Plastic Plumbing WARNING

oldryderFebruary 14, 2014

I am a fabricator.

Over the past 14 years we have occasionally done a tear out/re-install of granite tops due to a water leak which damaged floors and/or cabinetry.

The last few years we have seen more and more of these incidents. In almost every case the failed plumbing was the plastic tubing and fittings which are replacing the traditional copper plumbing. In every case where I have the details the failure was not the tubing but rather a cracked or split nut or other type of fitting (probably because it was tightened too much)

If I was building a house I would insist on copper plumbing.

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It's interesting because I always insisted on copper, but in the most recent house I bought we have found that virtually every solder joint is starting to fail not at the actual solder but adjacent to it. The plumber said that 50 years ago the plumber did not clean off the excess flux and eventually it will corrode enough to cause pinholes, which is what is happening in my house. He showed me where some more recent work was probably going to to the same thing eventually. I am going to be replacing all the plumbing from where it enters to the house to where it exits--there is no point in putting a new kitchen and two new bathrooms onto old work.

I think the best answer is Whatever you use, be it copper, PVC, or Pex, that it be installed in proper workmanlike fashion.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 1:39PM
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I am so sorry I didn't ask for copper. Thanks for your opinion on the pipes OR. I hate this noisy cheap plastic which has had a history of failures in the news in the past. But I don't think the plumber that was sent in would have considered it. I think he said it was too expensive too. He dismissed however I wanted things done (nontechnical). Should have booted him darn it. I digress. Anyway, they all seem to use it. Next time I will try to insist. Don't know how I'm going to make sure they clean their flux though, lol.

I have a new plumber who I trust but he doesn't seem to like his customers involved in the workman details. I think if I start asking about flux ... lol. Will see how he feels about copper. He used PVC.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 4:56PM
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Oldryder--you don't mean the big white PVC pipes, do you? You mean that fairly new plastic stuff for supply lines, that's flexible whereas what I've always called PVC isn't?

Though I'll agree that anything can be installed incorrectly. Makes you wish you could be an expert in every field, but, alas...

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 5:21PM
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meganmca: I was talking about the flexible tubing and associated fittings; not PVC which as far as I know very rarely ever fails.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 5:47PM
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oldryder, and megan, you mean PEX, that is the flexible stuff with the clamps.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 5:56PM
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Okay I have never heard they were a problem (other than needing steel braided for washers). Couldn't figure out the cracking nuts part. Are they still preferred for washers?

For existing plumbing, do we inspect for leaks regularly, replace every 5 years if they must be used for some reason, or is it an acute problem where the thing just bursts one day? I seem to recall actually seeing a cracked plastic nut on something in the past. Copper would certainly complicate popping a toilet off for some reason.

It would seem washers and dishwashers need the flexible ones.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Fri, Feb 14, 14 at 18:32

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 6:10PM
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SO, basically, if your plumber does a crappy job, whether he uses plastic or copper, you'll have problems. If he does a good job, you probably won't.

The lesson here isn't to avoid plastic, its to avoid bad plumbers.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 6:40PM
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Washing machines and DW need braided hoses (or some other type of hose--still a hose). OldRyder is talking about PEX, I believe, which is "flexible" but not very. It is more flexible than PVC but not nearly as flexible as a hose.

Most insurance companies encourage you to replace a hose annually. I think that is excessive, myself. But, every couple of years seems prudent. It is an "acute thing" as you say. You won't necessarily be able to tell the hose is about to burst.

(Or, you can look into these hoses: which I personally installed on my machine when we moved it to the upstairs.)

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 7:05PM
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I fear what chemicals may someday be found to leach from the pex and have always made sure copper is used for any work needed. Am I the only one?
Edited to add Thank you for the warning!!

This post was edited by peegee on Fri, Feb 14, 14 at 19:29

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 7:27PM
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So, peegee, what about the lead solder?

Evidently I stepped on some toes calling someone out on a statement that made no sense.

So, I restate my question. What happens with copper pipes and well water? I'm told that's a bad idea and should use the cpvc.

Given the fact my plumbing was done by someone who didn't drill thru the joists but went up, over, down, under, up, down, etc., my plumber friend tells me I've got trouble in River City. No pun intended, but so far every year unnecessary joins and angles have failed.

So... as this plumbing fails and is replaced, copper or plastic on well water?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 7:51PM
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Apparently it's the small connector hoses on the water lines, not PVC piping. Still well water with those but it's not the pipes.

I worry about the plastic leaching too. Never liked those water filters with them that can get mold inside. Maybe will swap the hoses out.

