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How to Look

at a House


A blog with answers
to your questions about
HOME INSPECTION
and HOME MAINTENANCE


More Blogs about Plumbing:

  1. So the water heater is older...what’s the big deal?

  2. Why is my water heater making strange (rumbling, gurgling, knocking or banging) noises?

  3. What are the pipes on my roof?

  4. Should I upgrade to a tankless water heater?

  5. How much does it cost to replace the plumbing in a house?

  6. How old is that water heater?

  7. Why is spray foam used for attic insulation?

  8. How do I get rid of the sewer gas smell in my house?

  9. What causes low water pressure in a house?

  10. What’s the powdery crust on the pipe connections at the water heater?

  11. Do you check the plumbing under the floor slab?

  12. How can I determine the age of a water heater if the serial number is missing or decoding it is impossible?

  13. What is a “cross connection” in a home’s plumbing system?

  14. What’s the flip-up handle on the water heater for?

  15. What is the difference between water service pipe and water supply pipe?

  16. My well water test came back positive for bacteria. What should I do?

  17. What is the difference between a regular water heater and a power vent water heater?

  18. What is a saddle valve?

  19. How do you test a shower pan for leaks?

  20. What is a grinder pump?

  21. What can I do to make my water heater last longer?

  22. What is that little tank on top of the water heater for?

  23. What are the most common installation problems with water heater replacement?

  24. What are the minimum clearances around a toilet?

  25. What is the average lifespan of a water heater?

  26. What are the most common plumbing problems with older houses?

  27. Why are rubber washing machine hoses a safety risk?

  28. What is a dielectric union?

  29. What is a heat pump water heater?

  30. What are the common problems to look for when the plumbing has been replaced in a house?

  31. What is the average life expectancy of copper pipe?

  32. Why can’t PVC pipe be used for water pipe inside a house?

  33. What is the average life expectancy of PVC pipe?

  34. What is an auto vent, air admittance valve, or check vent?

  35. Why is a European-style bottle trap not approved by the plumbing codes in the U.S.?

  36. What is the average life expectancy of CPVC pipe?

  37. What is an FVIR water heater?

  38. What is difference between a single element and dual element electric water heater?

  39. What are the requirements for installing a gas appliance connector?

  40. What is an escutcheon plate?

  41. Why is sunlight exposure bad for PVC pipe?

  42. What is the loose wire sticking out of the ground under the gas meter for?

  43. Is the hot water faucet handle required to be on the left?

  44. Why is a backflow preventer required on lawn sprinkler systems?

  45. Should I seal the washing machine drain hose to the standpipe?

  46. How do you find a broken water pipe leak under the floor slab?

  47. Why is there water in my water heater drain pan?

  48. What is a sediment trap or dirt leg?

  49. My spa tub stopped working. What’s wrong?

  50. Which plumbing fixtures require water shut off valves in a home?

  51. What is the purpose of a thermostatic mixing valve above a water heater?

Welcome to our blog!
We want you to be an informed homebuyer, and each blog post is a question that we have answered for our friends and customers over the years. Hope they help you make a good choice for your next home.

  Here’s a list of the different pipe materials, with descriptions:

  1. Copper - Copper is the same color as a new penny when first installed, then gradually transitions to the dark brown of an old one after a few years. Oxidation can cause greenish areas, and galvanic corrosion will make a
    powdery crust at connections to other types of metal pipe and valves.
       It has been used for water pipe since the 1930s, so copper is the tried and true, dependable choice. It was predominant water supply pipe in our North Florida area from the ‘70s through 2000. However, acidic water or soil can cause premature failure, and it is more expensive to install than plastic pipes like CPVC and PEX. Today it is only used as water pipe, but up until the late 1960s it was also installed as drain pipe in better quality construction.
       Copper has a life expectancy of 50 to 70 years or more, but pitting of the interior of the pipe can shorten the lifespan to just 20 years in areas with “aggressive” (very acidic) water, or water with any of several other combinations of ph, hardness, and contaminant factors.


