How to Maintain Your Old Pipes
Most homeowners understand the extra care that goes into owning an older home. It requires continual maintenance and upkeep — especially when it comes to the plumbing. If you’re looking to avoid tearing up the walls and floors and replumbing the whole house, here are a few steps you can take to extend the lifespan of those decades-old pipes.
1. Invest in a leak detection system
Individual water monitors are handy for sensing leaks near your washing machine or kitchen sink, but when it comes to full home protection you’ll want a comprehensive leak detection system like Flo. It’s ingenious how it works — by extracting and analyzing enormous amounts of data from your home’s plumbing system so it knows if your pipes are acting irregularly and can detect a leak. It’s the smartest way to keep a watchful eye on your old pipes.
2. Check for warning signs
If your home is more than fifty years old, check in with your pipes regularly. In addition to looking for obvious signs of water damage around your home (discoloration, water stains, warping) you’ll also want to check out any exposed pipes, such as main water lines in your basement or under your kitchen sink. Look for signs of corrosion, dimpling or flaking. If your water pressure is weaker than usual (again, Flo will automatically detect this for you) that’s a sign there could be some nasty buildup inside the pipes or a leak in the system. If your water runs a yellow-orange color after being away from the house for a period of time, or there’s a bad smell coming from your pipes, those are other clear indicators that something’s gone awry.
3. Clear your pipes regularly
Clogged pipes are a frequent problem in older homes, and while unclogging them will help extend their lifespan, there are a variety of ways to do this. Tenants in old buildings are no stranger to chemical drain cleaners like Drano or Liquid-Plumr. However, the high acidity levels can be harsh on old metal pipes and even hasten their deterioration.
For minor clogs we suggest using a homemade baking soda and vinegar mix or a store-bought enzyme treatment on all your sinks and showers about once a month. Afterward, rinse thoroughly with hot water. It will keep your pipes relatively clean and help prevent buildup.
If you have a serious clog in the house, an experienced plumber is your safest bet. Plenty of people snake their own drains (and in general, it’s never a bad idea to learn how to detach and clean your P-trap yourself), but if your pipes are very old galvanized steel, an improperly sized snake or auger can permanently damage them. Hydrojetting is another option, which sends a powerful stream of water through your pipes, but that’s a job for a professional plumber.
4. Be mindful of what you put down the drain
Don’t pour grease or oils down the drain — this goes for cooking grease in the kitchen sink as well as body oils in the shower. Use filters and screens over your drains to prevent particles from passing through and sticking to the inside of the pipe.
5. Just replace them
If your pipes are nuisance that require constant patching and repair, don’t prolong their suffering. If they’re made of lead (poisonous, although city water is almost always treated to avoid leaching) or polybutylene (very high rates of failure and degeneration) they should have already been replaced. In general, galvanized steel pipes last 20-50 years, brass lasts 40-70, copper lasts over 50, cast iron lasts 75-100, and PVC can last over a 100 years if it’s not exposed to direct sunlight. Use these numbers as benchmarks when assessing if your pipes need replacement, but as always, get a second opinion from an expert before embarking on a full home replumbing.