There are choices in the type of supply pipes that can be installed in a home; Copper, CPVC, or Pex. If you are buying a home, you need to look at the home inspection report to see which material was used in the home.
Many people like copper pipes, as they are sturdy and can last a long time. However, not all copper pipes are equal. How long do copper pipes last? Well, some last 50-70 years, but depends on the type of Copper piping.
There are M-type, L-type, and K-type. K-type lasts the longest, over 100 years, but the L-type is better for the residential home.
Let’s take a look at Copper pipes and the 3 types, as well as other types of materials and pipes in homes, what to keep an eye out for in your home, when to replace copper pipes, and testing your water.
Background Information About Copper Pipes
Copper pipes are often used for supply pipes in the home. They carry the hot and cold water in separate pipes inside the walls and under the floor and are an important part of the home plumbing system. There are three types of Copper pipes, M, K, and L.
Types of Copper Pipes
M-Type Copper Pipe
- Thinnest of all the copper pipes in the home.
- Don’t take up a lot of space in the home, but are worn down faster.
- A home can get 50 years out of these pipes, however, that isn’t true in most cases.
- Most homes will see 20 years if they are lucky, as acidity, ph levels, and well water can contribute to a shorter life span.
- The pipes are thinner and more prone to water leaks as they can puncture easier.
K- Type Copper Pipes
- Most durable
- Most expensive
- Not the right type of piping for a residential home
- Made more for water mains in cities and non-residential units
L-Type Copper Pipes
- Perfect for residential homes
- Highly recommended by most plumbers
- Thicker and can withstand the ph levels
- Last at least 50 years and sometimes up to 100 years!
You might say you don’t plan to stay in your home that long, but if you plan to sell one day, this type of copper piping is a great selling point. Also, if you have thought about passing your home down to your children or grandchildren, you will have the peace of mind that they hopefully won’t need to worry about replacing the pipes.
Why Choose L-Type over M-Type Copper Pipes
L-type is more durable, suited for the home better, and meets the building codes.
M-type is not as durable and may not meet the building codes in all cities.
Which Copper Pipe is in Your Home
A specific color is etched on the pipe and this represents the type of pipe and thickness.
- Green is Type K
- Blue is Type L
- Red is Type M
Speeding Up of Copper Corroding
Homes near the beach can make copper corrode faster. This is due to the salt air which lowers the electrical resistance of water, thus making the rusting process happen faster. Also, chloramines and sulfites are added to water to keep it clean for drinking, however, it also causes the pipes to erode faster.
Water and/or soil that is acidic can also cause corrosion and shorten the lifespan to 20 years or less. Lastly, alkaline ph, contaminants, and hardness can also be leading factors to corrosion. Testing your water is important to make sure you don’t have any of this in your water supply.
Price of Copper Pipes
Copper piping costs range from $2-8 per linear foot for just the materials and depends on the size of the tubing as well.
- Most expensive = Type K
- Middle of the road in price, but best to use in residential homes= Type L
- Least expensive = Type M
Other Types of Pipe Material in Homes
Chlorinated polyvinyl-chloride (CPVC)
- CPVC last 50-75 years.
- This material can withstand the higher chlorinated water and higher temperatures than PVC can. However, this material is susceptible to falling apart because of these issues and may not make it to the expected lifespan above.
- Costs: $.50- $1.00 per linear foot.
- Pex lasts 40-50 years
- Made of cross-linked polyethylene, which is a form of flexible plastic tubing with cross-linked molecules. Durable, stronger, and a top choice for those who want to DIY and by plumbers. However, it is more expensive than CPVC due to fittings
- Costs: $.50 – $2 per linear foot
Piping to Look Out For in a Pre-Existing Home
Galvanized Steel Pipe
This pipe is made of a thicker material and used in homes before the 1960s, and lasts 20-50 years. It also has a special Zinc coating on it to prevent corrosion. However, it rusts quickly and not used as much anymore in homes.
Also, this material is known to carry lead into the water system. If your home has this type of plumbing, you may be looking at $3000-$4000 for replacement. In fact, Pex is a good replacement for it as explained above.
This type of plumbing is made of a gray plastic material and used in the 1970s-1990s in many homes in the Sun Belt, Pacific Northwest, and Mid-Atlantic.
Unfortunately, it is prone to breaking easily. If you have a home that might have Polybutylene pipes in it, contact a professional to check it out right away. The chlorinated water can cause them to break without warning and you don’t want that to happen. The replacement cost is a few thousand dollars.
This material was installed in homes in the early 1900s and lasts about 100 years. However, they can leak lead into your water supply and cause permanent health issues. If your home was built during that time, call a professional to check your pipes.
If the professional finds you have lead piping, you will need to have them replaced right away. One reason is that it is a health issue and another reason is they are close to, if not past, their lifespan.
When to Replace Copper Pipes
If you find any of the following signs, call a professional to diagnose the issue:
- Cracks– cracks are not a good thing and the water will not flow through correctly.
- Leaks– pipes can develop leaks due to pinhole punctures or other issues.
- Corrosion– pipes are wearing down quickly if there is corrosion, call a professional to check them out.
- Discolored water- water will discolor or taste bad if there is sediment or other things in it. Do a water test and contact a professional.
- Water pressure decreased in the home– check to see if there is a clog first. If not, contact a professional.
- Pipes are old- pipes have a lifespan and can be cut short by other factors.
Testing Your Water
Knowing that your water is safe to drink, no matter the type of pipes in your home is important. In fact, the EPA publishes a guide for you to check on the quality of water, contaminants, and source of water for your area.
Copper piping is popular among many home builders and can last a long time. In fact, this material is durable and moves the water throughout the home effciently. If you choose to use the L-type, you should get 50-100 years out of your piping and hopefully never need to see a replacement!
There are also other piping materials suggested above you can look into if you are on the fence about copper piping. It is always good to have options! If you have questions about your piping material or copper, reach out to us or leave a reply below so we can help!