I wonder if many people do the old hard line hookups anymore. It will be interesting to see my plumber's reaction.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 9:18PM
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Please also use braided hose on your refrigerator water lines and built-in coffee makers. I've had two newer plastic water lines either leak or burst on our refrigerators causing lots of damage.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 12:26AM
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So is steel braided safe or is this the same product family of problems?

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 1:33AM
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We had the "plastic" supply lines in our house.
They failed. Woke up one morning and thought I must have dropped an ice cube on the kitchen floor. On closer inspection, I saw splash marks around the water spot. - oops- I looked up- yup, the ceiling was bulging.
I grabbed an awl, poked the ceiling and put a bucket in place.
I called a plumber friend who told us we might be eligible for a class action in progress. The bad news- we were not eligible.
The good news- the company that made the pipes and fittings stood by their warranty.
It was a number of years ago. It took time and patience(not easy with a leaky pipe) to ascertain and verify who made the pipes and get a fitting to them to verify the pipes.
Happy ending- the company would replace the pipes with new "plastic" pipes at no charge. I asked about upgrade to copper. For a few hundred dollars- we have all copper pipes! None of the neighbors upgraded (and didn't ask) but I feel worth the upgrade.
The plumber moved around the country replacing the pipes. He also got tired of waiting for the drywallers and learned drywall and paint for an all-in-one operation. He even fixed a dented drywall spot(not caused by him but the movers years before) by expanding the drywall piece. He matched the 10+ year old paint perfectly.
Bottom line - investigate your options.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 5:22AM
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During our remodel, we switched from forced hot water to central air/heat. DH painstakingly removed and collected all the copper pipes and then eventually took to a scrap yard and sold them for over a $1000 dollars. Happy day!!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 7:58AM
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So Gemini, you are talking about both supply hoses and plastic pipe failures. The plastic pipes in your house failed too? Were the hoses non-steel braided with plastic nuts?

I see a bathroom sink here with hoses but are steel braided with metal nuts. There was a leak on that sink drain though and it was a piece of plastic pipe retrofitted in the middle where a large connector plastic nut became skewed somehow.

If we are to replace these hoses periodically, metal pipe would seem easier, would be done and not forgotten and more economical. I don't mess with these things and plumbers are $200/hr here. Would not want the nuts too loose or tight.

I remember the old metal pipe water line connectors now. They were gray metal not copper. Not soldered as I recall though.

I think the leaching plastic is a consideration too but which metal and which is worse.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Sat, Feb 15, 14 at 14:16

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 12:02PM
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I did a fair amount of reading pros and cons of Pex vs copper both here in the plumbing forum and other forums on the web as well as articles, etc. As of about a year ago, from what I could tell, the vote was about 50-50 regarding experiences and opinions of pex vs copper. Amazing how many things to consider. If you have pier and beam foundation, be careful of little animals in the night who like to chew on pex. If you are in a cold climate, copper freezes before Pex. Also, acidic water eventually will wear down copper and not Pex so if your water is acidic, plan for water treatment also. This is only some of what I learned. My head was spinning because there seemed no clear answer. I flipped a coin and went with PEX since it was a cheaper installation.
p.s. forgot to mention that you shouldn't allow even one inch of PEX to be exposed to sunlight/uv radiation else it will deteriorate rapidly.

This post was edited by elphaba on Sat, Feb 15, 14 at 14:01

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 1:59PM
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Our issue was with supply pipes not "hoses "
Our drain pipes are standard PVC.
Our WM hose is a Miele hose. Our old washer hose developed an aneurysm (bulge) and we replaced it with a braided version

Our house is 25 years old. I an on the road but my DH might remember the brand. The 2 failures were at the joints.

I believe but not positive that the original pipes were polybutylene and the replacement option was PEX but we went copper.

Getting a temp fix on round 2 was tricky as no one wanted to touch the pipes. I was able to get a picture and sent to the company and they paid a plumber to fix and sent us a prepaid shipping box for the joint.

After that, it was smooth sailing.

This post was edited by a2gemini on Sun, Feb 16, 14 at 6:03

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 5:46AM
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This post was edited by snookums2 on Sun, Feb 16, 14 at 7:38

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 7:35AM
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So the failing pipes were polybutylene water supply lines? Do they look like PVC?

I've got copper but work that's been done uses white plastic. Think that has just been the drain pipes. I know one plumber commented on something saying he never uses such and such part he saw a Master had used because they get brittle. Think it was what was wrapping over a joint.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Sun, Feb 16, 14 at 7:50

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 7:36AM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

My house is only 7 years old. It was piped with copper. We have had a number of pin hole leaks and it seems to be that nobody is quite sure what causes them. It could be something related to our very hard water (which is quite alkaline). Studies have been done, nobody really knows what is causing the pinhole leaks but when we fix it, we replace it with pex.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 8:04PM
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tishtoshnm, that's my question, way up there.
I'm on well water and I keep hearing it'll pit copper just as you're describing.

