A century ago, most homes used lead pipes for indoor plumbing, which was later replaced with cast-iron pipes. Around the 1960s, home builders began using galvanized steel pipes for the indoor plumbing systems for the supply of freshwater.
This remained the norm for several years until builders started using materials such as copper and plastic pipes for plumbing systems.
So, is there a cause to worry about plumbing systems with galvanized steel? Should you buy a home with galvanized plumbing? In this article, we will examine what are galvanized pipes, how they affect your plumbing system and your home and what you should do if your home has galvanized plumbing.
Over time, iron and steel pipes replaced lead pipes as materials for plumbing in homes; however, the biggest drawback of using these materials is that over time, iron and steel rust. And, to prevent the steel pipes from rusting and corrosion, the steel pipes were coated with zinc and these pipes were known as galvanized pipes.
However, the thing about galvanized pipes is that since they are in contact with water all the time, the minerals in the water cause the zinc coating to wear off over time, which leaves the pipes at risk of build-up of rust inside the pipe.
A few years ago, when newly installed, galvanized pipes with their nice and shiny nickel color were the most sought-after plumbing materials by homeowners and builders. However, after around 30 to 40 years of use, the zinc coatings wear away and start showing signs of rust, corrosion and other issues such as:
Over time, galvanized pipes start to corrode and rust. The process of galvanization does not prevent the rust from building up and layers of rust begin to form over one another on the pipe. And, over the years, the protective zinc layer completely gets corroded and rusted.
Often, the zinc in the galvanized pipes contains impurities such as lead and other types of heavy metals that are hazardous to health. There have been instances where lab tests revealed that galvanized pipes contained up to 10x the amount of lead, which according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is highly hazardous.
And, once the pipes start rusting and corroding, the lead and other contaminants can get into the drinking water and cause serious health problems.
If your home has galvanized plumbing, it can suffer from problems such as low water pressure, pipe bursts or pipe leaks. Often the pipe starts leaking at the joints, usually behind the walls.
The moisture and water build-up often remain unnoticed for very long periods, which may cause the growth of mold and mildew and structural damage to your home resulting in expensive repairs.
When the galvanized pipes start corroding, the iron from the pipes starts leaching into the water and giving it a rust-brown color.
When galvanized pipes are newly installed, it has a metallic nickel coloring; however, as the pipe ages, it begins to look duller, darker or lighter. If you’re unable to tell if the plumbing system of your home has galvanized pipes by looking at it, then there is a simple test by which you can determine if the pipes are galvanized or not.
Take a flat-head screwdriver and a magnet. Using the screwdriver, scratch the exterior portion of the pipe with it and then check the results. If the scratched portion:
- Has the color of copper pennies and the magnet does not stick, then the pipe is made of copper.
- If white or ivory and the magnet does not stick, then the pipe is plastic.
- Has a dull silvery-gray color, the metal is easy to scratch and very soft and the magnet does not stick, then the pipes are made of lead.
- Has a silvery-gray color and the magnet sticks to it, then the pipe is galvanized steel.
On average, galvanized pipes have a life of around 40 to 50 years. If the supply lines in your home are galvanized steel, then there is constant pressure on the corroded pipes because of the water pressure that pushes the water towards the faucets, which reduces the life of the pipes.
However, there is less pressure on the waste lines made of galvanized steel because the waste is flowing away from your home and this reduced pressure helps to increase the life of the galvanized pipes.
If you’re planning to buy a home, then it is advisable not to invest in one having galvanized plumbing unless the seller is willing to replace all the pipes or you are prepared to replace the entire galvanized plumbing system yourself. Purchasing a home with galvanized plumbing can be a big risk.
If the pipes are rusted and corroded, then you can expect problems such as water pressure issues, pipe leaks and even pipe bursts that can cost a lot more in terms of expensive repairs to your home.
And so, if you’re purchasing a home with galvanized plumbing, which the seller will not replace, then as a buyer, you are assuming considerable risk. If you’re purchasing a home with galvanized plumbing, then you will need to replace the entire plumbing sooner or later with more modern and reliable plumbing.
If your home has galvanized pipes, then it is recommended that you upgrade the plumbing system and replace the old galvanized pipes with either copper or PVC pipes.
While the replacement may be time-consuming, as well as expensive; nevertheless, in the long run, you will end up saving a lot of money on future repairs. We know that over time, galvanized pipes break down, which means that replacing them can help to reduce the risk of leaks, water damage and pipe bursts.
Plumbing technology and materials have undergone a sea change and galvanized pipes are outdated and new constructions today do not use galvanized pipes. However, if you’re planning on investing in a home and it has galvanized plumbing, it is a good idea not to purchase it.
However, if you still go ahead and decide to purchase the house, then it is a good idea to completely replace the outdated galvanized plumbing with a more modern plumbing system to future-proof your home.