Replumbing: 3 pipes to remove

Replumbing: Three kinds of pipe to get rid of today

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

Whole house replumbing

Whole house replumbing

Your plumbing is probably one of the most stable systems in your home. Unlike mechanical systems, your plumbing doesn’t require significant regular maintenance. Unfortunately, plumbing isn’t maintenance-free, and it won’t last forever, but it can last the better part of a century under the right conditions. What determines your plumbing’s lifespan, and when is whole house replumbing required?

Replumbing – what your pipes are telling you

The materials, the condition of your water and the environment usually determine how long your plumbing will last. The most common residential plumbing materials are brass, copper, galvanized steel, cast iron and plasticHigher quality materials – copper, galvanized steel, brass, and more recently PVC – are usually used on the supply side of your plumbing system. Cast iron, steel, lead and plastic are most commonly used on the drain side of your plumbing system.

Even though higher quality materials are used, water is naturally slightly acidic. Over time, the acidity can damage the pipe beyond repair. Complicating the matter is the fact that supply lines are always under pressure. Pressure is what makes the system work, but it can shorten the expected lifespan of your plumbing, particularly in areas served by a municipal water supply. The water department needs to deliver water with enough pressure to provide satisfactory water service. Unfortunately, the water often arrives “over-pressured.” If an overpressure situation persists for a long period of time, it can stress the pipes and pipe joints in your home, potentially causing their premature failure.

Between the water itself, the pipe material and the municipal water pressure, it should come as no surprise that residential plumbing has a finite life expectancy. But which materials last the longest, and how can you tell when whole house replumbing is called for?

Many people consider copper to be the “gold standard” of plumbing, but several factors determine how long copper pipes will perform safely. Copper pipes come in three different grades (K, L and M) which represent three different thicknesses of pipe. The thinnest of the three – Type M – has a thickness of .026 inches. Type K has a thickness of .049 inches – nearly twice that of Type M. Type L has a thickness of .04 inches. Naturally, the thicker the copper, the longer the pipe will last.

Copper that carries acidic water, or that is exposed to acids in the soil can break down to the point of replacement in 20-30 years. Copper that carries more neutral water, was installed properly and is used in a protected environment may last 80-100 years before it needs to be replaced. Copper can develop pinhole leaks as it deteriorates. Such leaks should be considered potential signs of copper failure.

Copper can be damaged when it is first installed, even if the leaks don’t show up until later. Not removing the acid flux immediately after soldering pipe joints, for example, is probably the most common cause of corrosive damage to copper. Deteriorating copper will leach into the fresh water inside the pipe, and can cause health problems, so if your copper is failing or near failure, you’ll want to replace it quickly.

In the next post, we’ll look at galvanized pipe, brass and PVC, and how they may fit into a whole house replumbing plan. If you’d like to consult with us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, 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: Joe Thorn, via