When Were Galvanized Pipes Phased Out in Homes?

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If you own an older home in the northern suburbs of Chicago, chances are you’ve encountered issues with galvanized pipes. In this article, we’ll address some of the most common questions about galvanized pipes.

What Are Galvanized Pipes?

Galvanized pipes are steel pipes that have undergone a protective zinc coating process to prevent rust and corrosion. They were commonly used in homes built before 1960 as a substitute for lead pipes in water supply lines. However, over time, it has been discovered that galvanized pipes deteriorate and rust from years of exposure to water.

How Long Do Galvanized Pipes Last?

While no piping system is eternal, galvanized pipes typically have a lifespan of 40 to 100 years. If your home was built in the 1960s or earlier, it’s likely that your galvanized pipes are approaching the end of their functional life. Nevertheless, this type of piping is no longer used in modern construction due to the risks it poses to water supply and human health.

Are There Safety Concerns with Galvanized Piping?

The accumulation of mineral deposits within galvanized pipes presents a significant issue. This buildup leads to a decrease in water pressure and contamination of your home’s water supply. Moreover, as rust and corrosion progress, they compromise the stability of the piping system and cause leaks.

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As old galvanized pipes corrode, they can release lead into your tap water. Excessive lead exposure can result in lead poisoning, which manifests as symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, insomnia, nausea, constipation, abdominal pain, and reduced cognitive abilities. Children are particularly vulnerable to high lead levels, as it can impede their brain development and have long-lasting health effects.

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What Do Galvanized Pipes Look Like?

When newly installed, galvanized pipes have a nickel-like appearance. However, as they age, their color may become duller, lighter, or darker, depending on the surrounding environment. In some cases, water pipes have been painted, making it difficult to identify galvanized pipes at a glance.

If you suspect that you have galvanized pipes and need them replaced, contact the experts at American Vintage Home for professional pipe replacement services. Click here to learn more about our company.

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How Can I Identify Galvanized Pipes?

If visual inspection is inconclusive, there’s a simple test to determine if your pipes are galvanized. Grab a flathead screwdriver and a strong magnet. Scratch the outside of the pipe with the screwdriver near the water line.

Copper

A scratched area that resembles the color of a copper penny indicates the presence of copper pipes. A magnet will NOT stick to them.

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Plastic

Scratched areas that appear ivory or white in color indicate the use of plastic pipes. A magnet will NOT stick to them.

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Galvanized Steel

If the scratched area has a silver-gray color, it confirms the use of galvanized steel pipes. A strong magnet will stick to them.

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Lead

A dull silver-gray color, soft and easily scratched metal, and the ability to bend or deform indicate the presence of lead pipes. A magnet will NOT stick to them. If your home has lead pipes, we recommend replacing them if feasible.

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Make sure to perform the scratch test in multiple areas, as it’s common to have different types of piping within your water line.

Do Galvanized Pipes Contain Lead?

Galvanized pipes used between 1880 and 1960 were coated with molten zinc. However, since naturally occurring zinc is impure, these pipes also contained small amounts of lead and other impurities. The zinc coating extended the lifespan of the steel pipes but posed potential harm due to the presence of lead.

Furthermore, if your galvanized pipes were ever connected to lead plumbing, including service lines, there is additional cause for concern. The corrosion inside galvanized steel pipes could have trapped lead particles. Even if the lead pipes have been removed, the galvanized pipes may periodically release the trapped lead into the water flow. Chicago only ceased the use of lead service lines in 1986, and an estimated 400,000 lead service lines remain in existence in the city.

The only surefire method to prevent lead mobilization from plumbing to tap water is to replace all galvanized plumbing and any lead service lines.

What Other Issues Can Galvanized Pipes Cause?

  • Low Water Pressure: The accumulation of corrosion in galvanized pipes restricts water flow, resulting in decreased water pressure throughout your home.
  • Uneven Water Distribution: If some taps have low water pressure while others do not, this could be a sign of galvanized pipe corrosion. Uneven buildup may occur, and only certain sections of the pipeline might have been replaced.
  • Water Discoloration: Galvanized pipes can release iron particles, leading to water discoloration. One clear indicator of this is a brown stain on porcelain sinks.
  • Leaks: Given enough time, galvanized pipes will rust through and cause significant damage to your home.
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How Does Galvanized Pipe Removal Work?

For a permanent solution, replacing all galvanized pipes is the best course of action to fully eliminate rust and lead from the piping system. Although repiping an entire house is a substantial project, the benefits far outweigh the investment. The process begins with an inspection to identify any specific issues that need addressing. The next step is selecting a replacement piping material, typically copper, PVC, or PEX for freshwater lines, and ABS or PVC for waste and drain pipes.

Qualified plumbers will protect your home from potential damage and use specialized tools to locate, remove, and replace the existing pipes.

The duration of a repiping project depends on the size of your home and can take up to a week to complete. The final cost varies based on the chosen pipe material and the amount of piping needed. Older and vintage homes may present additional challenges, such as plaster walls, which can prolong the project and increase costs.

If you’re considering replacing your galvanized pipes or lead service line, or if you want more information about your options, don’t hesitate to reach out to American Vintage Home. Call us at (847) 999-4595 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.

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