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Old Galvanized Steel & Lead Pipes


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I'm fairly well familir with cast iron and it's problems, but I also see galvanized steel supply lines under a lot of older houses, and I really don't know much about those. What's the typical rated life, what are the typical problems they have, what warning signs should I be looking for, etc. I'd be interested in any informed comments on the subject, and whatever boilerplate you might have for it.

The same is true for lead, except that if I've seen any I didn't know it. How can you tell for sure if it's lead? Then all of the same questions apply again.

Brian G.

Rusty on This Subject [:D]

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Brian,

I typically see galvanized steel and brass pipes fail in the 50-75 year range or so. Galvanized steel can build a lot of corrosion on the interior, restricting flow throughout the house and for that reason it often gets replaced before it springs a leak.

I don't see many lead supply pipes, but it would have to date to around 1900 or before. Lead pipes are a very dull gray color and are easily scratched with your fingernail. I always recommend lead supply pipes be replaced when I encounter them (less than once a year) because of the obvious health risk.

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Typically I see galvanized supply piping in houses built in the 50s and earlier. While I don't have boilerplate for it, I tell clients it's at the end of its expected life span and they can expect to replace it in the foreseeable future. When I see rust or discolored water, I just notch up the urgency. Around here galvanized pipe is a problem that just hasn't happened yet.

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Originally posted by bigdogbonz

Lead is NOT threaded, like galvanized (at joints). Lead has joints that look like "bulbs" and is not magnetic either. I carry a magnet on a extended handle to test for this and to "recover" any screws that I may drop in an unreachable area.

Now I know I haven't seen any, I would remember that. I have an extendable magnetic thingy like that already, now I have a new use for it.

Gracias to all. [:-cyclops]

Brian G.

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Sort of related...

I have a friend who's service pipe from the town water main is galvanized. It enters the house and almost immediately turns to copper.

He has always complained about low water pressure, and when I looked in his basement, I suggested the galvanized piping may be restricting flow, not low water pressure.

I threaded a pressure gage on the house piping, and sure enough, 50 psi. But 50 psi going through a pinhole is still not going to have much flow. [:-ashamed]

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This is a lead service to a 1911 home I renovated last year.

Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif LeadService_M.JPG

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Surprisingly enough the inside of the pipe was clean. I expected it to be encrusted with mineral deposit as you would find in a galv. iron pipe.

I later cut it flush at the concrete floor and saved it for future reference.

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The "bulb" is a swaged fitting.

It's not about pressure, it's about GPM. Low presure & high gpm makes people happier than high pressure & low gpm.

Galvanized corrodes because of zinc, the premier anode of the mineral world. Copper and lead are elsewhere on the noble metal scale, & are much less prone to corrosion.

The fittings to isolate the dissimilar metals are dilectric unions. Gotta have 'em installed between copper & galvanized to ward off evil juju; beware of screwing up bonding & grounding paths.

We got nothing but lead water service in Chicago; thanks to union geekdom, we had lead water service lines until 1990. The lead supplier was a major campaign contributor to then mayor, Daley the 1st. Copper finally supplanted lead, only 110 years after the rest of the industrialized world banned it for the obvious health hazard.

Surprisingly, I've tested hundreds of houses w/ lead service, & none have significant lead in the water. I don't know why.

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Originally posted by kurt

It's not about pressure, it's about GPM. Low presure & high gpm makes people happier than high pressure & low gpm.

To a point, of course.

We got nothing but lead water service in Chicago; thanks to union geekdom, we had lead water service lines until 1990. The lead supplier was a major campaign contributor to then mayor, Daley the 1st. Copper finally supplanted lead, only 110 years after the rest of the industrialized world banned it for the obvious health hazard.

Incredible.

Great to have the photos Kurt, now I know for damn sure I've never seen any. You couldn't forget something like those joints. And there in the second one was our other old-house plumbing buddy, the drum trap. I look at one of those and I'm reminded of my brother's peculiar hobby back in high school...bong-building. [:-dopey]

Brian G.

Me and Bill, We Never Inhaled [:-paperbag]

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Hey Brian,

One of my first "real" jobs (early 60's) with my step-dad was learning to cut and thread galv. and black iron pipe. We were also packing and pouring moulten lead around cast iron drain joints.

I still see galv. water lines and even bought a home in 2000 that still had some. It had low rate of flow at several fixtures and I fixed it readily by replacing the main feed. The line from the street had been replaced. It seems the horizontal runs always clog before the vertical and in my experience it is worse at joints, especially street elbows for some reason. If I suspect galv. coming from the street I know it is near the end of it's service life and always advise a pro's evalutation.

I have a couple of fittings I use to show clients and if my camera will take a good enough close up I will post them soon.

Galv. drain pipes will also clog, and the long 1-1/2" kitchen drains seem to be the worst for this. The only lead I have seen has been drain lines, but because they also involve galv. pipe I suggest a pro eval. here too.

