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Jim Morrison

Brass water pipes

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Once every 8-10 years or so, I try to make it a point to post something positive here. It's too danged easy for us inspectors to become negative bastards, you know.

Today I inspected a stately home built in 1880 that still had some old brass plumbing and I was amazed at what great condition it was in. Some had been replaced, but a lot of it remained and looked just as good as the day it was installed. Amazing. The grandsons of the guy who installed that stuff are old or dead, but the pipes remain.

Awesome.

And while I'm on the subject, the slate roof and copper flashings were tear-jerking beautiful, but that's another thread.

The windows were beat up, but my guy is going to repair them, not replace them.

A day of good house karma.

Jimmy

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Thanks for that.

I stopped today to pick through a dumpster in the driveway of a huge stick style home that had oily shiny all new vinyl windows. I was determined to save the sash and/or glass. But, the space conscientious contractor had meticulously broken every pane and and crushed each muntin.

On a never painted sash side the maker wrote in a flowery cursive of yesterday: Heller-north gable-IX-best glass. It's funny how things and and people are until they aren't, and all of a sudden, they never were.

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Wish I could, amigo, but I just about never take photos. You could call me 'Old School' but I think that even the last of the Old School Inspectors are all including digital photos in their reports. Once in a rare while, I include a cave drawing with a report, but that's as far as I've progressed. I guess that makes me a Bronze Age inspector.

Brass pipes were threaded in the field and I am simply convinced that some guys were just better at threading than others. I've seen the joints fail at 35-40 years, and I've seen them looking just fine after 90 years.

Jimmy

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Jimmy,

You being in MA and the obsession they have with lead there, any concern about the lead content in brass piping?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Heya Cuz,

When you dig into it, you find that the lead content in brass pipe is less than 10%. Moreover, the interior of the pipe is generally pretty well coated with, well, nondescript interior pipe coating, providing with a layer of something between the water and the lead alloy. I figure that's why you don't read much about lead leaching out of brass into water and causing much of a health concern. I used to mention it to clients, but I've not seen any science to back up the concern. Plus, the pipes are usually in bad enough condition to warrant their replacement without invoking the lead concern.

Jimmy

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It's funny how things and and people are until they aren't, and all of a sudden, they never were.

That's how I feel when I see nice places getting 'dozed.

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It's funny how things and and people are until they aren't, and all of a sudden, they never were.

That's how I feel when I see nice places getting 'dozed.

Like when we see some 19th century guy's initials or full name written (sometimes with a date) in fat pencil on the underside of a marble fireplace mantle in an doubly overpriced condo. It's just some kind of continuity. Most folks couldn't possibly care any less about that stuff. But when we see it, we know that we've just touched the guy who bought, carved & installed it, who is just as forgotten to history as we will be in 50 years, except we artificially and temporarily revived him for a moment. It's a very small but nonetheless wonderous thing.

Jimmy

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My father-in-law collects old hand tools (the original cordless). While looking at them you can only imagine all the effort that went into cutting and shaping wood back then. Many have handles that are worn down and highly polished from the sweat and callous of the craftsman. I know very little about these things, my son knows absolutely nothing. It's a shame the amount of knowledge that dies with each generation. Oh wait... yea I forgot we can learn everything off the internet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Therefore when we build, let us think that we build (public edifices) forever. Let us not be for present delight, nor for present use alone, let it be for such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, "See! This our fathers did for us."

- Seven Lamps of Architecture--The Lamp of Memory John Ruskin (1819 –1900)

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It's funny how things and and people are until they aren't, and all of a sudden, they never were.

That's how I feel when I see nice places getting 'dozed.

Some stuff is worth saving, and some ain't. I bought an old house because I wanted the charm and character that comes with old houses. No one told me that my fuel bills would out pace my mortgage payments, or that I'd be nailing blankets over those lovely old doors to keep out the cold. Wavy glass in slender sash with through mortised muntins pegged and wedged in place are gorgeous, but they belong in a museum-we can't afford to keep them in our homes.

Our forefathers were far more innovative and progressive than we give them credit for. They certainly would have used the high performance materials we do if they had access to them. If not, we'd all still be living in caves and chasing our supper with pointy sticks.

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The other side of all this is:

Working on 1880s houses where you open the walls and half the studs are fished together from various pieces of scrap, the floor joists on the first floor are perpendicular to the second and ALL the load at the center of the house is on that one cracked joist you just found in the basement, etc. .... and realizing that the idiots who screwed it up are long dead and beyond the reach of you wrath, and likely this second laughing at you as they swill warm beer on their lunch-break in the Carpenters' Circle of hell.

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Hey, I ain't some hopeless romantic whining about some scrap box. I have no particular fondness for stuff that was generic crap when it was installed, and remained that way.

I'm talking the stuff that can't be regained, like carved woodwork from 1000 year old trees that'll never exist again. Ludowice tile with glazing formulas that go back to the 17th century, or later, or the tile work itself, replete with cove base, bullnose corners, and built in towel hangers. Wide plank quarter sawn flooring, or birds eye maple like I have in my kitchen.

Or, say, most of Louis Sullivan's work in Chicago. The bridge between old and all of modern architecture was laid here, and most of it is gone.

That ain't right.

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For a while there, I was buying bits and pieces at demo sales on the North Shore (scored some nice material, too).

A lot of expensive homes... most badly obsolescent.

There were one or two housebreakers, though.

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In a different way, past builders and designers DID use high performance materials. The selection of materials was pretty scientific, in ways it no longer is. I noticed, many years ago, in old building design manuals that woods were selected according to use. One thing that stood out to me was red wood - as pretty as it is exposed or stained, it was listed as the champion of woods to receive and hold paint. Building science isn't a new concept.

In confirmation of that fact, I was just yesterday snapping photos of finger-jointed shingle mould coming completely apart on an eight year old home...

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It's funny how things and and people are until they aren't, and all of a sudden, they never were.

That's how I feel when I see nice places getting 'dozed.

Some stuff is worth saving, and some ain't. I bought an old house because I wanted the charm and character that comes with old houses. No one told me that my fuel bills would out pace my mortgage payments, or that I'd be nailing blankets over those lovely old doors to keep out the cold. Wavy glass in slender sash with through mortised muntins pegged and wedged in place are gorgeous, but they belong in a museum-we can't afford to keep them in our homes.

Our forefathers were far more innovative and progressive than we give them credit for. They certainly would have used the high performance materials we do if they had access to them. If not, we'd all still be living in caves and chasing our supper with pointy sticks.

That's why I seek a balance between the two. Enough modernization to allow it to keep up with the times and survive but done in such way as to not insult the craftsmen who originally built it.

Marc

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The city I live 30 miles west of was a bush camp until about 1890. Anything built before 1970 is a old house.

I enjoy inspecting them but no thanks, I can't afford to try to heat one.

Most of the brass I see are fittings which are soldered to copper pipe. The copper in this 100 year old house is "Anaconda 3".

Click to Enlarge
tn_20115511054_brassncopper.jpg

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