So, what are the telltale signs that your house needs repiping? What is involved in a house repiping and what is the cost? That is what I will addressing in this post.
Frequent pipe leaks, clogging, low water pressure, discolored water, old lead/galvanized pipes, corroded pipes, fluctuation in water temperature and noisy pipes are all signs that your house needs to be repiped.
A change in taste and/or smell of the water is further proof that your house piping has had better days.
While repiping a house is not a cheap project, it is a better solution than the constant calls to the plumber due to burst pipes, low water pressure and other such problems. Most people opt to replace a single problematic pipe instead of repiping the entire house.
While a replacing a single problematic pipe can fix the immediate problem, it is most often a sign of things to come from other pipes. This is why I would recommend committing more cash into the project and fixing the problem once and for all.
Repiping a house costs between $1500 and $15000 depending on the size of the house, location and the scope of work. Houses with a concrete slab are more expensive to repipe than houses with a basement. Repiping a house using PEX or CPVP is 20 to 40% cheaper than copper.
It can take 2 days or more than a week to repipe a house, depending on its size and the type of work involved. Repiping a big house, one with several bathrooms or one with a slab will generally take longer, since it involves cutting more holes and patching them up later. It takes fewer days to repipe with PEX than copper.
The following are the signs that you need to repipe your house:
1. Old Lead/Galvanized Steel Pipes
If you live in an old house, chances are high that you have galvanized steel or even lead pipes. Lead pipes were widely used in the past, but later stopped being used when it was discovered that they caused lead poisoning, which causes a variety of health conditions, including cancer.
Steel pipes were introduced to replace lead pipes. They were stronger than lead which was soft, and were also safe.
Steel pipes however posed one challenge. Steel corrodes/when it comes into contact with water and oxygen. To overcome this problem, galvanized steel pipes were introduced and they were perfect. Or so it was thought.
Galvanized steel pipes are simply steel pipes dipped in molten zinc to coat them, in order to prevent corrosions. While the zinc coating can last for a long time on the exterior of the pipe, the story is very different inside the pipe.
The zinc coating deteriorates with time (especially on hot water lines) exposing the steel to water, and oxygen. When that happens, corroding is inevitable.
Pipe corrosions and clogging goes hand in hand. A restriction builds up inside the pipes which leads to low water pressure and if not fixed in time, it will lead to pipe leaks and ultimately pipe bursts.
I have written a detailed article on why you should replace galvanized steel pipes in a different article. Read it here.
2. Water Discoloration
It goes without saying that water should be colorless. If you notice a brownish (rust) or yellowish discoloration in your water then you have rust and sediment build up in your water pipes. You often tend to see this discoloration when you immediately open a faucet (mostly in the morning) and then it clears after a few seconds.
Again, this will be more noticeable in the hot water faucets than in the cold-water faucets. While most of the time this could be as a result of corroded pipes, it could also be caused by sediments from a water heater.
If you have an old water heater that you have not flushed in a while, sediments will build up (especially if you live in an area with hard water), affecting the color of the water. In this situation flushing the water heater can be enough to fix the problem.
3. Frequent Pipe Leaks
Most homeowners decide to repipe the houses after a pipe leak or burst has already caused expensive damages and repairs. If you are lucky, your pipes will leak from a place you can easily spot the leak and fix it quicker.
On the other hand, if you are unlucky to have an in-wall leak from your water pipes, the water damages will be quite expensive to fix. If you have been experiencing frequent water pipes leaks, it a sign that the integrity of your water pipes is greatly compromised.
Leaks are caused by internal pipe corrosions especially around joints which causes the pipes to weaken and start leaking. A water pipe leak that is not fixed will most likely cause the pipe to burst.
If one of your water pipes bursts when you are not at home, the water damage will be immense. Repiping your house once you see notice a trend in leaks will help avert this problem.
4. Low Water Pressure
It is very easy to diagnose low water pressure in the house as a result of bad pipes. The first thing is to determine if the problem is affecting only one fixture, or the entire house.
Pipe corrosions can badly clog faucet aerators and showerheads, considerably reducing their water pressure. A faucet aerator is the little attachment with fine nozzles at the front of the spout.
Disconnect the affect faucet aerator or showerhead using a wrench and look for pipe corrosions and other debris clogging them. Clean them and install them back. If the water pressure is restored the water pipes are clearly corroded.
If the water pressure in your entire house is low, your water pipes are badly corroded, clogged or both. Connect a pressure gauge in one of your faucets (preferably an outside faucet spigot and note the pressure).
