What You Need to Know About Galvanized Plumbing
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If your house was built during or before the 1960s, or in the early 1970s, there is a good chance it has galvanized plumbing. While it was once the norm, galvanized plumbing has fallen out of use for multiple reasons, and galvanized pipes in modern homes may need to be replaced. Read on to learn more about this type of plumbing and what to do if your home contains it.
Key points from this article:
- Galvanized Plumbing Origins: Galvanized plumbing, which involves coating steel pipes with zinc, became popular as a safer alternative to lead pipes. It was commonly used in homes built during or before the 1960s and up to the early 1970s.
- Issues with Galvanized Plumbing: Over time, the zinc coating on galvanized pipes corrodes, leading to rusting from the inside. This can result in reduced water pressure, leaks, bursts, and water contamination. The rusting can also introduce lead into the water, posing health risks.
- Identifying Galvanized Plumbing: To check if a home has galvanized plumbing, one can scratch the pipe near the water line. If it's galvanized, the scratched area will appear silver or gray, and a magnet will stick to it.
- Replacement Recommendations: Given the potential issues, it's often recommended to replace galvanized pipes, especially if they show signs of rust or damage. Modern alternatives include copper, PEX, and PVC pipes.
Disclaimer – The information on this page is intended for general informational purposes only and not to provide legal advice.
What is galvanized plumbing?
Galvanized plumbing became common after the dangers of lead pipes became apparent. Steel was the go-to replacement for lead, but it rusted too easily to be a viable option on its own. The solution to this problem was galvanization—the process of coating steel pipes in a layer of zinc.
When was galvanized plumbing used?
Galvanized plumbing was first incorporated into buildings in the early 20th century. Most homes built before 1960 were constructed using galvanized pipes. While this type of plumbing became less common after the 1960s, galvanized pipes may be present in homes built as late as 1990.
Why did they stop using galvanized plumbing?
While galvanized plumbing seemed like an ideal substitute for lead pipes initially, it became more evident over time that galvanized steel came with multiple downsides. A few decades after they are installed, galvanized pipes will begin to rust, which can lead to leaks, bursts, and water contamination.
Because of these issues, galvanized piping is no longer the industry standard. Nowadays, pipes are typically made of copper, PEX, or PVC.
Is galvanized plumbing bad?
While galvanized plumbing isn’t problematic in its earlier stages, it can cause issues at or near the end of its lifespan.
Although galvanization was first implemented to prevent rust, the zinc coating actually corrodes over time and causes the pipes to rust on the inside. This can cause changes in water pressure and even lead to pipes leaking or bursting. The rust may also find its way into the water that comes through the pipes, giving it a brown color.
Is galvanized plumbing safe?
Galvanized plumbing poses a structural risk to a home and a health risk to its inhabitants. Impurities in the zinc layer of galvanized pipes may cause lead to enter the water as the zinc rusts.
Is it okay to drink water from galvanized pipes?
Galvanized pipes can carry a significantly higher amount of lead than what is deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This means that once a home's galvanized pipes begin to rust, drinking tap water can potentially cause lead poisoning, with children at incredibly high risk.
Lead poisoning can cause serious health problems, including death, so it's essential to have your pipes regularly inspected for your family's safety.
How can you tell if you have galvanized plumbing?
To determine whether or not your home has galvanized plumbing, you can conduct a simple test using a flathead screwdriver and a magnet. Use the screwdriver to scratch your pipe near the start of the water line. If the pipe is made of galvanized steel, the scratched area should have a silver or gray color. The magnet should also stick to the pipe.
If the pipe does not meet both of the above conditions, it is most likely made of a different material.
How long does galvanized plumbing last?
Galvanized piping can last anywhere from 30–70 years, with an average lifespan of around 40–50 years. Since most galvanized plumbing was installed more than 50 years ago, any currently existing galvanized pipes will likely start to rust soon if they have not rusted already.
Should you repair or replace galvanized piping?
