Signs You Should Consider Whole House Repiping

Even the most thorough and high-quality plumbing jobs will need to be replaced at some point, usually decades after the work has been completed. If you live in an older home and are experiencing plumbing issues, deciding between repairs to existing pipes and a full, whole-house residential repiping can be difficult. There are some factors that can make your decision easier, signaling that full repiping is in order.

You’re Concerned About Pipe Materials

Homes that were built in the 1900s may have beautiful architectural details and beautiful fixtures, but the plumbing could be harboring a silently lurking menace. During the turn of the twentieth century, the most common material used for water supply pipes was lead. Because lead pipes can leach lead into your drinking water, they could be replaced as soon as possible. Homes built from the early 1970s through the 1990s may have polybutylene pipes, which can degrade over time and cause severe property damage upon failure.

Other Signs of Trouble

When leaks occur frequently, they can be repaired fairly easily. These repairs are just that, though: quick fixes. They are not permanent, and aren’t a substitute for repiping. Water that runs brown or yellow, especially after sitting in the pipes for quite some time, is a sign of rust in the pipes. Rust is a form of decay, and can signal compromised integrity of your pipes.

Consult a Reputable Professional

While there are a few telltale signs that your pipes should be fully replaced, the most reliable indicator of an impending need for replacement is the professional opinion of a trusted, respected licensed plumbing contractor. Setting up an inspection and consultation with a qualified plumber can help you determine when your pipes should be replaced.

What is Polybutylene Piping?

Millions of American homeowners have polybutylene piping in their homes, and may be unaware of the problems that these pipes can cause. In the 1970s, polybutylene pipes were lauded as “the pipe of the future,” due to their relatively low cost when compared to copper piping and how easily they could be installed. By the 1980s, it became apparent that polybutylene or “plastic” piping could actually be quite problematic.

Why is Polybutylene Piping a Problem?

Water supply line pipes made of gray plastic polybutylene can begin to break down and flake apart over time due to a manufacturing flaw. Chemicals like chlorine, which is found our water supply, can exacerbate the issue and compromise poly pipes even further. When polybutylene piping failure occurs, it can be unexpected and can cause significant damage to your property and cherished possessions. Faulty installation can also contribute to the failure of polybutylene pipes, which tend to degrade more as time passes. If you don’t know how old your polybutylene piping is, you may be in for quite an unpleasant surprise, as older pipes are far more likely to fail as they age. Problems from a compromised poly pipe structure also occur inside the pipe, making it difficult to predict simply from examining the pipes’ exteriors.

Polybutylene and Homeowners Insurance Complications

While not all polybutylene pipes are guaranteed to fail, they are significantly more likely to degrade to the point of causing property damage over time than piping comprised of other materials. They’re so likely to cause trouble, in fact, that some homeowners insurance companies have a policy of canceling coverage upon discovery of polybutylene piping or refusing coverage to those homes outright.

What to Expect During a Whole House Repiping

If you own a home that’s more than sixty years old, or suspect that you may have significant plumbing problems, you may be considering a full, whole-house repiping project. Deterioration and degradation can affect even the best plumbing jobs over time, creating the necessity for removal and replacement eventually. If you’ve had more than one pinhole leak over the course of a year, repiping your home may be a better choice than simple repairs of existing pipes.

What Does Repiping Entail?

To properly complete a full residential repiping job, a licensed plumber who specializes in such large jobs will need to remove all of the cold and hot water lines from your home or disable them, replacing them with new pipes through the interior of your walls and through the attic. For homes built on a slab with piping that runs under the concrete, a qualified plumber will install new pipes either through your attic or by digging around the outside of your home, but will not be able to remove the existing piping without causing severe structural damage.

How Long Does Repiping Take?

There is no hard and fast answer for how long a repiping project will take, because no two jobs are the same. However, most projects can be completed in as little as one day. Qualified plumbing contractors will make a point of completing the work as quickly as they possibly can, with minimal interruption. Looking for a plumbing contractor that will also repair and repaint damaged drywall will also help to speed things up, streamlining the entire process and eliminating the need to hire more than one contractor.

Problems With Polybutylene Pipes

If you own or are currently in the market for a new home, you’ve probably been warned about polybutylene piping at some point during the process. While some unsolicited advice may not be wholly worthwhile, warnings about poly piping are. There are a variety of reasons why you’ll want to make sure that all polybutylene piping in your home is replaced, most of which boil down to expensive and potentially serious property damage.

What’s Wrong with Polybutylene Pipes?

Polybutylene piping was used during the construction of millions of American properties in the 1970s and was quite popular due to its ease of installation and relatively low price in comparison to copper pipes. Over time, however, it became apparent that the structural integrity of polybutylene pipes could be easily compromised. To further complicated matters, poly pipes degrade from the inside, making it almost impossible to spot potential problems by simply examining the exterior. Degradation of polybutylene pipes can lead to significant property damage, and failures can occur with little to no advance warning.

