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Plumbing Upgrade: When & How to Replace Your Pipes

Updated on October 1, 2017

Like most everything, the plumbing system in a home cannot not last forever. Depending on the age of a home and it's pipes, a full replacement may be needed right away. Even with new homes, particular materials used for the pipes may only last a couple decades before requiring new ones. There are also other factors that may accelerate the aging of the plumbing, but in any circumstance, it will eventually be required. For home owners in that situation currently, here are additional details on when a full replacement is required and how to get started with the process.

Pipe Materials & Lifespan

Knowing the type of plumbing in a home is important for planning based on how long the system will last. The home inspection report obtained with a purchased home can provide information on their composition. A plumber can also do an inspection of the pipes as well.

There are two types of pipes that each have their own common materials used. The breakdown, along with their lifespan, is as follows:

Type
Material
Lifespan
Supply
Brass
80-100 years
Supply
Copper
70-80 years
Supply
Galvanized Steel
50 years
Drain
Cast Iron
80-100 years
Drain
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
25-40 years

Two other types of pipes are also sometimes found, but should be immediately replaced regardless of their age. Lead pipes, used in the early 1900's, have a life expectancy of 100 years, but can cause a serious health hazard. Polybutylene pipes, used from between the 1970's and the 1990's, are extremely prone to breakage.

If the pipes in a home have reached their average lifespan, it doesn't mean that a replacement is immediately required. Well maintained pipes may last beyond the suggested times. However, plumbing without proper maintenance or in areas with hard water may fail sooner. That is why it is important to always be observant of the plumbing system in a home.

Signs For Replacement

It is important to check for signs of failure at least once a year, particularly if a home is more than 60 years in age. A quick way to test if replacement may be needed in an old home is to turn on the hot water. If the pressure is low, the house may have galvanized pipes that have corroded or plugged up. With a visual inspection of exposed pipes, discoloration, stains, dimpling, pimples or flaking are also signs of corrosion and a potentially failing system. If any other irregularities are found, a plumber should be contacted for further inspection.

Leaks are another indicator of a plumbing system reaching its final years, even with small leaks that are easily repaired. The entire system is of the same age and experience the same usage, so it is likely that they will fail as well. In the case of galvanized steel, it is important not to correct it in parts but to replace the entire plumbing system at once.

Best Time to Replace

It is highly recommended that any attempt to complete a plumbing system upgrade is during a project involving other renovations. This allows access to the interior in one setting rather than tackling it individually, which can minimize the cost in the long run. Already exposed pipes can also be taken care of right away, while the concealed parts can be addressed with other work, like a bathroom remodel.

Cost & Benefit

There are several factors that contribute to the end cost or a plumbing system upgrade, but on average, the cost falls between $1,500 and $15,000. On average, it will be about a week of work, which also means that some of the essential rooms in a home will be unavailable during that time. It is therefore important to ensure that the replacement is, in fact, needed before committing to the time and cost of the project. If unsure that a full replacement is needed right away based off information available, check with a trusted plumbing professional.

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