Why Are Home Plumbing Systems Failing More Than Ever?

According to building science experts, low-flow fixtures and other factors have made certain types of plumbing vulnerable to chemical corrosion.

When building science consultant Steve Easley began work on his whole-house remodel in Scottsdale, Ariz., plumbing was top of mind. He had experienced a plumbing failure at a previous home and never wanted that scenario to happen again

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Modern water treatment often includes chlorine, but because pipes get longer exposure, they may be failing more quickly.

“What’s happened is that the way we use water has changed,” he explains. “Not only are cities larger, with a lot more piping, but also because of low-flow faucets and fixtures in the home: Water tends to sit longer in pipes between uses.”

That’s a problem, he says, because many municipalities use chlorination to keep bacteria out of drinking water. Unless the pipe is made of resistant materials, the chlorine begins to eat away at the lining and joints in the plumbing.

“It’s no accident that there have been almost two dozen class-action lawsuits related to premature plumbing failures in recent years,” Easley says. “Which is why for the ReVISION House Scottsdale (his remodel project), we decided to go with CPVC piping. Because it’s manufactured using chlorine, it’s completely impervious to chlorine exposure during use. 

Easley chose the brand, he says, because the company has a long history and because the fittings are readily available; fit together without special tools, and cause no restriction in water flow.

He adds that the plastics used in the construction of these pipes also resist virtually any household chemical they’re likely to encounter, reducing the chance of other unwanted toxins leaching into the home water supply.

Editor's Note: Since publication of this video and blog, we've had some comments from readers critical of Steve's endorsement of CPVC materials, particularly over metals. Both plastics and metals, of course, produce fairly high levels of CO2 pollution in their manufacture, so neither can claim a climate neutral pedigree. Metal such as copper is generally more readily recyclable than PVC, but also exacts a large ecological toll in the extraction and refining phases. It's perhaps part of a future analysis to make a life-cycle comparison of each type of product.

This video, however, focuses on a specific aspect of CPVC plumbing: its performance under some new circumstances: longer periods when chlorine in water sits dormant in pipes due to low-flow fixtures, and housing built at longer distance from treatment facilities, leading to the need for higher levels of chemical pretreatment of potable water.

Here are a few more comments from Steve Easley:

1. When it comes to health and safety, CPVC pipes, fittings and solvent cements are fully vetted, tested and approved per NSF/ANSI 14/61 under all water conditions to be safe for human consumption, and CPVC meets all state and local water quality regulations. 
2.With respect to environmental impacts, it is important consider the comparative impacts of the available materials. Peer-reviewed life cycle inventories show that CPVC has a low lifecycle environmental impact.
3. In a addition to the 60 year track record another reason why the FlowGuard Gold CPVC used on this project was the first and only residential plumbing piping material to receive NGBS Green Certified product recognition.