If you're like most homeowners, then you know how to clear a drain with a plunger and to call the plumber if you notice a leak. However, you may not know what material your supply pipes are made from — the pipes that bring water into your home. While this knowledge may not benefit you on a daily basis, it will come in handy if you ever start experiencing problems with your pipes.
Your supply lines may be made of these four primary materials. Read on to learn about different piping materials and how they can affect your home plumbing.
Copper has been the supply line material of choice for many years. It has a very long lifespan, does not accumulate mineral deposits as quickly as other minerals, and is resistant to corrosion. Copper pipes last at least 50 years, and often much longer if they are cared for properly.
If you have a home with relatively new copper pipes, then you should not have to worry much about leaks, low water pressure, and other problems for a long time. To find out if you have copper pipes, locate one of your supply pipes in the basement and give it a scrape with a screwdriver. If the exposed metal shines like a new penny, that's a copper pipe.
If you have a home built before 1960, then your supply lines may be made from galvanized steel. This has a color resembling stainless steel or nickel when scratched. Galvanized steel pipes work well when they are new, but as the zinc coating wears away from their interiors, they start rusting and accumulating mineral deposits.
Most galvanized steel pipes last 50 years before they start having problems. Because they have not been installed since 1960, this means that if you have steel pipes in your home, they are on their way out. Pay attention to problems like low water pressure, small leaks, and rust in the water. When you start noticing these issues, have your plumber replace your pipes.
PEX is a rather new innovation in plumbing technology — you'll only have PEX supply lines if your home was built within the last 10 – 15 years. This material is not rigid like your typical pipe material. Instead, it is flexible like a garden hose. By looking at the exposed pipes in your basement, you should be able to see if they are made from PEX.
PEX is very durable and resistant to leaks. Because all PEX supply systems are new, you should not have any trouble with it for many years. However, you do need to be careful not to let your PEX supply lines freeze during winter weather. Multiple freeze-thaw cycles can weaken the material and cause leaks.
Are your supply lines made from a rigid, blue or black, plastic-like material? This is polybutylene, a material sometimes used to make supply lines between 1978 and 1995. Most homes with polybutylene pipes have had those pipes replaced because the material was found to fail spontaneously — leading to extensive leaks.
Be careful not to confuse polybutylene pipes with polyvinyl-chloride (PVC) pipes. PVC is often used for drain lines — the pipes that carry waste water away from your home. They are not typically used for supply lines, the pipes that bring water into your home. PVC drain lines are standard and safe in homes.
If your home has polybutylene supply pipes, then you may wish to have them replaced sooner rather than later. Even if they appear to be in good shape, they are at risk of bursting and flooding your home. Your plumber can re-pipe your home with PEX or copper pipes for greater safety.
Once you know what your plumbing supply lines are made from, you know what problems to watch out for and when you may need to have your pipes replaced. If you do have galvanized steel or polybutylene supply pipes that need to be replaced, contact the experts at Hansen Plumbing Inc.