While galvanized pipes that have not yet begun to corrode don’t pose any immediate danger to your home, it’s only a matter of time before issues start to crop up. It’s usually best to replace your pipes sooner rather than later. At the very least, be sure to have your pipes inspected yearly to catch any problems early on.
How do you know when galvanized pipes should be replaced?
While it's best to have a professional look at your pipes to determine their condition, there are some signs of damage that you can check for on your own. If you notice any rust or lumps on your pipes, notable decreses in water flow, or brownish water released right when the water source is turned on, this indicates that they are at the end of their lifespan, and it's time to replace them.
Is it still possible to find galvanized plumbing parts?
Because galvanized piping is still present in many homes, galvanized fittings are still available on the market. You should be able to find parts at your local hardware store or online.
How can you tell if galvanized plumbing is corroded and needs to be replaced?
Even without looking at your pipes, you’ll likely be able to tell if they have begun to rust. If your water pressure has decreased or your water has a brownish color or foul odor, it is probably time to update your plumbing system.
How much does it cost to replace galvanized plumbing?
According to HomeGuide, the cost to replace galvanized plumbing can range between $2,000 and $15,000. The amount you'll need to pay depends on various factors, including the size of your home, the number of plumbing fixtures on the property, and the material you choose to replace your galvanized pipes with.
Does coating galvanized pipes in epoxy repair their corrosion issues?
Relining galvanized pipes with epoxy is a common alternative to fully replacing them. The epoxy eliminates the corrosion issues caused by the zinc and can potentially extend the lifespan of your pipes by several years.
Relining is less expensive and time-consuming than replacement, but there is no guarantee that it will provide a long-term fix. Some pipes are too severely damaged for relining to help. In many cases, it may be best to replace your pipes once and for all before further problems occur down the line.
What is the difference between galvanized vs. copper plumbing?
Copper pipes are a popular replacement choice for galvanized plumbing due to their durability, longevity, and lack of safety risks. Unlike galvanized steel, copper does not contain lead and is significantly more resistant to corrosion. It also has biostatic properties that help prevent the buildup of bacteria.
Is galvanized plumbing the same as cast iron plumbing?
While the two differ in terms of composition, cast iron plumbing shares some similarities with galvanized plumbing. Both are prone to corrosion over time and contain lead that can enter a home’s water when pipes begin to rust.
Much like galvanized pipes, cast iron pipes can pose a serious risk to a home, and it is usually best to replace them before problems arise.
Does homeowners insurance cover homes with galvanized plumbing?
While coverage may vary from one policy to another, most homeowners insurance does not cover replacing or relining galvanized pipes. Check your policy to be sure, but you will most likely need to pay for these services out of pocket.
What are the most common alternatives to galvanized plumbing?
The most common materials used to replace galvanized plumbing are copper, PEX, and PVC. Here is a brief overview of each:
- Average cost of repiping: $1–3 per linear foot
- Average lifespan: 50+ years
- Pros: Durable, long-lasting, lightweight, lead-free, antibacterial, recyclable, immune to UV rays, can handle major temperature changes
- Cons: Expensive, complicated to install, can’t handle high acidity
- Average cost of repiping: $0.30–0.82 per linear foot
- Average lifespan: 40 years
- Pros: Inexpensive, long-lasting, quiet, flexible, easy to install, can handle major temperature changes
- Cons: Not recyclable, sensitive to UV rays, prone to contamination, may affect water flavor
- Average cost of repiping: $0.40–1.56 per linear foot
- Average lifespan: 75+ years
- Pros: Inexpensive, long-lasting, lightweight, easy to install, can handle high pressure
- Cons: Limited size options, prone to cracks, can’t handle high heat
Is it legal to sell a house with galvanized piping?
While selling a house with galvanized piping is legal, you may be required to disclose signs of damage such as discolored water or poor water pressure. Also, be aware that many buyers will be turned off by the presence of pipes that they'll probably need to replace in the near future.
Finding a buyer for a home with galvanized plumbing can be tricky. You save yourself the hassle by selling your house, as is, to a we buy houses company like AMI. We buy homes in all conditions, including properties with galvanized pipes. Contact us today for a no-obligation cash offer.