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Do You Know Your Home’s Plumbing System? [2023]

BY Steve Rodriguez

Plumbing System Water lines

Galvanized Steel

Used from 1900-1990 and has a life up to 70 years. 

Primarily used in homes built before 1960.  This material corrodes and flakes off inside the pipe. 

Because of the galvanizing process, this is not a safe material to drink from since lead and cadmium are heavy metals and a health hazard to ingest.  A full replacement can cost $2k-$15k and includes the pipes inside the walls and the supply line outside the home.

galvanized water lines
cpvc water lines


Used from 1960-Present and has a life up to 75 years. 

This material sometimes gets a bad wrap, but it’s great for residential water lines since its joints are stronger than copper and also more resistant to corrosion.  It also stops water hammer.


A plastic piping used throughout the South and Midwest from 1978-1995 with a lifespan up to 26 years. 

First thought to be the future of plumbing, it became a widespread substitute for copper and was installed in nearly 10 million homes.  Then it started to fail and both the manufacturer and installers were sued for causing hundreds of millions worth of damage.

At first, plastic fittings got the blame.  These played a part, but after switching to copper and brass it was discovered that the primary cause was the water quality of the city water supply.

polybutylene water lines
copper water lines


Gained popularity in the early 1960s and continues today with a lifespan of 50 years.

This material is strong, non-toxic, antimicrobial, cost-effective, doesn’t rust and resists corrosion.

PEX tubing

Invented in 1968 and used throughout Europe before coming to the U.S. in the 1990s.  It has an expected lifespan of 100 years.

Pros:  Flexible, light weight, and faster to install than PVC and copper.  It is also safe, chemical-resistant, eliminates water hammer, and can be retrofitted onto copper.

Cons:  Indoor use only since it’s vulnerable to UV rays and extreme cold.  It’s also not recyclable and can’t be connected directly to the water heater.

pex water lines

Plumbing System Drain Lines


Used from the early 1900s until 1960s and has a lifespan of 50-60 years. 

Still very common around Kansas City in homes 80+ years old.  These drain lines are buried underground outside the home and prone to cracking, breaking, and leaking.

clay sewer line
cast iron sewer line

Cast Iron

The most common sewer line used in Kansas City homes built between 1900-1975 with a lifespan of 50-65 years.

These are found everywhere in Kansas City and also prone to cracking, breaking, and leaking.  The biggest difference between cast iron and clay is that you’ll also find cast iron inside the home.

When they break down, you’ll see these drain lines crack and flake.  Fortunately, repair is straightforward and usually requires only the damaged section to be replaced.  The biggest problem is getting to the leak when it’s inside walls, cellars, crawlspaces. 

PVC Plastic

Began being installed in the 1970s and still used in new construction today.  It has a lifespan of 70-100 years.

This material is affordable, doesn’t rust or corrode, is easy-to-use, inexpensive, and has long life.

However, it is not that durable and prone to damage under pressure. 

pvc drain lines
abs black plastic

ABS Black Plastic

The first residential plastic drain line used and has a life of 50-80 years.

It does not work well in hot temperatures and some cities require it to be covered in a special paint when used outdoors to protect it from UV light.

Plumbing System Water Heaters

Water heaters deteriorate from the inside out so the lower the water temperature, the longer the life.

Two signs that it’s time to replace your water heater:

  1. Leaking at the base
  2. You notice your hot water is not lasting very long (it’s filling up with sediment)


Gas – 10-12 years

Tankless -20 years

Electric – 10-15 years

gas water heater
electric water heater
tankless water heater
Photo of author


Steve Rodriguez is a Certified Master Inspector® and the owner of Bulldog Professional Inspection Services. He will perform your home inspection and has personally uncovered tens-of-thousands of defects in 14,000+ Kansas City properties since 2003.

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