The wear-and-tear on your bathroom is substantial. Between baths, showers, toilet flushes and the constant on/off use of a sink, your plumbing will eventually need replacement. Sometimes, a cosmetic repair is all that's required. In other cases, more substantial work is necessary. Here are five signs that the time has come to change your bathroom plumbing.
1) Outdated or faulty hardware
If your sink hardware or showerhead simply won't come clean or if chips and rust are starting to appear, it's time for an upgrade. Not only can older hardware make a bathroom look dated, but it can be dangerous to your health, especially if bits of metal are chipped off and caught in the water stream. Replacing this kind of hardware is typically straightforward, but always make sure to turn off the water before removing any fixtures and call a professional plumber if you encounter any problems.
2) Obvious water issues
Leaks or faulty waterlines also necessitate a bathroom plumbing upgrade. If you turn on your sink tap and water dribbles out around the fixture or if running your tub leaves a pool of water on the floor, your hardware isn't properly sealed. In addition, be on the lookout for drainage issues that won't go away: Tubs or showers that drain slowly — standing water in a shower especially is a problem — indicate either a clog or water that isn't going where it should.
Flush your drains with commercial cleaners or a baking soda/vinegar mix to deal with clogs, but if they won't stay flowing for long, you need replacement drain hardware. Also make sure to check for pools of water outside a tub or shower after draining, as this could indicate moisture in the floor. Always hire a plumber to address these types of issues.
3) Poor water volume
If the water in your shower doesn't come out "full blast," your pipes may be corroding. Over time, galvanized steel pipes start to degrade and their diameter narrows, causing water volume to decrease. This can affect sinks, tubs and the refill rate on a toilet, but you'll notice it most often in showers when the pressure and volume of water lowers. This problem often requires full pipe replacement.
4) Water quality problems
Rusty or foul-smelling water can also indicate that it's time for replacement bathroom plumbing — in this case, your water heater. Many of these heaters contain rods known as "sacrificial anodes," which are steel cores covered in aluminum, zinc or magnesium. Corrosive and bacterial elements present in a hot water tank are attracted to the anodes and won't enter your pipes. But over time, these rods break down and, if they stop functioning, can be the cause of rust-colored or smelly water. A new water heater will often fix the problem.
If you see mold in your bathroom, it's a sure bet you need to replace some of your plumbing. Mold, especially on the walls or ceiling, indicates water is running where it shouldn't — and where you can't see it. The sooner you find the source of the water leak and deal with it, the better. In addition, look for wet pieces of wall or ceiling if you suspect a water problem. These are the precursors to mold, but may not be apparent right after a shower or bath. Wait a few hours and check your bathroom again. If there are wet spots on your walls or ceiling or water on your floor, you have a leak, and you need a professional plumber.
Upgrades to plumbing and hardware not only improve the look of your bathroom, but also its safety and longevity. If caught early enough, simple repairs can sidestep serious issues and save a homeowner both time and money.
Have you recently had to upgrade your bathroom plumbing? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Feb. 2, 2013.