Keep an Eye on Your Pipes

by Dan Krell
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Whether you own an old home or a new home, maintenance is the key to keep your home in top condition. Obviously older homes require a different level of maintenance compared to a new home. However, no matter how old your home may be, you want to keep an eye on your pipes.

If your home was built in the early part of last century, your pipes could be lead or galvanized steel. Lead pipes have the tendency to leach lead in your drinking water. Since lead has been identified as a hazardous material, it is not an ideal for indoor water delivery. Because of the inherent dangers, most lead pipes have already been replaced; however if you still have lead pipes in your home, you should consider having the pipes replaced. You can access a wealth of information about lead at the EPA website: www.EPA.gov/lead.

Another type of pipe used in older homes is galvanized steel pipes. Steel pipes that were used at the time had a tendency to rust, so the thought was that by galvanizing the steel pipes rust on the outside of the pipes would be inhibited. The problem that developed was that galvanized steel pipes rust from the inside out. The rust builds up on the inside and consequently reduces water pressure. Additionally, these pipes have had a history of leaking and bursting. As a result, some insurance companies will not underwrite a home with galvanized plumbing.

Many homes built in the 1980’s and early 1990’s had plumbing with polybutylene pipes. Polybutylene was supposed to be the pipe of the future, as it was inexpensive and easy to install. Polybutylene pipes have had a checkered past as they have a history of leaking and bursting. The problem stemmed a class action suite against Shell, the manufacturer of the polybutylene resin used in these pipes. Although polybutylene pipes are no longer being installed, many homes continue to use these pipes as the internal water delivery system. If you have polybutylene pipes, you can get more information about the class action suite, replacing the pipes and other information at www.pbpipe.com.

Presently, the most common source of water delivery in the home is through copper and PVC pipes. Although considered reliable and safe, copper and PVC pipes have had their problems as well. Copper pipes can develop pinhole leaks; locally, WSSC has been researching this problem for a solution (www.wssc.dst.md.us/copperpipe/pinholescroll.cfm). Additionally, lead solder used to connect the pipes can leach lead into the water; new lead free solder is now being used to eliminate this problem. Alternatively, PVC pipe is cheap, easy to install, and durable; however, there is some controversy that surrounds PVC as it is associated with a carcinogen, dioxin, which is released when PVC is produced and if it is incinerated.

No matter what type of pipe is in your home, general maintenance can minimize potential problems. You should know the location of the main water shut-off valves; periodically inspect pipes for leakage; make sure all plumbing fixtures are firmly secured; outdoor faucets should be shut off from the interior and drained; and be sure pipes in areas such as crawl spaces are protected from freezing. For more specific safety and maintenance information regarding your pipes, you can contact the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (www.phccweb.org).

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally pubished in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of 1/8/2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.