Coming or Going?

Have had ideas for two posts again and they both deal with plumbing, at least tangentially. I decided to go with the coming side of plumbing and will save the going idea for later. Without further ado, let me explain. The coming side of plumbing deals with either the service lines or the supply lines. The service lines are the lines which bring water from the main city lines out by the street to your house. Think of it as “servicing” your house. The supply lines “supply” water to all your fixtures such as toilets, showers, sinks, the fridge for water and ice machines, clothes washer, bidets, etc. I know, tmi but I just wanted to drive the point home. I had to inspect a home for the first time with a bidet and for some reason that seemed a bit weird to me. Typical American. I guess I shouldn’t knock it till I try it but as of now I’m still knocking it. I digress! We will specifically be discussing the supply lines and the material of said lines.

Supply line material, riveting stuff. Most people will never look at this. It’s not very sexy like granite counter tops. It doesn’t seem as important as a new furnace or AC. I will tell you your material choices and then we will go over some reasons why you should be more cognizant of what is in your domicile (I’m feeling wordy this morning for some reason). Your material choices are for the most part: copper, CPVC (a hard white plastic pipe), plastic (a more flexible plastic pipe which curves instead of being more rigid like CPVC), galvanized steel and polybutylene. The last material is what originally got me thinking about this but I will save this for last with galvanized because those are the most worrisome.

First of all, King Copper. Everyone likes seeing copper and it does give me a piece of mind. There are, however, things to think about. If it is an old house there can be lead in the solder which holds the joints together. May be minor but some people worry about such things. It is more difficult and specialized to repair. Most people do not know how to sweat a pipe and solder sections of copper together as well as copper is an expensive material. Finally, copper will react to dissimilar metals and corrode at the joints. You don’t want copper pipes up against other types of metal or to be joined with other types of pipe without what is called a dielectric connector (at the water heater for instance) which is keeps the metals from reacting and corroding. This is a very simple explanation but you can always google “dielectric connector or union” to learn more if you are an overachiever.

CPVC, the cheap sibling of copper. I think that the only issue I have with CPVC is the fact that it isn’t as durable as other plumbing material. Actually, it’s the least durable now that I think of it. Not crazy non-durable like it’s made of aluminum foil or anything. It’s just more prone to bursting in the event of a frozen pipe and it needs to be supported better in instances of pressure tanks and such but overall a pretty good material.

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You don’t need specialized tools, the primer and glue is easy to get, the material is cheap, it’s not difficult to cut. The only drawback is it doesn’t have the same cache as copper. You’re never going to hear someone touting the “all new CPVC” plumbing in a house they are selling. The last plus is no one is going to break into your house to steal your CPVC pipes like they will for copper. I think I pretty much beat a dead horse with this topic, on to plastic.

Plastic plumbing, or more specifically cross-linked polyethylene, is freakin’ cool. It’s sold under different trade names such as PEX or Zurn. It comes in 100′ rolls or longer. It curves which takes away the need for buying elbow connections for the most part. You can buy it in red and blue so you can see what is the hot water line or cold water line (you can also get it in white but really what fun is that?!?!). All the lines can be run off a manifold which enables you to turn the water off to a specific fixture that location instead of the whole house in certain instances (shower/bath).

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The plus with this is that it is very easy to install. I roughed in the plumbing to two sides of a duplex I used to own, by myself, in less that 6 hours and believe you me I am no plumber. I occasionally do have plumbers butt but that’s another story. I would say the only drawback is that it is difficult to make things aesthetically pleasing at connections where the PEX comes out of the wall such as behind a toilet. It can feel kinda flimsy in certain situations and would need to be supported better just like the CPVC. This material has been used in Europe and Canada for a long time now and has proven itself and resists bursting if frozen more than CPVC.

On to the bad boys of plumbing, galvanized and polybutylene. These are not used anymore for very good reason and I mention them in order for you to possibly identify them in your own home or in something you are interested in buying so you can avoid the problems to come.

Galvanized steel is identifiable due to the connections. The connections such as elbows are screwed on and you can usually see threads on the male piece (if I have to explain male piece or female piece to you I’m gonna call your parents). This material can react to the water content and corrode from the inside out like a cholesterol filled artery. By the time you can see a problem it is WAY too late and you are probably experiencing a decrease in the water flow at fixtures such as sinks and showers. Here is a wonderful picture showing the threads and the corrosion inside.

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I will always remember my teacher for my home inspection class saying, if you see some corrosion on a galvanized pipe do not touch it because that rust could be the only thing holding it together! You may have this and live till the end of your life in the house with no issues but it is usually just a matter of time.

Now, polybutylene. I would personally run from any home that had this. I was prompted to write this post due to coming across this type of plumbing pipe numerous times in the last few months. I’m gonna cut and paste the warning that is in my home inspection report for this:

16) Polybutylene plastic water supply piping was found. This was commonly used in manufactured homes from the 1980s through 1995. Other plastics such as PEX or CPVC have been used since then. Some fittings with polybutylene piping have a history of failure that results in leaks. Recommend reviewing any available disclosure statements for comments on leaks in the water supply system. Much of the water supply piping is typically concealed in walls, floors and/or ceilings, and the inspector does not guarantee that leaks don’t exist as part of this inspection. Recommend review of this system, and repairs if necessary, by a qualified plumber. For more information, visit:http://www.google.com/search?q=polybutylene+plumbing

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You might see a trade name such as Vanguard written on the pipe and it is usually gray plastic with copper rings at connections. As one plumber said, it isn’t a matter of IF it will leak but WHEN. With plumbing pipes running behind walls and through ceiling areas, what a nightmare! Here in Ohio for some reason I usually see it in condo developments but I have also run into it in a single family home.

Well, that is my (not so) brief primer on supply water pipes vs service water pipes and also the different types of supply pipe material. You may find me biased towards certain types of pipe material and you may not agree with me and to that I would say, “Start your own damn blog!”. My main purpose is really just to get you to go check out your pipes one afternoon while you are doing laundry or changing the furnace filter, whatever, and become a bit more familiar with your home. If you have any other questions please drop me a line. I read every one of my comments even if they are from Russians trying to post something on my blog so their Viagra company website will show up on my site (just because I read it doesn’t mean I will let it show up, but thanks for writing Russian pharmacy pusher).

As always thanks for reading,

That Home Inspector Guy

About Travis "That Home Inspector Guy" Moyer

I am a certified home inspector, rehabber, landlord, carpenter, handyman and generally inquisitive person who wants to know how everything works. I love to educate other DIY homeowners and potential homeowners about projects that they may be interested in.

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