  1. Galvanized Steel - Galvanized steel water pipe is gray metal color and, when tapped with a screwdriver, makes a metallic sound. It was a less-expensive alternative to copper up until the 1970s, when it fell out of favor due to its short lifespan of 40 to 50 years. It was used primarily for water piping, but sometimes as a drain pipe. Galvanized pipe corrodes on both the inside and outside surfaces as it ages, and galvanic corrosion can cause large powdery, cancerous-looking lumps where it is connected to copper piping, as shown in the photo below.

    Some insurance companies will not issue a homeowner’s policy for a home with older galvanized steel pipe, and others require certification by a licensed plumber that the pipe is in good condition issuing the insurance. To learn more about galvanized steel pipe, see our blog “This home has galvanized steel water pipe. Is that a problem?”
  2. PB (polybutylene) - Polybutylene is a flexible plastic pipe that is usually gray, but can also be blue or black, with copper crimped rings securing the pipe at connections. It is usually stamped with the marking “PB2110.” The two photos below show examples of PB pipe. In the second example, the pipe has been painted over, but the copper crimp ring makes it easy to identify anyway.
       The piping was used in residential water supply piping from 1978 to 1995, but is no longer manufactured. It was billed as “the pipe of the future” at first, and its low cost and easy installation made it an alternative to traditional copper water piping. PB was especially prevalent in mobile homes manufactured during the 1980s and early 1990s, but we also see it installed in site-built homes of the same era.
      Beginning in the 1980s lawsuits, claiming that defective manufacturing and installation had caused hundreds of millions of dollars of water damage from ruptured pipes, began to mount into the thousands. Although the manufacturers never acknowledged that PB pipe is defective, they eventually agreed to fund a class action settlement for just under a billion dollars to resolve homeowner claims. The period for filing a claim ended in 2007.
    While the exact cause is uncertain, it is believed that the oxidants (such as chlorine) in public water systems react with the plastic, causing it to flake and become brittle. As the integrity of the piping deteriorates, tiny fractures develop, which can expand over time and cause a sudden failure of the pipe and resulting water damage..
  3. PVC (polyvinyl-chloride) - This white plastic pipe will have the letters “PVC” stamped on it and is often used for the water service piping to a home and for sprinkler system piping, but is not approved for use inside as water pipe and not rated for use with hot water. But it is used extensively for drain piping, as shown below.

  4. CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl-chloride) - This pipe looks similar to PVC, but is a cream-color and turns to light tan as it ages. It is the most popular water pipe for new homes in our area. It will be marked “CPVC” on the pipe, as shown below.

  5. PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) - A flexible plastic pipe that is white, red or blue. When red and blue, the colors are used as coding for the hot and cold lines. It is often used as a replacement water pipe in older homes because its flexibility makes it easy to fish through existing wall cavities. If you look carefully, you should be able to find the letters PEX imprinted on the side of the pipe.


  1. Cast Iron - This pipe is recognizable by its black finish and the bulge at the end of each pipe section, called a “hub,” that the adjacent pipe fits into. It was used up until the mid-1960s for drain pipe only and is still available, but rarely used in new construction.

  2. ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) -  A black plastic pipe that is only used for drain systems. It was more popular about 30-years ago, and we seldom see it used in new construction today.

   Which pipe is best? It depends on which plumber you ask. In our area, PVC is the drain pipe used for all new construction, but in other parts of the country ABS is standard. CPVC is the most often used water pipe, but the newer PEX pipe is gaining in popularity, and copper is considered the gold-standard for quality pipe by some contractors.

    Here’s the approximate time range in which each pipe has been manufactured:

  1. Copper - mid-1930s to present

  2. Galvanized Steel - 1900 to mid-1970s, still available but rarely used for new construction

  3. PB (polybutylene) - mid-1970s to mid-1990s

  4. PVC - (polyvinyl-chloride) - 1970 to present

  5. CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl-chloride) - 1960 to present

  6. PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) - Available beginning in mid-1960s. Wide use began around 2000

  7. Cast Iron - 1900 to mid-1970s, still available but rarely used for new construction

  8. ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) - mid-1950s to present


While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here.
©2015 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection.

 

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