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The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging Plumbing

The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging Plumbing

Last 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 house

Most 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.

Photo Credit: ilovebutter, via Flickr