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Why You Need to Swap Out Your Galvanized Pipes

Due to the age of the homes North of Chicago, galvanized pipes are a common problem. Below is our list of the most frequently asked questions we have received about galvanized pipes.

What are galvanized pipes?

Galvanized pipes are steel pipes that have been dipped in a protective zinc coating to prevent corrosion and rust. Galvanized piping was commonly installed in homes built before 1960. When it was invented, galvanized pipe was an alternative to lead pipe for water supply lines. Today, however, we have learned that decades of exposure to water will cause galvanized pipes to corrode and rust on the inside.

What do galvanized pipes look like?

When first installed, galvanized pipes looks similar to a nickel in color. But as it ages, galvanized pipe may appear much duller, lighter, or darker, depending on its environment. We’ve also seen homes where the water pipes have been painted, so it can be difficult to tell at first glance.

How can I tell if I have galvanized pipes?

If you can’t tell by looking at your pipes, there is a quick test to tell if they are galvanized. Simply grab a flat head screwdriver and a strong magnet. Start by finding your water line and scratch the outside of the pipe with the screwdriver. Compare your results:

Copper

The scratched area will look like a copper penny.
A magnet will NOT stick to it.

Plastic
The scratched area will appear ivory or white in color.
A magnet will NOT stick to it

Galvanized steel
The scratched area will have a silver-gray color.
A strong magnet will stick to it.

Lead
The scratched area will have a dull silver-gray color, and the metal will usually be soft and easy to scratch. A magnet will NOT stick to it. Lead pipes are easy to bend and may be misshapen. If you have lead pipes, we recommend replacement if at all possible.

Be sure to scratch test your pipes in multiple areas. It is not uncommon to have more than one type of piping on your water line.

Do galvanized pipes contain lead?

The galvanized pipes installed on water lines between 1880 and 1960 were dipped in molten, naturally occurring zinc. Naturally occurring zinc is impure, so these pipes were bathed in zinc that also contained lead and other impurities. The zinc coating elongated the life of the steel pipes, but added small amount of lead and other substances that could potentially harm inhabitants.

Additionally, if your galvanized pipes were ever connected to lead plumbing (including service lines) there is more cause for concern. The corrosion inside galvanized steel pipes could have trapped small pieces of the lead. Even if the lead piping was removed years ago, the galvanized steel pipes could still periodically release the trapped lead into the water flow. Chicago didn’t stop using lead pipes for service lines until 1986, and an estimated 400,000 lead service lines are still in use in Chicago alone.

The only way to ensure that lead is not mobilized from plumbing to tap in a given home is to fully replace the galvanized plumbing and any lead service lines.

What other problems can galvanized pipes cause?

Low Water Pressure
Due to the restriction of the line, corrosion in galvanized pipes can cause lower water pressure throughout your home.

Uneven Distribution of Water
If some of your taps have low water pressure, but others don’t, this could be a symptom of galvanized pipes. Corrosion can build up unevenly. Also, part of the galvanized pipe line could have been replaced in your home, but not everywhere.

Discoloration of Water
Galvanized pipes can release iron and cause discoloration. A clear indicator of this is a brown stain on a porcelain sink.

Leaks
Given enough time, galvanized pipes will rust through and cause more damage to your home.

If you want to replace your galvanized pipes, lead service line, or find out more about your options, we would be happy to help. To schedule an appointment, call American Vintage Home at 847.999.4595 or fill out our online form today.

Is your Chicago home still equipped with galvanized pipes? Our blog explains why it may be time to repipe.

How to Remove Old Galvanized Water Lines in Old House

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The process of dipping steel pipes into molten zinc to galvanize them has been around since the early 19th century, and galvanized pipes still are common in outdoor and industrial water systems. Plumbers don’t use them for residential plumbing, however, because they have better alternatives in copper and CPVC pipes. If your old house has galvanized pipes, replacing them is a good idea. The process of removing them is more labor intensive than complicated.

Why Get Rid of Galvanized Pipes

If your house is old enough to have galvanized water pipes, they could be contaminating your water. Until 1986, manufacturers used naturally occuring zinc that contained impurities such as lead in the galvanizing process. That in itself is a powerful reason for replacing the pipes, but there is another. Galvanized steel pipes tend to corrode from the inside, and the corrosion gradually reduces the internal cross-section and restricts waterflow. A third reason is that galvanized pipes and fittings eventually rust and begin to leak. If any leaks are behind walls, they can cause considerable damage before you discover them.

Where to Start

The process of removing pipes from behind walls and under floors can seem daunting, and you may be tempted to leave some of them in place. This undermines the retrofit, because the pipes you leave will deteriorate and cause problems long before the replacements will. It also complicates the process of replacing the pipes, because you’ll need transition fittings at every joint between dissimilar materials. It’s better to cut out the entire system, if possible, starting as close to the water meter as as you can. If you’re updating plumbing fixtures at the same time, you’ll be able to route the new waterlines to accommodate them as efficiently as possible.

Cutting the Pipes Out

Once you’ve decided to replace your galvanized pipes, there’s no need to try to disassemble them, which would be a time-consuming and difficult process given that most of the joints are probably locked with corrosion. Instead, after turning off the water and draining the system as much as possible, cut the entire system free from the water supply by severing one pipe with a reciprocating saw and a metal-cutting blade. You then can cut the system of pipes into manageable pieces, free the pieces from the clamps and straps holding them to the framing, and discard them in the metal recycling bin at the dump.

Unscrewing Old Fittings

Once you remove the bulk of the pipes, you’ll have a few pieces of pipe left to unscrew from the water valve and other parts of the water system you want to keep. Unscrewing old, corroded galvanized pipe is a job that calls for brawn and heavy wrenches. Always use two wrenches on joints that are difficult to unscrew. One wrench holds the fitting steady while the other turns the pipe. Spray lubricant helps loosen pipe threads, as does the application of heat with a blowtorch, as long as the fitting is a safe distance from any part of the framing that could catch fire.

How to Remove Old Galvanized Water Lines in Old House. The process of dipping steel pipes into molten zinc to galvanize them has been around since the early 19th century, and galvanized pipes still are common in outdoor and industrial water systems. Plumbers don’t use them for residential plumbing, however, … ]]>