Piping Materials: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Do you know what type of plumbing pipes your home has? If you own an older home, it may have even more than one type inside its walls. While some piping materials are known to stand the test of time, others can lead to problems with leaks, water pressure, and water quality if not replaced.

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 was once the material of choice for plumbing due to its ability to be easily shaped while also being incredibly resistant 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. In fact, 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 important 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

Prior to 1960, galvanized piping was commonly installed in homes as an alternative to lead piping. The steel pipes were dipped into a zinc coating that was 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 built into over 10 million U.S. homes from 1978 to 1995. 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 desireable piping material for a number of reasons, including its durability. Copper piping has a lifespan of about 70 years (often more), and unlike poly piping, it is able to withstand water treated with disinfectants. In fact, copper itself is resistant to bacteria growth and can be used indoors or outdoors. In addition, copper is considered a good 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 copper pipes are 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 desireable 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.

PEX piping 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. PEX piping should only be installed where it will not be exposed to sunlight, so it’s important to avoid installing it outdoors. It’s also important to make sure that PEX piping is accepted in your area’s municipal code before repiping with it.

Whether your home is in need of partial or whole-house repiping, our Houston repiping experts can provide you unmatched service. Contact us online or call at (832) 662-6177 for a free, in-person estimate.