If you own a home or intend to buy one, it pays to know about piping materials. Below we’ll go into more detail about five different piping materials that you may encounter, including which types pose a risk to you or your home.
1. Lead Piping
Lead used to be the material of choice for plumbing due to its malleability and resistance to pinhole leaks. Nowadays, lead piping is not nearly as common as it once was because lead is widely known and proven to be a toxic material.
While it’s rare to find a home with lead piping anymore, many people are shocked to learn that their home still has lead faucets and plumbing fixtures or even lead solder holding their plumbing pipes together. Plumbing Manufacturers International reports that a large number of homes built before the 1980s have lead solder connecting copper pipes.
For the health of your household and anyone exposed to your home’s water, it’s essential to get lead removed from your home’s plumbing. Even at low exposure levels, lead’s toxicity is harmful, especially for children.
2. Galvanized Steel Piping
Before 1960, galvanized piping was commonly installed in homes as an alternative to lead piping. Galvanization refers to a zinc coating meant to protect against rust and corrosion. It wasn’t until later that people learned that this plumbing material was highly susceptible to corrosion on the inside of the piping.
When the buildup of corrosion occurs, the first warning sign is typically low water pressure. If not replaced, the pipes can eventually rupture due to the way the corrosion restricts water flow.
3. Polybutylene Piping
Polybutylene piping (AKA. poly piping) was very popular between 1978 and 1995. Plumbers installed the material in over 10 million U.S. homes during that time. This came to an end due to the discovery of one major flaw with this plumbing material. Public water supplies contain a variety of disinfectants, and those disinfectants react in a way with polybutylene that causes the piping to become brittle. As time goes on, and the reactions continue, polybutylene piping gets weaker and weaker until it breaks and leaks.
4. Copper Piping
Copper is a highly desirable piping material for several reasons, including its durability. It has a lifespan of about 70 years (often more), and unlike poly piping, it can withstand water treated with disinfectants. Copper itself is resistant to bacteria growth. You can even use copper indoors or outdoors. Besides, copper is an excellent thermal insulator and helps to preserve water temperatures as they travel through your plumbing system.
As with any plumbing material, there are a few downsides to copper. Over time, if exposed to corrosive or acidic water, they can develop pinhole leaks. It is also more costly to repipe your home with copper than with plastic (PEX) piping–although it’s worth noting that repiping with copper will add value to your property.
If you own a home with copper piping, there’s a good chance that the piping is still in good shape and will be for many years to come.
5. PEX Piping
PEX piping is another highly desirable piping material for a multitude of reasons. This material is an excellent thermal insulator and resistant to corrosion. It also has a unique advantage in that it’s a flexible piping material. This means that it needs fewer connections between pipes, which in turn reduces the risk of leaks. PEX piping’s flexibility also allows it to expand if water freezes in the pipes, which lowers the risk of a frozen pipe bursting.
Using PEX generally costs less than copper, although, in terms of lifespan, PEX lasts approximately 40 to 50 years, whereas copper can last well over 70 years. It’s also essential to make sure that PEX piping is accepted in your area’s municipal code before repiping with it.