In the fine print of most every homeowners insurance policy are these potentially terrifying and expensive words: “Policy does not cover water damage caused by maintenance problems.”
While accidental water issues like burst pipes are covered, neglected pipes will be left out in the non-covered code in case of a winter home water damage disaster. As The Simple Dollar’s Karla Lant stresses to readers, if pipes are found to be poorly maintained or unkempt, “the odds of your policy covering your water source is slim.”
Remember, water service pipelines are private property, making property owners also responsible for water and sewer service pipelines between the house and water meter, and house and sewer main. Your responsibility for having healthy pipes doesn’t end at your property line.
While water supply pipe maintenance is the last thing on the mind of any football-loving American homeowner come January or any exhausted homemaker still recovering from holiday entertaining, there arguably is no more important home maintenance check you can make in January than inspecting the health of your pipes. For as House Logic notes, “nothing lasts forever including the pipes inside your house.”
Just like people, pipes age. Every plumber in America will testify neglected pipes don’t age gracefully. Over decades, pipe tubing gradually corrodes rusts and decays. The end result, House Logic notes, can become a home financial horror movie come to costly life.
“Unless you replace plumbing, you’re eventually going to get leaks – and possibly a flood of water and raw sewage into your home that causes thousands of dollars in damage to your building and belongings.”
Replacing the pipes, House Logic notes, in just a 1,500 square foot, two-bathroom home with copper piping costs between $8,000 and $10,000. Meanwhile, burst pipes from frigid Iowa winters can cause thousands in water damage – easily $5,000 or more, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (PDF). (For information on how to avoid your home’s pipes from bursting this winter, please see our companion piece at www.servicemaster380.com).
So how can the overwhelmed, football-distracted average homeowner avert this disaster? But getting to know your pipes like you know your children and pets.
Know Your Pipes
The first step is reviewing your home inspection report you received when you bought your home and learn what types of pipes you have – or call in a trusted plumber to do a free inspection of your plumbing system. This will determine how long you can expect your pipes to last.
Here’s a breakdown of the typical lifespan of water supply pipes based on their material:
|Galvanized Steel||80-100 Years|
|Cast Iron||80-100 Years|
|Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)||25-40 Years|
Just because your pipes are older than these guidelines doesn’t mean they need to be replaced. The key to extending the average lifespan of your pipes is TLC. Well-maintained pipes may last longer, while poorly maintained pipes – especially those in areas using hard water – may fail sooner.
No matter how old they are, lead (which can leach into your drinking water a cause a serious health hazard for your family) and polybutylene pipes (which break like peanut brittle in adverse operating conditions) should be replaced.
If your home is more than 60 years old, make looking for telltale signs of trouble an annual part of your home maintenance inspection. Look at any exposed pipe in basements, crawlspaces and utility rooms for signs of trouble. Check your pipe tubing for discoloration, stains, dimpling, pimples or flaking. These are all signs of corrosion. If you find any of these issues, bring in a plumber ASAP to do an inspection.
The positive news for homeowners: Maintaining healthy water pipes is easier than taking care of your teeth.
- Soften The Water: Remember, if you live in a city or neighborhood that uses hard water, the high mineral content can shorten the lifespan of your pipes. Minerals build up in pipes over time, increasing the likelihood of clogging. They also can corrode pipe joints and fillings. A smart solution is investing in a whole-house water softener system to break down the minerals. A water softener system runs $600-$1,000, but the long-term benefits are worth it. The added benefits: You get the purest water possible to all areas of your house, including the laundry room. Using soft water to wash your clothes means your water heater doesn’t have to work so hard. To determine whether or not you have hard water, check your municipality’s water report on the EPA database. If the density is listed as having over 140 parts per million, you have hard water.
- Avoid Harsh Water Chemical Solutions: Even legendary Do-It-Yourselfer MacGyver would agree with us on this. While they’re great for clogging emergencies and a cheaper short-term fix than calling the plumber, relying on store-bought liquids to unclog drains can do long-term damage to your pipes. The harsh chemicals gradually erode the pipes from the inside, eventually causing costly leaks. In a healthy contrast, as Inspire.com notes, an $80-150 visit to the plumber to snake the drain, or buying an unclogging kit yourself, can safely unclog your pipes while maintaining their long-term health.
- Insulate and Lower Pressure: You’ve heard us tell you this one before, but it’s gospel truth, folks: For brutally cold Iowa winters, nothing gives your home’s pipes extra burst protection than proper insulation. “Pipe insulation can cost as little as 50 cents per linear foot at your local hardware store,” Susan Millerick, IBHS spokeswoman, told Consumer Reports. “So for not much more than the cost of the aspirin you’d need, you can avoid the headaches of cleanup, loss of precious keepsakes, and the cost of your insurance deductible.” Another key to long-term pipe health is low water pressure. Constant high pressure can put a great strain on your pipes, causing the joints, faucets and appliance valves all to work harder so they can keep up.”
An Investment In Your Family’s Overall Health
Good water supply pipe health is essential to the health and well-being of your family, home and savings account. Taking the type to get to know your pipes not only expands the life of your pipes, but ensures you have consistently clean water flowing throughout your home. Because learning you have faulty pipes is something you can’t afford to discover after a plumbing disaster.
“Remember to make sure to investigate to make sure your pipes are in proper working order and that there were no failures or defects,” Lant warns, “Finding this kind of water damage source may be the only way you can get coverage” in the event of disaster.