We Know: All About Plumbing Repiping

What Is Plumbing Repiping?

Plumbing does not last forever. You may need to have your pipes replaced, or repiped, for a variety of reasons.

Why is repiping necessary?

There are several reasons you may need to repipe your home or business's plumbing. Degeneration in the quality of the pipes may cause low water pressure, rusty colored water, or leaky pipes. And if you live in a hard-water area, lime and other mineral deposits may cause flow problems like slow warming of water to hot or inconsistent water temperatures. In older houses, you may even have lead pipes, which don't corrode as easily but which do present a serious health hazard to children.

In addition, because of a lack of scientific evidence on certain building materials during the building boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s, substances like polybutylene were used to pipe homes. These new compounds, while they seemed to be ideal inexpensive alternatives to copper and other expensive piping materials, are degenerating faster than expected, and may be reacting with chlorine and other substances found in the water supply in such a way that the interiors of the pipes are flaking off and washing away.

What kinds of materials should I use when I repipe?

You should have a variety of materials to choose from for your repiping job. Several types of plastic including PVC are often used, as well as copper piping. If you live in an area where water freezes, copper is probably a better choice, as it expands to accommodate frozen water. If you live in an area with hard water, you should discuss it with your contractor or building supply store; hard water can react in surprising ways with different types of piping.

When should I repipe?

Repiping should not wait until you start noticing leaks. Watch for signs associated with degenerating pipes, such as flakes of dark material in your water, odd-tasting tap water, or decreasing water pressure. Many homeowners think the "squeeze" test is adequate -- this is, when you squeeze a pipe in your hand or between your fingers, looking for leaks in the joint that show up when the pipe gives a little. But pipes degenerated to this point have gone too far. Instead of using the squeeze test, if you think you may have a problem with your pipes, call a plumber to check them professionally. Use one who charges for the service, not a free plumber. Plumbers who offer free inspections may be more likely to find that the pipes need work, whether they do or not!

What should I expect during repiping?

Repiping is a major house repair, on a par with replacing your roof. There are some specific things you can expect, and others you can ask your contractor about.

  • You can expect about five days of inconvenience in an average sized home. Plumbing is time-consuming.
  • You won't have to move, though your water will be turned off from time to time to allow for connection of fresh piping.
  • Furnishings may have to be moved, and walls and ceilings will certainly need to be cut through in certain areas and patched. This is why you should get references and photographs of previous work.

What should I ask my contractor?

  • Have they done this kind of work before? Get references, and before/after photos.
  • How long will the work take?
  • Can you finance the work through them?
  • Can the contractor guarantee a completion date? If they miss deadline, what will be the penalty?
  • Can they help you get the necessary building permits to perform this kind of work?
  • What repiping material do they use, and why?
  • Will you also need to replace your exterior piping, from the city water main to your house?

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