Causes of Pipe Failure

There are several reasons for pipe failure, including corrosion, use of incorrect materials, and old building codes.

In the mid-1980s it became apparent that the water in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia was causing serious corrosion in water pipes. Glacial water was corroding and dissolving pipes from the inside out.

Over time, pipe walls become thinner as more copper is dissolved or eroded from the inside of the pipe. Non-conforming plumbing and old building codes have exacerbated this situation. For example, permitting the bending of copper pipes creates weak areas in the piping, and combining dissimilar metals causes increased corrosion.

The first stage of corrosion usually involves pinhole leaks in the water pipes. As corrosion continues, these leaks increase in frequency to the point where a shut-down to repair one leak will create further leaks. Once pipes have begun reacting in the latter stages of corrosion, the only viable alternative is complete replacement.

When pipes rust (a type of corrosion), water can become foul smelling, “rusty”-colored and unfit to drink. As rust builds up, the interior of the pipe will become more restricted, leading to a lack of water pressure. Because the pressure from the outside system remains constant, the constriction from the rust and build-up can cause leaks and water damage.

General contractors of the past, however, are not to blame for pipe failure, because codes and materials used in decades past were the best that contractors had at the time. Polybutylene pipe, for example, was installed from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. It was cheap to purchase and easy to install. Unfortunately, it reacts with chlorine and other oxidants in our water, causing pipes to become brittle and leak.

Product improvements and amendments to building codes allow pipe replacements today to last longer than pipe systems of the past.

If you are concerned about pipe failure in your residential or commercial building, contact us at 604-253-9330.