The pipes used in your home’s or business’ plumbing can be expected to last a long time, though how long depends on a number of factors. There are many different materials used for plumbing pipe but by far the most common is copper. Copper piping that is not compromised can last 50 years or more, but that lifespan can be greatly reduced by such things as the mineral content and the pH of your water supply. Also, copper piping that has been bent will be thinner on the outside of the bend and that can lead to leaks in as little as 2 years.
Copper Piping in Vancouver
The water in the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia is quite pristine, being low in mineral content and therefore “soft”. That means it is also slightly acidic and can cause rapid deterioration of copper plumbing. However, the Metro Vancouver Water District has been adding small amounts of sodium carbonate to the water supply since 2011 in order to raise pH levels to 8 in an effort to combat the problem.
Repairing copper pipe is not especially difficult, though getting at it can be. A common problem for do-it-yourselfers is inexperience in soldering which leads to leakage very early. Solder smoke is somewhat toxic, too, so taking care not to inhale it is very important. Unless you are proficient at soldering copper, and the pipe you want to replace is in an exposed area, it is best to have professional plumbers do the work for you.
Other Water Supply Pipe Materials
Lead pipe, which has been illegal for decades, can last for a full century and is still found occasionally in older homes. The problem with lead, which can be identified by its dull, grey color and the ease with which it can be scratched, is that it poisons your drinking water. Should your home or office have lead water pipes, it is important to have your drinking water tested for lead poisoning. And you should never repair lead pipe but have it professionally replaced.
From the early 1970s and into the 1990s, polybutylene, a grey plastic, was commonly used for water supply pipes. This material is very prone to cracking and leaking much sooner than other pipe materials. A visual inspection won’t help in determining if polybutylene is nearing the end of its life, because it deteriorates from the inside out.
Any building with polybutylene pipes should be evaluated by a professional plumber with an eye towards replacing it before damaging leaks become common.
DIY Pipe Repair Tips
PVC has been a plumbing staple for decades and a handyman’s dream. In general, it is inexpensive and easy to work with. But it may not be as simple to repair as you may have heard. There is a proper procedure that involves sanding, cleaning joints with the proper solution, then applying a primer and lastly the PVC glue. Failure to do it all properly spells disaster, so it’s best to just have a certified plumber do it.
No, plumbers don’t come cheap, but the risks associated with doing it yourself are pretty scary, not to mention potentially very costly.
A relatively new water supply pipe material in North America, PEX or cross-linked polyethylene, is much less likely to corrode than other supply pipe materials and has the added advantage of being less likely to crack when frozen. PEX has been used very successfully for over 30 years in Europe and is designed to last 70 years (provided it is not damaged by external factors). Talk to your local plumbing professional about replacing older plumbing with PEX for its durability, ease of installation, low cost and longevity.
Consult a Plumbing Professional
Repairing plumbing clearly isn’t as simple as it was once thought to be. Many considerations have to be taken and only a certified plumber, who has the training, experience and tools to do the job right should be looking after your plumbing. Peace of mind, your family’s safety and even your property’s resale value are all strong reasons why you need a professional when you need plumbing repairs done.