Know your pipes

Review the home inspection report you got when you bought your home to see what kind of pipes you have—or bring in a licensed plumber to do an inspection of your plumbing system. Expect to pay at least $75 for a plumber’s service call.

Your plumbing lifespan

 

Supply pipes (under constant pressure and therefore most likely to cause water damage when they leak)

Brass

Copper

Galvanized steel

40-70+ yrs

50+ yrs

20-50 yrs

 

Drain lines

Cast iron

Polyvinyl chloride (known as PVC)

75-100 yrs

Indefinitely

If your pipes are older than these guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Residential Rehabilitation Inspection Guide, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be replaced. Well-maintained pipes may last longer, and poorly maintained ones or those in areas with hard water (meaning it has high mineral content), may fail sooner.

Check for polybutylene

Polybutylene piping—a gray, plastic plumbing material used from the 1970s through the 1990s—is extremely prone to breakage. It’s commonly found in homes in the Sun Belt, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Pacific Northwest.

If you suspect your home has polybutylene pipes, have a plumber inspect the system immediately. You can’t assess their condition with a simple visual check, as the exterior of the pipes may appear fine. Chlorinated water causes these pipes to flake from the inside out, which ultimately results in the pipes failing without warning.

Getting the lead out

Lead pipes, used in the early 1900s, have a life expectancy of 100 years, but they can leach lead into your drinking water, a potential health hazard. Lead pipes are typically dull gray and the surface of the pipe can be easily scratched with a knife or key.

If you suspect that your home has lead water pipes, have the water tested. If results show the lead content at 15 parts per billion (15 ppb) or more, call in a professional plumber to replace your home’s lead pipes.