Common Issues That Older Plumbing Creates

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Older houses provide a lot of character and architectural beauty that often times cannot be found in newer homes. However, if you are thinking about purchasing an older home you should be aware of some of the issues that older homes may possess. One problem that you might not think about when you purchase an older home is issues with plumbing due to the pipes used for the plumbing system.

What Types Of Pipes Causes Problem?

Older homes often times are outfitted with galvanized pipes or pipes made from plastic polybutylene. Both of these pipes can cause potential problems with the plumbing in your home.

Galvanized pipes are pipes that are made out of steel that have been coated in a layer of zinc. The zinc layer on galvanized pipes was applied in order to protect pipes from exterior elements and deterioration from exposure. Galvanized pipes were almost always used for plumbing in homes built before 1960.

Polybutylene plastic pipes started to be using in the 60s, and were commonly used into the 90s. These types of pipes were a popular option to their low price and their ease of installation.

Both of these types of pipes, although functional and practical at the time, started to exhibit different problems years after installation.

What Problems Could Arise?

There are a myriad of issues that arise from both older galvanized steel pipes, as well as plastic polybutylene pipes. Galvanized pipes create a number of problems due to their zinc coating, as well as the steel that they were made out of:

  • Lead Poisoning - The most dangerous problem with older galvanized pipes is the possibility of lead leaking into your water supply. In years past, lead lines were used to supply the water from cities into homes. This lead accumulated in galvanized pipes in homes, and can be released into the water passing through the pipes.
  • Clogging - The zinc coating used on galvanized pipes easily breaks down and causes rust and corrosion within the pipes. This rust and corrosion can become so thick that water can no longer travel through the pipes. It also can cause low water pressure, or expansion of the pipes leading to leaks.
  • Reactions To Modern Plumbing - If the previous owner used copper pipes in some areas to replace their galvanized pipes, but not for the whole plumbing system, problems arise. When copper and the galvanized pipes are joined the dissimilar metals touching creates a reaction that leads the breakdown of these two metals and corrosion. This can potentially cause cracking where the joints meet, creating leaks.

Polybutylene pipes are not without their own issues. Chlorine and other oxidants that are abundant in the water supply react negatively in these pipes and can cause a few problems:

  • Brittleness - The reaction of chlorine with the polybutylene causes these pipes to flake and become brittle. This leads to debris in your water. It also can lead to breakage in certain areas of the plumbing.
  • Microfractures - Microfractures are tiny cracks in the piping. These fractures aren't problematic when one or two are present. However, polybutylene pipes tend to create a large number of microfractures. An abundance of microfractures leads to total failure of the pipes. This is dangerous as microfractures are hard to spot, and total failure can happen before you even know there is a problem.

What You Can Do About It

The solution to problem pipes made out of these materials is usually not simple. Unfortunately, if your home has galvanized pipes often times the only option is to remove all of the plumbing and outfit your home with modern plumbing. Galvanized pipes have been shown to have a very short life span, up to about 40 years, and depending on the year your house was built your pipes might already be failing.

Polybutylene pipes have an even shorter life span, and even if you haven't experienced any issues with pipes made out of polybutylene, your best bet is to have them replaced before they cause larger issues in your home. Often times polybutylene pipes were only used as connecting joints, not for the whole home's plumbing systems, which makes these problem pipes easy to remove and replace.

Don't let older pipes dissuade you from purchasing an older home. Often times there are issues with only parts of the plumbing system, and problems might not ever arise. However, if you do purchase an older home, you should have a plumber from places like Plumb Perfect Professional Plumbing give your home's pipes a thorough check-up before you start using them to ensure that they won't become problematic.


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