How Long Do Plumbing Pipes Last?

It’s an unfortunate fact that nothing lasts forever and that goes for the pipes that make up your plumbing system as much as it does for everything else. Eventually, things will go wrong and need repairing or replacing- but how long can you expect to get out of a piece of pipe?

The answer is: it depends.

Let’s wade in.

Common Types of Pipe And Their Lifespans

Depending on what they’re made of, your local water, level of usage, maintenance routines and various other factors, the lifespan of your pipes can vary.

The most common materials you’ll find in a domestic or business setting are; copper, galvanized steel, cast iron, PEX and PVC.

Each has its own advantages and problems.


Probably the most common type of piping until recently, copper pipe is often used as a supply pipe; that means that it’s under constant pressure and eventually, something will go wrong. If you look behind your sink there’s a good chance you’ll find copper piping.

Copper is used for a few reasons. It’s fairly cheap, easy to cut and bend and relatively sturdy. Most importantly, copper is non-permeable and doesn’t leach anything into the water supply. While it will develop a rather striking green patina over time, it doesn’t corrode easily.

Copper is widely used in plumbing but there are a couple negatives. While copper is cheap and malleable, modern plastics leave it in the dust on both counts. If you happen to draw water from a well or live in a particularly high-acid level area, copper may not be the best choice either. It’s also particularly prone to freezing and bursting as it thaws.

How long does copper pipe last?

You can reasonably expect copper piping to last about 50 years before you should consider replacing it.

PVC Pipe

PVC (or Polyvinyl Chloride) is another common material used for piping in both domestic and commercial plumbing systems, as well as irrigation and all kinds of water-transport applications. In home and business settings, you’re most likely to find it in waste fittings, though there are other applications.

Major advantages of PVC include its strength, cost and how lightweight it can be- making it easy to transport and install. Of course, as a plastic, PVC is also resistant to corrosion which is a huge plus when it’s being used for a water main. Its lifespan is another huge bonus, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Disadvantages of PVC in plumbing are that they’re not very heat resistant and have been known to crack under pressure.

How long Does PVC Pipe Last?

The short answer is: we don’t actually know yet- it’s a really, really long time though. PVC doesn’t degrade overtime under normal usage, so your PVC fittings and pipes could last forever, at least on paper.

PEX Pipe

PEX (or Crosslinked Polyethylene) piping is quickly replacing copper for many applications. Despite being a relatively new addition to the world of piping, PEX is probably the most commonly used material in new installations.

There are a good few reasons that PEX is becoming so ubiquitous in plumbing. It’s cheap, flexible (in both the sense of being bendy and multi-use) and it’s safe for both hot and cold water uses. In short, PEX has all the advantages of copper but turned up to 11.

In terms of disadvantages, rodents seem to like chewing on PEX and some locations may have rules in place which forbid its use in homes. It’s also not suitable for outside use- it is prone to freezing and degrades when exposed to UV light.

How Long Does PEX Pipe Last?

PEX is comparable to copper in terms of life expectancy. You can reasonably expect to get 40 to 50 years from your new pipes.

Cast Iron

Cast Iron isn’t a common sight in modern homes, though there are a few historical buildings which will contain some of the original pipework. You’ll often see cast iron piping used in waste systems on older buildings, taking dirty water to the sewer.

Cast Iron was commonly used for a few reasons. It’s strong, durable and heat-resistant as well as great at muffling sound- all things you want in your drainage system.

Of course, there are reasons we don’t tend to use cast iron piping anymore. It’s expensive, heavy enough to sink into the ground, damaging your property, and prone to corrosion and rust.

How Long Does Cast Iron Pipe Last?

A large part of the reason we still see cast iron on historical buildings is quite simply that it lasts. It’s not uncommon to see fittings which are over 100 years old still in use.

Galvanized Steel

Another historical type of pipe which has fallen out of favor, galvanized steel replaced lead as the go-to source for pipe in homes across the country from the 1880s until about 1960 when more modern materials gained favor.

Galvanization is the process of dipping a product in zinc, producing a coating which is hard-wearing and resistant to corrosion. Galvanized steel pipes were used for these qualities, their strength under pressure and the simple fact that they’re not lead, and therefore don’t pose the same health risks.

That being said, galvanized pipes are prone to build-up of impurities from the water supply. Over time, these will restrict the flow and lead to a drop in pressure and, in extreme cases causing health problems. While the galvanization process increases steel’s resistance to corrosion, eventually the coating will start to wear, discoloring water and leaving a strange taste. It’s also harder to work with than other materials commonly found in plumbing systems.

Even worse, if natural zinc was used in making your galvanized pipes, it’s not unheard of for the coating to contain lead- the very substance they were developed to do away with!

How Long Do Galvanized Pipes Last?

Galvanized steel pipes can vary hugely in terms of life-expectancy. Depending on various factors it could last anywhere between 20 and 50 years.

How Do I Know If My Pipes Are Deteriorating?

There are a few tell-tale signs that you should be on the lookout for when it comes to an aging plumbing system.

First and foremost, leaks and corrosion. If water is escaping from your pipes, there’s something wrong and you should investigate as soon as possible. Likewise, if your water changes color or tastes “off”, there’s something wrong that needs attention.

Slightly more subtle signs that your plumbing is showing its age might be a drop in water pressure or odd noises coming from the pipes.

In the case of a drop in pressure, it’s likely that there’s some build-up or scaling inside your pipes. Sometimes it will be possible to clean these out (in the case of a heating system for instance), sometimes it will require a replacement.

If you’re hearing odd noises it could be a number of things but a “water hammer” is likely in an aging system. This means that protective air-pockets in your system are filling with water, increasing wear and tear on your fittings and fixtures.

What Can affect The Life Expectancy of Pipes?

Of course, it’s never as simple as saying “this material will last exactly this long” and numerous factors can influence the life expectancy of your plumbing.

If you live in a hard water area, where your water supply is high in calcium, or an area with particularly acidic soil, extremes of heat or cold, your system will require more maintenance and ultimately, replacement more often.

Another major factor in how long your pipes will last is how much you use them. It goes without saying that systems which see heavy usage will wear out faster than those which see lighter use.

What Can I Do To Extend My Plumbing’s life?

While nothing lasts forever, there are a few simple steps you can take to prolong the life expectancy of your plumbing.

Firstly, regular inspections and maintenance is a must. Flush your heating systems annually, get a professional in to ensure that your water pressure is right and to inspect for signs of wear and tear that the untrained eye might miss.

Keeping pipes protected from the elements as much as possible will go a long way towards keeping your system running year after year. Good insulation on any outdoor pipe is an absolute must and keeping those indoors at a regular temperature is a good idea too.

You should also be careful in what you allow to go down your drain. Blockages and corrosion can lead to seriously unpleasant problems down the line.

Of course, it goes without saying that at the first sign of any problem with a plumbing system, you should employ a professional to give it the once-over before making any decisions.

Which Pipes Should I Choose?

While you can reasonably expect your pipes to last upwards of 50 years, eventually they’re going to need replacement. There are few things to consider when making this decision- too many to go into detail with here.

Different materials will cost different amounts but it’s not a great idea for budget to be the only factor in your considerations. Your plumber will be able to talk you through your options depending on what the job entails and your particular circumstances.

When it comes to your plumbing, it really is best to get a professional in to ensure that everything lasts as long as it should.