When doing leak detections, I often get asked the best course of action for a leak. There are usually only two options, repipe or spot repair. Depending on the situation, I recommend one or the other. But what are they really, and what should you expect?
As a leak detection specialist, I do not repair leaks. Just like you wouldn't want your plumber repairing drywall, you wouldn’t want your leak detector fixing your leaks. Even though I don’t do the repairs, I can recommend the best course of action. So here is how I typically make a recommendation.
The main consideration is the pipe material. Do you have copper, CPVC, Pex, Polybutylene?
Right off the bat, if you have polybutylene, I will recommend a full house repipe. You will thank me in the long run. Polybutylene, as you can guess from the name, is a polymer pipe that was used extensively in the ’80s and ’90s. It was supposed to be a cheaper and better replacement for copper. It isn’t. Polybutylene has an Achilles heel, chlorine. Chlorine and other chemicals that are used to treat water break the pipe down, causing it to be brittle. Within a few years, you will have fractures and eventually failure. Polybutylene is the absolute worst form of piping in a house.
If you have CPVC, and the break appears to be the result of hydrocarbon break down, then once again I will recommend a full house repipe. CPVC should not be used to pipe a house in my humble opinion. Like Polybutylene, chlorinated polyvinyl chloride breaks down with some common chemicals. After a few years, it will become brittle and eventually fail. I know some builders and plumbers will argue with me, for this, but it's my experience that in the southeast CPVC is bad.
Copper? The most expensive piping and the most common in older homes are copper. Copper was the goto of yesteryear and is still a viable option for piping. The only time I recommend a repipe instead of spot repair with copper is when the house is very old and the fittings are starting to fail. In that event, it's necessary to replace everything.
If you have Pex, then you are fortunate. Pex is cross-linked polyethynol, and currently is the standard for water distribution in the house. It has great thermal expansion characteristics, great pliability, and the fact that it comes in red and blue means you’ll know what is hot and cold. Pex is safe to run overhead, in concrete, or in a crawl space. Currently, there is no known downside to Pex. I will never recommend a repipe for Pex.
Now, what does a repipe or a repair entail? Well, it's simple, a repair means the pipe is exposed either in the foundation or the wall and repaired with a section of new pipe. This is almost always the cheapest method, although a slab repair can be in the thousands.
A repipe means, the plumber will run all-new material from the point of service at the house or meter and run new cold and hotlines throughout the house. Costs of repipes can vary wildly. If you have a crawl space with significant access, a repipe will be relatively cheap. If you have a decent attic, a repipe may also not break the bank. However, if you have to run new lines through the slab, then a repipe could be over $10,000.00 easily. All in all, contact your local plumber and ensure you get a price upfront before going forward. Also ensure you get a warranty because nobody wants to have a leak a year after a repipe, just find out the plumber used cheap materials.