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Originally posted by hausdok

Galvanized pipe can now be salvaged without full replacement. There are now companies here using proprietary methods to scour the inside walls of the pipe with carborundum blown through at high pressure to remove accumulated rust. Once the pipe is clean, liquid epoxy is flowed through the pipe to coat the walls. When the epoxy hardens, it forms a hard lining impervious to chemicals and unfriendly to bio-media. New stops are installed on everything and the pipe is now good to go for god only knows how long. No more particulates in the water, no rust, no corrosion of any sort from the pipe.

Is this process common? I've never heard of it. I can't imagine sending high pressure anything through an old galvy pipe with good results. But never mind that, how can this be more cost effective than running new copper pipes? Please illuminate me, O Hausdok.

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The engineering thinking is similar to epoxy relining of leaking sewer lines that have collapsed. Essentially they 'pull' a sock through the pipe and do their magic with compressed air and inject their secret formula.

I've tried to get more information but the contractor wouldn't talk about the exact methodology.

I'd say relining galvanized lines at this stage of its life would be a risky business.

Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif GalvanizedPipe.JPG

228.17 KB

Mike,

What kind of guarantee do they offer?

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Brian,

Our house was built in 1951 one of the historic homes in the city!!

We had galvanized supply piping in the walls and still have some under the slab (minimal). When we went to remodel the bathroom and kitchen an opened up the pipes, the pipes were all corroded inside/outside looked OK. It is amazing how any drainage occured.

A couple of weeks ago we replaced our Orangeburg drain line. It is amazing how any drainage occured through that pipe. There is only two of us and the only hints we got were a clog maybe every six months that we would use a blow-by on.

Ellen

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About the time pipes get so rusted that they leak, they are also so clogged that they substantially restrict water flow. I know about the burst of sand/corundum cleaning, but it doesn't get out all the crud, it merely smooths the surfaces somewhat; you still have a closed down artery.

I know that it works, but it seems kinda counterproductive when compared to replacing pipes & increasing water flow @ the same time.

The main problem w/ repipes are plumbers; they don't want to think. They just want to perform standard procedures on factory models, or sledgehammer the place. I've gone into 8 story/100 unit buildings & repiped them w/a good logistical plan; kinda surgical replacement of critical pipe. Maybe it will get cheap, but for the time being, repipes get you both repair AND more flow. Until they figure out that one, I'm still skeptical.

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Originally posted by pete

We see a decent amount of lead service pipes and always recommend immediate replacement and refer people to the NLIC. Does everybody do this? Is anyone not calling these out as defective or health hazard?

Pete

Amazingly, every water service in the City of Chicago is lead; only in 1992 did they finally change the code. I tell people they are lead, & that it might be a hazard.

The reason I say "might" is that I've tested about 500 residences water supply over the years, including my own (lead) supply, & have never found elevated lead levels in the water. I have no idea why.

When I took my lead licensing back in the '80's, the instructor was appropriately concerned w/ lead water supplies, but made an offhand comment after the class about "...one couldn't drink enough to get an elevated lead level from the water....". Anyone got any hard empirical evidence about actual hazard re lead in the water?

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I can not find any data. But I can not understand how children can get high lead levels from contact with paint but not drinking water? I do not think other HI's around here make a big deal, because the sellers get pissed when we mention it--they say their inspector never told them. I consider it a big deal.. I would have to see solid eveidence to change my mind, anybody got it?

Pete

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Originally posted by pete

I can not find any data. But I can not understand how children can get high lead levels from contact with paint but not drinking water? I do not think other HI's around here make a big deal, because the sellers get pissed when we mention it--they say their inspector never told them. I consider it a big deal.. I would have to see solid eveidence to change my mind, anybody got it?

Pete

Nope. As I said, I see lead water service that is less than 15 years old, so it hasn't even had time to have calcified mineral on the pipe interior that might isolate the water from the lead somewhat. I've tested those services, & never found appreciable levels of lead. I have no idea why. One would think it would be lead soup, but not in my experience. I still note it in the report.

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The chemical world is a strange one, isn't it. One little change and you get problems you never thought about.

It's a bit drifty, but I've always been impressed with leads' durability for roof flashings. If the contractors are careful when reroofing these can last a very long time. I see more lost to frickin' squirrels chewing on them than to anything else. What's up with that? What in the world leads them to even try that? Why aren't they dropping left and right from lead poisoning? [:-skull]

Brian G.

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Here is my galvanized boilerplate. take it or leave it.

Galvanized Steel. Steel that is coated with corrosion-resistant zinc is called "galvanized." It may be identified by the gray color of the zinc and a magnet may be used to verify it's steel content. Unlike lead pipe, which it resembles, it is usually connected with threaded joints and is usually quite straight (although gentle bends can be made). It lasts a long time, but eventually the zinc is lost and the the steel then rusts at the normal rate. In some areas this pipe may last over 40 years, however in this area the joints typically need replacement about 30 years after installation. Further review including pressure and volume testing is recommended by a competent, licensed plumber.

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