The occasional freezing nights we get in North Florida in the winter give all of us pause.

First, we all must think about how we dress in the colder weather and turning up the heat in our homes to stay warm. But if you’ve ever had the experience of coming home to a frozen display due to a burst water pipe, you may be wondering two things on these cold winter nights – what are your pipes made of and will they withstand the cold?

Here’s the answer to the second question first. Unless we get a hard freeze, your pipes are probably safe if you follow some simple directions. But that does depend on how old your water pipes are and what condition they are in.

People often assume that if your house is warm, the water pipes are safe. That’s mostly true but pipes can be in exposed areas under your home. So, if the freeze is hard enough, you could have a problem. Here’s what you should do. Let cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe even just a few drops – helps prevent pipes from freezing. And if you’re going to be away during cold weather – say over the holidays – leave the heat on in your home at a temperature no lower than  55 degrees.

Now, back to the first question – what are your pipes made of? The answer to that likely depends on the age of your home or the age of your pipes if they have been replaced since the home was built.

Your water pipes can be galvanized, copper, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC), Cross-Linked Polyethylene (PEX) or possibly, but not likely Polypropylene (PP).

If you have galvanized pipe, you are looking at material that is very old and likely has some issues. In fact, most insurance agents will have concerns about insuring a home with galvanized piping.

Copper can also indicate that you have an older home, but it comes with fewer of the safety concerns you see with galvanized piping. Copper has a long and proven history having been used in home building for 80 years. Additionally, copper plumbing pipe does not pollute your drinking water, and old pipes can be recycled. However, if environmental issues are a concern copper mining and manufacturing are so environmentally damaging that despite its longevity and recyclability, copper plumbing pipe should not be considered a green product.

PEX piping has been used for the last decade or so and is designed to last in homes for 50 years or more. It is rated at 200 PSI, while standard pressure for most piping is 50 PSI. PEX can easily be snaked into walls, making it ideal for retrofitting. One piece can actually extend across the entire house, curving around corners and obstructions, without any seams. And if a joint is needed, there’s no soldering involved. On the environmental side, there is some research linking the process used to make PEX with methyl tertiary butyl ether, a toxin found in gasoline. That leaves the possible concern that PEX pipes could contaminate the water that runs through them. On the upside, California recently approved the use of PEX, and that state has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the country.

PVC piping has been around since the 1970s and is seen as a replacement for traditional metal piping. While it is still in use, it is being overshadowed by a similar product – CPVC – which has been in use for almost 40 years. Among the improvements in CPVC over PVC is that it can handle much higher temperatures. Many newer building codes require the use of CPVC over CPC as a result. And while we don’t recommend DIY projects unless you’re an expert, CPVC would be the product you want to use. It has a 40-year history of durability and is easy to install because it requires no special tools or skills. You cut the pipe with a handsaw and join it together using matching fittings and adhesives. Environmentally, there are some concerns. Manufacture of it is highly polluting,  it’s not recyclable and joining the sections of pipe requires volatile chemical solvents. However, once it’s installed in your plumbing system, there aren’t any bad health consequences for your water quality.

Finally, there is PP. You may have never heard of it because it is not used much in the United States. It has been used in Europe for more than 30 years where it scores high marks for durability and health safety. Like CPVC, it is a rigid plastic pipe, but it’s not joined together with chemicals. Instead, heat is used to melt the mating ends and fuse them permanently together. And of all the piping options it has the best environmental record.

So, there’s a lot to choose from. The best decision you can make if you are building new or considering a repiping is to ask an expert. In the Gainesville area, we are always comfortable recommending Quality Plumbing.

Next time, Mr. Rick’s blog will introduce you to home expert Tina Gleisner, an author, and DIY expert who dedicates her website to empowering women to be better informed about homes and their own DIY activities.