Repiping my home: is it something I need to think about right now?

It would be nice if plumbing could be installed once and never have to be looked at again, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. As pipes get older, they will start to deteriorate and they will eventually need to be repiped if you want them to keep working well, free from cracks, rust, leaks and other issues that could have a wider impact on your home, such as flooding and raw sewage ending up in your property, potentially causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home and your property.

Repiping your home will, on average, cost $4,000 – $10,000 if it is 1,500-2,000 square feet and has two bathrooms. If your plumber will need to cut into the walls or flooring, it will be closer to the higher amount than the lower, and that is why you need to be absolutely certain that your home does need to be repiped before you commit to having the work done. But how exactly do you know when the time is right to replace your plumbing system?

Here’s a guide to assessing the condition of your pipes accurately:

The Type of Pipes

It is vital that you know what type of pipes you have in your home because different kinds of pipes have different average lifespans and these can be used to help you determine if a replacement is likely to be needed.

If you don’t know what kind of pipes you’re dealing with, you should be able to get the information from your home inspection report dating back to when you bought your home. If that isn’t possible, a qualified plumber should be able to help.

Once you know what type of pipes you have, use the table below to work out their typical life span:

TypeMaterialAverage Lifespan (in years)
Supply PipesGalvanized Steel

Brass

Copper

40-60 

As above

50-70

Drain LinesPVC

Cast Iron

50-70

50-65

If your pipes have been in place for longer than these guidelines, it doesn’t mean that they must be replaced right now, but it is a sure sign they are getting to the end of their lifespan and you may need to pay more attention to them going forward.

Pipes that have been properly maintained can last longer than the average, whereas pipes that have not been looked after well can fail early than would generally be expected, so checking on them regularly really needs to be a part of your home maintenance routine.

Pipes That Must Be Removed Immediately

If you have either lead or polybutylene piping, you need to remove them as soon as possible, no matter how long they have been installed on your property.

Lead pipes are extremely dangerous because the lead can seep into your water, and should you drink water that contains even a small amount of lead, you could become very sick.

Repiping polybutylene plumbing, which was typically installed from the 70s to the 90s, is also a very good idea because they have an issue with the fittings that were used to install them, and tend to break very easily. Should this happen, your home could be seriously affected, so it makes sense to replace them immediately. You also may have a hard time getting homeowners insurance to renew your policy if it is discovered that you have polybutylene piping running through your home, due to the additional risk the carrier would be faced with.

Signs to Look Out For

As a homeowner, you should really be looking at your pipes at least once a year to determine any signs of corrosion or malfunction. Homes that are more than 50 years old should be checked for exposed pipe, typically in areas like the basement and crawlspaces. Things like discolored tubing, dimpling, stains, flaking pipes and rust are all sure signs of corrosion, which if found, should be shown to a plumber to see what, if anything, needs to be done about them.

Leaks

Leaks are a pretty definite sign that your plumbing needs some attention, but some leaks are only small and not easily spotted. That’s why you need to be looking at your pipes regularly. Also, just because a leak is small and easy to repair, doesn’t mean that you can just repair it and then forget about it. Although many small leaks are nothing major, they can be an indicator that you need to repipe, especially if your pipes are reaching the end of their lifespan. If in doubt, have a plumber take a look.

Water Color

If, when you fill your bathtub with water, especially if you haven’t turned on the water for a while, due to being away, for example, take a good look at its color. If it appears to be yellow or brown, it is likely to be contaminated with rust, and rust indicates that your pipes are decaying and will need to be replaced before they cause even bigger issues.

Ask an Expert

Although it is possible to spot the signs of old and ineffective pipes, it is ultimately the job of a good plumber to tell you whether your pipes need to be replaced or not. Get a few opinions and if more people agree that your pipes need to be replaced than not, you know what you have to do.

If you can’t afford to replace all of the pipes in your home immediately, start with the pipes that are exposed and therefore easier to get to. It’ll still be a big job, but it’ll be much easier financially, and in terms of disruption, to get you started. In some homes, it will be possible for the plumber to repipe most of the home without cutting into walls and floors, and if that’s the case, it should only cost between 2,000 and 6,000 dollars just for the exposed pipes to be replaced.

Replacing During Renovation

Replacing your pipes at the same time as you renovate your home is also a good way to do it as you’ll be opening up walls and flooring anyway, so disruption will be minimal.

Use PEX to Minimize Demolition

If your pipes are inside the wall, your plumber may be able to use PEX tubing – which is a flexible plastic material which can be more easily snaked into the walls – to save disruption, and lower the overall expense considering it is a much cheaper material than copper.