4 Ways To Know It’s Time To Replace Your Galvanized Pipes

Do You Have Galvanized Pipes in Your Home?

Hawaii homes are no stranger to potential problems associated with our unique climate as well as the well-known fact that many Hawaii homes, especially in the older communities, are labeled “kupuna status” because of their run-down and often outdated condition. According to Hawaii census data, more than 20% of Hawaii homes were built before the 1960’s.  If your home falls into this category, there’s a good chance that the plumbing in your home uses galvanized pipes.  Galvanized pipes, which are steel pipes that have been dipped in a protective zinc coating to prevent corrosion, dominated as the material of choice for plumbing prior to the 60’s.  At the time, it was the superior alternative to lead piping that was also used for water supply lines.  Over time, however, plumbing experts have learned that the zinc coating on galvanized pipes tend to react to the minerals in water which leads to plaque forming in the pipes – corroding and rusting on the inside, eventually lowering water pressure and leading to possible pipe bursts.  The flaking of the zinc coating has also been shown to cause lead residue in water sources.

Today, homeowners are beginning to understand the plumbing problems and potential risks associated with galvanized piping and are looking for smart alternatives.  Luckily, with evolving plumbing innovations, there are plenty of options available.  But how can homeowners know when it’s time to make the switch? Our experts here at 535 Plumbing suggest homeowners keep an eye out for these 4 critical plumbing concerns:

Look For Rust Around Pipe Joints and Rust Spots On Your Galvanized Pipes.

The first question we tend to get from homeowners looking to replace pipes is, “How do I know if my plumbing utilizes galvanized pipes?”  Galvanized pipes, when first installed, tend to look similar to nickel in color.  However, over time and depending on its environment, galvanized pipes can take on a duller light or dark grayish color.  If you can’t tell by looking, we recommend you take a screwdriver and a strong magnet and scratch the outside of the pipe.  Galvanized pipes will have a silver gray color and will attract a strong magnet.  As galvanized pipes age, they may show noticeable signs of rusting and can even rust clear through the pipe and cause leaking.  If you identify rust or large lumpy growths around joints or along pipes during an inspection of plumbing, it’s probably a good time to consider upgrading your pipes.

Take Notice Of Discolored Water Coming Out Of Faucets.

To run a test of water clarity, fill up a clear glass with water and inspect the water coming from all the faucets in your home. Galvanized pipes can release iron and cause a noticeable discoloration.  Another way to test water purity is to make note of any brown stains that may develop on a porcelain sink.  It’s important to get this problem inspected right away if any discoloration is present.

Note Lower Than Usual Water Pressure.

If some of the taps in your home have lower water pressure than others, this could be an indication of problematic galvanized pipes.  An uneven build-up of corrosion or restrictions in plumbing lines can cause lower water pressures and could lead to hundreds, even thousands, in future repair costs.  Keep in mind that it is not uncommon to have more than one type of piping in your home. Therefore, it would be wise to conduct a thorough inspection of all pipes and water sources throughout your home.

Assess The Lead Content In Your Water Supply.

This step may not be so easily accomplished just by looking at the water flowing from your faucets.  Lead can enter your home when lead plumbing materials, such as faucets, pipes and solder become corroded and begin to release lead into the water.  In the case of galvanized pipes, all pipes installed between 1880 and 1960 were dipped in naturally occurring zinc, an impure substance that also contained lead and other impurities.  The zinc ensured a longer lifespan for steel pipes but added trace amounts of lead that could potentially leak into water sources. Additionally, if galvanized pipes were ever connected to lead plumbing or service lines, there is an increased risk of trapped lead being released into the water flow – even if lead pipes were later removed.

As a means of finding out the levels of lead content in your water supply, start by calling your municipal water supplier.  According to the CDC, you should call and ask this question:  Does the service pipe at my street (header pipe) have lead in it?  You can also request a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report, which lists levels of contaminants found during tests – which federal law requires to be conducted on a regular basis.  Many public suppliers offer yearly reports online which can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency site or for the state of Hawaii visit the Water Quality Report. If the lead levels are at or above 15 parts per billion, action should be taken as soon as possible to avoid health risks associated with lead contamination.  Remember, the only way to ensure 100% lead-free plumbing is to fully replace galvanized plumbing and any existing lead service lines.

If you’ve discovered the above plumbing concerns, you may be asking yourself  “what now?” Following a thorough inspection of your current plumbing, identify key problem areas.  This will determine whether or not all the pipes need to be replaced and will help to establish the cost for switching any existing galvanized piping in your home. Copper is the preferred material that many homeowners opt for but it can be pricey and replacing all the pipes at once can be a costly undertaking.  Other alternatives to copper include PVC pipes, which may work best for drain and waste plumbing while copper may be the optimal choice for main water supply lines. To help curb costs you may consider using copper only where necessary.

We know that all this information can be overwhelming and can seem like a huge undertaking to attempt on your own.  That’s why our experts at 535 Plumbing are here to answer any questions you may have and get you on your way to addressing all your plumbing concerns.  We are honest and reliable and always willing to work with you to set your mind at ease and offer you the best options available for your residential or commercial plumbing projects.  Give us a call or send us an email and we’ll be happy to help!