Call you city water department and ask for the water pressure being pumped to your home. If they mention a figure way higher than what you got in you reading, you have a problem in your water pipes.
While this does not mean that you should repipe your house immediately, if the problem keeps coming back even after being fixed then probably it’s time you consider long-term solution. A whole house repiping will suffice.
The size of the water pipes also matters in as far as house water pressure is concerned. Old houses have thinner water pipes than would be ideal for modern living.
A small internal diameter means that the water pressure will be low. If you want to improve the water pressure in your house then considering repiping it with modern water pipes which have a bigger diameter and hence more pressure.
5. Corroded Pipes
While you cannot see the inside of a water pipe (unless you cut through one), if there are visible corrosions on the outside of your water pipes, just know that the inside is worse. A corroded pipe is a weak pipe, and it is usually a matter of time before it starts leaking and possibly even burst.
If you do not have the cash to repipe the entire house, you can have a plumber come in and fix the bad pipe. This will involve cutting the bad section of the pipe and replacing it with another.
This is however a temporarily fix but it will buy you the time you the time you need to prepare for a whole house repiping.
6. Noisy Pipes
Water pipes are not supposed to make any noise, save for the sound of water as it flows through them. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Noisy pipe are caused by several factors.
Most homeowners are familiar with banging, rattling and whining sounds from water pipes. While in most cases these are the usual water hammers which can be fixed with a simple water hammer arrestor, sometimes they are a sign of a bigger underlying problem in the pipes.
If say there is a clog in a certain section of your pipes, water flowing towards it will hit it at a high pressure causing vibrations and rattling in the pipe. There could also be a whining sound as the water flows through the restriction.
7. Change in Water Taste and Smell
Again, water does not have a definitive taste or smell. If you notice a change in the taste or smell of your water (especially early in the morning) there is something wrong with your plumbing, unless you get your water from a well.
Water from a well can be affected by a variety of factors, which should not be the same as water from the city pipes. While a mere change of in water taste and smell is not enough to convince you to repipe your house, a combination of this and other factors might.
What to Expect
Due to the labor-intensity and cost involved in repiping a house, I would recommend that you first indulge the services of a repipe specialist. The specialist will be able to gauge the scope of the work needed and provide time frames and cost estimates.
They will also offer the most viable solution for your home. House repiping is not a one-size-fits-all type of a job. Every house is unique.
You need to work with professionals in this field to avoid damages to other parts as the repiping is ongoing. The experts will cover the areas they are working on with plastic materials to prevent damaging the floor, furniture and other appliances.
Since the experts will need to access, remove and replace the pipes running through the wall, they will need to cut out different sections of the drywall. No need to worry though, as they have special equipment which helps them locate the precise location of the pipes.
They will however not rip open the floor, as the pipes which runs through it are accessed from the basement or ceiling. When everything has been done, the pros will patch up every opening they made, smooth it up and then paint it.
There will be a lot of noise any dust during the period of the repiping. Some appliances will be unusable especially in the bathroom and kitchen.
Depending on the size of your house and the scope of the work, the repiping can even take a week to complete. You do not want to have guests over during this period.
When the task is complete, the experts will in your presence put the new plumbing to the task. You should notice a significant difference compared with your old plumbing, otherwise you did not get your money’s worth.
It is very hard to put a definite figure on the cost of repiping a house, due to uniqueness of houses, scope of work that has to be done as well as location. Needless to say, plumbing costs are higher in some areas than others.
If you are repiping only a section of your house and not the whole house, the cost will be lower than someone repiping the whole house. Repiping different sections of the house one after the other however over a period of time tends to be more expensive, compared to repiping the house once.
If you are remodeling your bathroom or kitchen and repiping your house at the same time, the cost will be cheaper, than remodeling and repiping at different times. You may actually not get the full benefits of a remodeled bathroom/kitchen if you are installing new appliances while using old piping.
The materials used to repipe the house also determines the overall cost of the whole project. While the choice is usually between PEX and copper, most homeowners (and for good reasons) choose PEX over copper.
PEX is cheaper than copper, and due to its flexibility, you only need to cut small holes on the wall and snake it through unlike copper which is solid and will need to be installed whole. For this reason, the specialist will work for fewer days when using PEX which means it will be cheaper for you.
PEX also does not corrode which means it lasts longer than other materials. Its low thermal conductivity also makes it more energy efficient than copper and other materials.
Repiping a house on a concrete slab is definitely more expensive than other houses, as you may have to hire an engineer or reroute the plumbing. While water pipes usually go through the basement, a house with a slab has no basement.
If your house is on a slab and needs repiping check out this article on more information on the issue.