I'm thinking a bucket to the well and chamber pots out the window might be the answer.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2014 at 8:24PM
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My 25 year old house is piped with copper. We've had three slab leaks (the 'fixes' always left a few copper branches somewhere!) with one today as I write. My area is plagued by slab leaks (copper pipe). Initially I thought it was the fault of being buried in the slab until we had a few pinhole leaks in the ceilings. From what I have read, the composition of the water here has changed and the pipes are vulnerable. I've read that PEX has been used for years in Europe and Japan--but they don't hyperchlorinate their water the way they do here. The copper pipes that were used in my bathroom remodel are thinner than those they replaced, and the water more aggressive. I am concerned about the leaching of PEX. I'm also concerned about the leaching of lead from the copper. The one advantage to PEX is the idea of a manifold where each fixture has its own line. Plumbing repairs can be done without turning off water to the whole house--just that fixture. I have both PEX and copper in my house. The bathroom with the PEX is significantly faster with water delivery/pressure, but it is brand new dedicated pipe to that bathroom. (Although the leaking copper seems to be quite fast in my kitchen!) I suppose that with either copper or PEX, water treatment has to happen before the water enters the house to help prolong the life of the plumbing. Not sure about well water...

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 1:00PM
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So are you saying to pick copper over pec or some other plastic water lines? With pex are there not different types of junctions? A lesser type and a better/newer more reliable junction? I know our supply house keeps water filled pex in the freezer to show how it will not split at temperatures typical of copper failure in freezing temps. And different fittings.
I also thought about the concerns about leaching... We tested our main supply line a few years ago and will be doing it again soon. You can be on a main water line that has been tested by the county and have contaminants built up post filtration center. My biggest concern, lead among other things. If its an older line...

We went with pex, and i believe the more expensive fittings(?). We have individual runs to each fixture and love the feature and ease of turning off individual lines.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 2:05PM
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Has anyone mentioned that one argument in the Pex vs copper debate is that there are considerably fewer junctions needed with Pex than with copper? Water flow is usually better, the fewer the junctions from what I understand.

Thanks for the input about water filtering. We have a whole house water filter planned for our future. Think we will expedite the schedule on that. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2014 at 3:37PM
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Pex v.s. copper should be no difference if installing well.

Pex should never be used in open walls or be exposed to light, this had shown to encourage green algae growth.

Copper is a natural antibacterial and does not harbor growth.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 12:16PM
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Lumping all "plastic" plumbing as bad without being more specific will not help anyone.

1) Was the type of failed plastic piping the same in all cases?
2) Was the type of connectors the same in all cases?
3) Was the initial work done to spec by qualified installers?
4) What was the age of the installations?

Many plastic plumbing solutions have fallen by the wayside over the years, but the industry is solidly behind Pex as time has now proven it to be as reliable as copper. I'm not aware of any Pex connectors that use nuts or other types of screw-on fittings. That fear should at least be laid to rest.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 3:31PM
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Just listened to a lecture by health doctor Neal Barnard, M.D. on the subject of nutrition and the brain. One section of his talk was about metals and how they seem to have some connection with plaques in the brain that are a symptom of Alzheimers disease (which is approaching epidemic scale). In particular, he talked about iron, aluminum and copper. He particularly mentioned copper leaching from copper pipes as possibly being problematic. He also indicated there is a lot they don't know of course but still kind of scary.

I wonder if there is an issue of BPA leaching from the PEX? I've asked a plumber about this who went to school on PEX but of course he said the teachers said nothing about it.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 4:01PM
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Regarding leaching, I have read that the combination of chlorinated water, PVC, and brass fittings can cause lead to leech into the water. Brass is sometimes used in re-models and older houses, where you might have to connect one type of plumbing to another.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lead leaching and faucet corrosion in PVC home plumbing

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 4:15PM
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Snookums - It was a number of years ago when we replaced our polyb pipes. I remember at the time calling them PVC but was told that only the drain pipes were PVC.

I think there are advantages and disadvantages to all types of pipes. Maybe we need an old fashioned well and a bucket... But not this winter - with the polar vortex - all would be frozen solid!

This post was edited by a2gemini on Sat, Feb 22, 14 at 21:23

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 9:22PM
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Just a reminder not to use hot water from the tap for drinking or cooking. Hot water leaches more chemicals than cold water from any kind of plumbing material. Start your pasta water cold, same with water for tea, etc.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 3:10AM
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And run it for a while first for water that hasn't been sitting in the pipes.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 12:11PM
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