pipe can set up a galvanic reaction that can destroy the pipe, and leave a steamy mess behind.

Another copper caveat: if the pH of your water is naturally below 6.5, copper can leach out of the pipes into the water at levels that are considered unhealthy. Special filters can remove excess copper. Another approach is to raise the pH of the water at the intake to prevent copper leaching.

Galvanized Pipe
At various times, copper has been in short supply, so other less expensive materials have been used to on the supply side of residential plumbing. Galvanized pipe, which is often black in color, was used heavily in some home construction after World War II, but it is not commonly used today as a “first-choice” material. Galvanized pipe is treated iron pipe that can safely carry fresh water and natural gas.

Because it is made of iron, galvanized pipe can and does rust over time. Smaller diameter fresh water pipes are especially prone to this kind of long-term damage. Rust can build up in a galvanized pipe and is discharged from a faucet when the tap is opened. Over time, the rust can stain sink, tub and toilet fixtures. Many homeowners have chosen to replace galvanized pipe with more expensive copper or less expensive PVC to avoid the side effects of the long-term deterioration of galvanized pipe.

Plastic
There are a number of different plastics that have been (and are) used for residential plumbing. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe is a white plastic material that can be used on both the supply side and the discharge side of a residential plumbing system. Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) is also used, as is flexible plastic supply tubing known as PEX. PEX can be used for short runs, but it can also be used under floors, in crawl spaces and in radiant heat systems. PEX is less prone to freeze damage than other piping materials, and does not require chemical epoxies for joints or connections.

Brass
Brass piping can be used in residential applications, but it tends to be expensive. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The best grade of brass pipe has about 85% copper and has a distinctive reddish color. The lowest acceptable grade brass pipe has a copper content of about 67%. Generally, the lower the copper content, the more vulnerable the pipe is to deterioration. Using non-brass fittings with brass pipe can also set up a deteriorating reaction.

High quality brass is not affected by water and does not rust. It is a good choice for hot water supply lines and may be a suitable replacement for galvanized pipe. Brass is also widely used in plumbing fixtures, fittings and valves.

Lead
And then there’s lead. Even though the health implications of lead plumbing have been well documented, many older homes had (or still have) lead supply lines that connect the home to the municipal water supply. Lead supplies are easy to identify because they have a distinctive dull gray color, and are soft enough to be scratched by a screwdriver or similar tool.

Municipal water systems typically don’t have any lead supply lines left. If you have a lead water supply line carrying fresh water to your home, or think you may, contact us for advice on replacing your lead supply line with one made from a safer material. Lead should be removed from plumbing systems since it is a known hazard to human health.

If you need help identifying your pipes, or would like an estimate on pipe repairs or replacements, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911 anytime!