Polybutylene Pipes and Your Homeowners Insurance

Because of the extensive damage that polybutylene piping failure can cause and the likelihood of sucha failure occurring, many homeowners’ insurance companies will deny coverage on properties with poly pipes or even cancel existing policies upon discovery of them. The problem of polybutylene pipe failure was so widespread that a class action lawsuit was settled in 1995, allowing involved homeowners to replace their pipes with money from a settlement fund. A full polybutylene pipe replacement is a big job and is serious enough that only licensed plumbers with extensive experience and a specialization in performing them should be hired to complete the work.

Polybutylene Pipe Replacement

Polybutylene pipes may have been considered “the pipe of the future” in the 1970s, but their unforeseen tendency to break down over time has led to a dramatic change in their reputation. These days, poly piping is considered such a ticking time bomb that some homeowners insurance carriers are opting to cancel coverage or deny policies altogether for properties that have it.

Replacing the Pipes in a Vacant Home

If you’re in the process of purchasing a new home and you know that it contains polybutylene piping, you’re better off to replace it as soon as possible and to do so before moving in. You may even be able to roll the cost of replacing those problematic pipes with your mortgage, and it’s far easier for your plumbing contractor to manage the project when your home is vacant. A plumber that specializes in polybutylene pipe replacement will usually offer what’s known as a “turnkey job,” replacing not only the faulty piping but also repairing the necessary damage to drywall and paint.

Replacing Polybutylene Pipes in an Inhabited Home

If you’re currently living in a home with recently discovered polybutylene piping, the process of replacement is a bit more complicated. All of the polybutylene pipes must be located and removed, then replaced with either PVC or CPVC pipes. They’re typically found in attics, crawl spaces and water heater closets, and are usually installed under existing insulation. While it may take a bit longer to complete a polybutylene pipe replacement project in a home you’re inhabiting, a qualified plumber who specializes in poly pipe removal can usually complete all work within one week.

Buying a Home? Check for Polybutylene Piping

With interest rates at record lows, house prices near rock bottom, and sellers anxious to get rid of their homes in an overcrowded market, now is a terrific opportunity to get a great deal on a nice home.  New home construction is still slow, so most home buyers are looking at re-sales.

If you are looking at re-sales (previously owned homes), be sure to have the home thoroughly inspected before committing to the purchase.  If the home was built before the early 1990’s be sure the home inspector checks to see if the home was plumbed with polybutylene plumbing.  If in doubt, an inspection by a reputable local plumber could save you thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs for a polybutylene pipe replacement.

Polybutylene pipe was used for the hot and cold water supply pipes in millions of homes constructed after about 1970.  By the early 1990’s use of polybutylene pipe stopped because it was clear that most polybutylene pipes would fail after 5 to 15 years of service.

The exact cause of polybutylene pipe failure is not completely understood, but most experts believe that the pipe reacted to the chlorine in the municipal water supplies, causing it to become brittle and fail.  The only practical solution once the pipes start to fail is to have all of the plumbing in the home replaced.

Most homes built with polybutylene pipes have already had the pipes replaced, but you may find a few homes that still have the original polybutylene pipes.  If so, your options are to either steer clear or to make sure that the purchase price reflects the need to have all of the polybutylene pip replaced.

Call An Expert For Whole House Repiping

Whole house repiping is one of the biggest residential plumbing projects that homeowners face.  Most homeowners will never need a whole house repiping, but homes that were built with polybutylene pipes or have other plumbing issues may need to have all of their plumbing pipes replaced.  If you are one of the unfortunate homeowners facing a whole house repiping project, in most cases your best option is to have the job completed by a plumbing contractor who specializes in whole house repiping.

Millions of homes built during the from about 1975 to 1995 were plumbed with polybutylene piping.  At the time, polybutylene was believed to be an excellent choice for residential plumbing because it was easy to work with, relatively inexpensive, and seemed to be very durable.  Unfortunately it was later discovered that the chlorine found in most household drinking water caused polybutylene pipe to fail after a few years.

Replacing all of the defective pipe in your home is a big job that can require knocking holes into walls, floors, and ceilings.  The original piping may have been installed in the attic, under floors, and inside walls.  If your home was built on a slab, your plumbing probably runs under the slab and is routed up through the slab in various locations.

Most good plumbers can tackle a polybutylene pipe replacement, but it takes some experience to be able to replace all of the plumbing in a home with the least amount of damage to your walls, floors, and ceiling.   A plumber who specializes in whole house repiping will have years of repiping experience and will have developed techniques to get the job done as quickly as possible with the least amount of damage to your home.