By Jon Vacha
The word “plumbing” derives from the Latin word for lead. During much of modern human history, lead was used for water piping due to its malleability. The Romans used lead piping for their aqueducts and bath houses. Lead plumbing lines were used frequently up until the early 20th century. The discovered health risks associated with lead put a stop its use in plumbing. The use of wooden piping was actually a common practice in cities such as Boston during the 1800’s. Today copper and plastic water lines are most commonly used. Knowing the basics when it comes to different piping materials can be helpful when discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a house’s plumbing.
Copper is a popular material for supply lines. It is also popular among thieves due to its rising price and ease of recyclability. The current installation rate of copper piping exceeds of 1 billion feet per year. Copper piping has a high resistance to corrosion and is relatively easy to work with. Galvanized iron or steel piping is very common to find in any house built before 1960. Over time the interior of a galvanized pipe will rust and the pipe will become smaller and smaller, thus restricting water flow and reducing water pressure. A less costly type of supply pipe used in new construction these days is CPVC or Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride piping. CPVC is energy efficient due to its thermal insulation properties, which help keep hot water hot and help reduce condensation.
To send the water back to the sewer from all the sinks, tubs and toilets we need drain lines. Today PVC is king of the drain lines. It is durable, easy to work with and lasts forever. Past popular material for drain lines include galvanized, cast iron, clay, and even copper.
Leaks are probably most people’s biggest concern when it comes to plumbing. Some leaks occur when a material that the pipe is made out of wears out or corrodes. A cast iron drain line can crack over time. A galvanized pipe can rust enough to create a hole in the pipe. Fittings at joints in PVC drain lines can leak if they are not properly glued together. Often, it is the connection to plumbing fixtures where we find leaks. Any time you try to create a water proof connection between two different materials there is room for error. Gaskets tend to wear out over time and need to be replaced. Finding a slow leak and fixing it correctly will help home owners avoid bigger, more costly repairs.