Long-term stress on pipes can result in plumbing leaks. And replacing plumbing in a 1,500 sq. ft. home is an expensive proposition ($2,000 to $15,000).
Instead, preserve the integrity of pipes and avoid plumbing leaks by checking water pressure and installing a water softener.
Reduce Water Pressure to Prevent Plumbing Leaks
As nice as high water pressure can be when you’re taking a shower or filling a stockpot, it stresses your pipes, increasing the likelihood of a plumbing leak. “That drastically reduces the life of your plumbing,” says Phoenix, Ariz., plumber Alex Sarandos. “It makes your pipe joints, faucets, and appliance valves work harder.”
You can measure your water pressure with a hose bib gauge, available at the hardware store for under $10. Attach it to an outside spigot and open the line. Normal pressure will register between 40 and 85 psi. If it’s above that range, consider hiring a plumber to install a pressure reducer (around $400).
By the way, you won’t reduce pressure by installing a low-flow shower head--it only affects the amount of water coming out of the shower head itself.
Soften Water to Reduce Stress on Plumbing
If your water has a high mineral content—known as hard water—it can shorten the lifespan of your home’s pipes, resulting in plumbing leaks. Those naturally occurring minerals, usually magnesium or calcium, build up inside pipes and restrict flow, increasing the pressure. Plus, they can corrode joints and fittings.
Although hard water can occur anywhere, it’s most common in the Southwest and parts of the Northeast. A white buildup on shower heads and faucets is a telltale sign of hard water. Or, if your house receives municipal water service, you can easily find out how hard it is. By law, every municipality must file an annual water quality report with the Environmental Protection Agency.
If you have a well, check your most recent water test report for hardness information. Anything over 140 parts per million is considered hard water. The only way to effectively deal with hard water is by installing a water softener. Most use sodium to counteract the minerals in your water, but new electronic softeners use electromagnetic pulses to dissolve minerals, and have the advantage of not adding sodium to your water.
You’ll need a plumber to install a traditional, sodium-based softener, for $500 to $1,500 in an average-size home. Electronic units start below $150, and because the pipes don’t have to be opened up, you can install one yourself. Plan an outlet nearby to power the unit.
Related: Caring for Your Plumbing System