Plumbing Pipes — Material Matters

Staff Plumbing

Failure of plumbing pipes is something we have seen happen in Houston homes for quite some time. The problems not only come from the water that goes through them (like chemicals and minerals wearing and tearing at your pipes) or installation issues, but also from the pipes themselves. Houston has so many homes built with galvanized pipes, from as early as the 60’s all the way to the mid-80’s. The truth is, these pipes are outdated and can cause you a lot of problems after all those years of use.

It is said that galvanized pipes have a life expectancy of about 50 to 70 years. You might be thinking, “that’s a long time!”, but think about this: if your home was built in the 60’s, that 70-year mark is just around the corner, and you’re already past the 50-year mark. Even if your home was built in 1980, more than 30 years have gone by, and that’s plenty of time for your galvanized pipes to begin turning on you.

Here are a few things that are extremely important for understanding why galvanized pipes are taking a back seat these days:

They clog up easily

These pipes clog up so easily, and that’s because over time, the rust accumulating inside the pipes makes the passage smaller and smaller, compromising water flow. Not only does this mean super-low water pressure, but pipes can clog up so much that they can burst!

They rust from the inside out

It’s very common that these pipes will rust completely from the inside out. They oxidize over time, accumulating over years and years. Water that passes through a rusty pipe that hasn’t been turned on for a little while will appear brown or rust colored because of it, and you could end up consuming it. According to Joe Bany, a John Moore Plumbing Manager, the general problem that occurs when pipes rust is pinhole leaks. Bany said that after the pipes rust from the inside out, they will leak and then seal themselves with more rust. Then, it rusts more to the point it does not seal itself back with rust and causes water damage. There will be rust or brown spots on the pipe, which are old pinholes that have leaked and sealed, as well as white or calcium spots on new locations.

Resilient isn’t their middle name

The level that galvanized pipes resist corrosion depends mainly on the kind of zinc coating is used, how thick the coat actually is, and the type of environment. According to a report by the U.S General Services Administration, the coating on galvanized iron and steel tends to get corroded by things like acids, strong alkalis and is very sensitive to sulfur acids created by hydrogen sulfide and pollution in urban areas (Hello, Houston!).

The same report goes on to list just a few more things that speed up corrosion on galvanized pipes: Plasters and cements containing chlorides and sulfates, acidic rainwater run-off from roofs with wood shingles (such as redwood, cedar, oak, and sweet chestnut), moss or lichen, condensation and dew, and accumulated water on the exterior surfaces of the zinc elements. You know, just to name a few.

Click here to read the full report!

Potential lead deposits in your drinking water

Pre-1986, lead-containing solders were commonly used, these were mixed metals that were melted and used to join piping. Without these solders, water can make contact with different metals and create an electrical current that can cause what experts call “galvanic corrosion”. In some piping work, the failure to use an appropriate method of unifying the different metals can cause the solder to release lead into drinking water, which can be dangerous to your health. This commonly happens where a home’s copper piping is connected to an old galvanized steel municipal supply line.

Start thinking about solutions

It’s not too late to start thinking about preventing problems from happening or continuing in your galvanized pipes. If you want to get more information, just give us a call at John Moore Services. We can answer any questions you have about your pipes and provide a free estimate for a solution that’s best for you. Here are a couple of common options to consider:

  • Best
    • Complete re-pipe: This is a whole makeover for your pipes. Yes, it’s costly, but if your pipes are at near the end of life expectancy, waiting and only fixing minor problems will only rack up those dollar signs even more until it’s too late. Talk to a professional to find out if this is right for you.
  • Better
    • Partial re-pipe: This is much quicker and to the point. It will stop current issues, like bad leaks. Although the cost for this option is much lower than a whole re-pipe, it will cost more in the long run to do this several times. On top of that, whenever you break an old galvanized system apart you also break the rust apart inside the pipe and it can feed through the system, causing major issues at fixtures in line with the repair.”
  • Good
    • Pinhole patch-up: The easiest and least expensive of all the options. This is just a quick patch-up instead of a huge project. It stops immediate problems but doesn’t guarantee that they won’t reappear, and according is only going to buy you time to find a long-term solution. Think of this immediate fix as a band-aid, you haven’t repaired anything and have only bought yourself some time to address the real issue–replacement of your pipes.

It’s important to know that in some areas the presence of galvanized piping can reduce the value of your home because piping can fail, which increases the risk of water damage. Also, in some places, homes with galvanized pipes are required to be replaced before a sale to a new owner. Copper and plastic piping have been replacing galvanized piping for many homes since the mid-1940’s but galvanized pipes are sometimes preferred for larger industrial projects and outdoor buildings that need steel’s strength.

It can be easy to forget that our pipes need attention too since they aren’t visible to us on a day-to-day basis, but knowing the potential problems that your galvanized pipes can cause is the first preventative measure you can take.