Galvanize pipes exist in many homes in the Chicago area. Many years ago, they were the choice material for plumbing. Over time, it was realized that they have significant issues as they age.
What Are Galvanized Pipes
Galvanized pipes are steel or iron pipes which have been coated or dipped into molten zinc. The appearance, when new, looks like nickel in color. As it ages, the pipe appears a duller gray. Sometimes, the pipes are painted, making them difficult to identify. Lead is also gray, but a magnet is attracted to galvanized steel, not lead.
The History of Galvanized Steel Pipes and Their Problem
Before World War II, lead was the primary material for indoor plumbing. When it was discovered that lead caused health issues, new construction builders switched to galvanized steel pipes. Galvanized pipes were used into the 1960s. Galvanized steel has a few benefits, but it is no longer used in new construction, due to its long term corrosion issues. In many buildings, it is being replaced, as homes are rehabbed or flipped.
Galvanized steel is steel or iron metal which has been coated with or dipped into molten zinc. The zinc is added to prevent rusting, providing a thin, corrosive resistant barrier to the galvanized steel or iron. However, over time, the pipes rust and corrode. Impurities within the water can contribute to corrosion as well.
Galvanized steel was originally chosen because of its rigid qualities. It was more durable than other materials. It could also be produced at a lower cost and can have a wider diameter than copper, carrying more water.
One problem with galvanized steel is that it not only rusts, but rusts from the inside out. As the years progress, pipes begin to corrode. The life expectancy for a pipe varies and may range between 40 to 60 years, however it is unpredictable. The pipe may appear to be fine from the exterior, while deteriorating on the inside. As they rust, pieces of rust may flake off, clogging the pipe line, decreasing the water pressure.
Four issue Caused By Galvanized Plumbing
Over a long period of time with galvanized plumbing, the following issues may occur:
Discolored Water – Galvanized steel may release iron and cause discoloration of water.
Low Water Pressure – Corrosion and deposits decrease the space within a pipe, causing water pressure to decrease. I have inspected homes with galvanized pipes which had no water pressure.
Uneven Water Distribution – Because corrosion and deposits occur unevenly, it may affect the distribution in an uneven fashion. Some sections of pipe in the home may be replaced, while other sections have corrosion or deposits, affecting the water pressure. As a result water is distributed unevenly.
Leaks – Eventually galvanized pipes fail, causing leaks. Many times leaks are in pipes behind walls, which are difficult to get to for repairs.
Symptoms of a Galvanized Pipe Leak
Musty, damp smell
Peeling wall paper, paint, moist drywall
Floors, walls, ceilings or walls buckled or stained
High water bill
Sounds of water running
If you believe that you have a leak, consult a qualified, licensed plumber to evaluate what you observe. If there is a leak, many times they can take action, making a temporary fix or replace the galvanized pipes. In the long run, it is recommended that galvanized steel pipes be replaced.