In today’s blog post, we will go over a bit of information about galvanized water pipes, and what to look out for if your home has them. Victoria Texas and surrounding areas have a lot of homes with galvanized piping! Some homeowners have replaced some or most of this type of piping with copper, PVC, or most recently PEX piping. But if you’re buying an older home, you should read this blog post for information about galvanized water pipes!
First and most importantly, you should know that galvanized water pipes will eventually leak. It takes a long time but is inevitable due to the nature of corrosion. There are also other factors that may cause corrosion, such as galvanic reaction (discussed later).
Lead pipes were used for water supply piping in most homes until about the 1920’s when health concerns caused a switch to copper and galvanized piping. In the 1950’s and 1960’s galvanized pipes were extremely common. PVC/CPVC became popular in the late 1960’s but galvanized pipes were still used in homes up into the early 1980’s. Houses built in the 1950’s through the 1960’s were likely built with it. Houses built in the 1970’s & 1980’s may have been built with it. It is still in use in many houses today but in every case, it is at the end of its useful life span.
Copper pipes are not new, as they have been around for most of the 1900’s and is still used in some homes. The biggest drawback to copper is that it is quite pricey. Just about all builders in the U.S. have switched to PEX tubing due to its durability, affordable cost, and being much easier to install than copper.
So how long does it last?
The life span of galvanized piping is approximately 40 to 100 years, with the average being between 50 and 70 years. It depends on some variable factors mainly having to do with the quality of manufacture. It is made all over the globe and some countries have less stringent guidelines and controls on production than others. A lot of steel including galvanized pipe was imported during the 1960’s because it was cheaper. It was cheaper because it was of lower quality but a lot of it got used.
What happens to it?
Simply put, it corrodes. It corrodes from the inside out, so it is very difficult to look at it and tell what condition it is in. Over time the galvanization (a zinc coating) wears away inside and the steel pipes begin to corrode. As the corrosion builds up the inside diameter of the pipe gets smaller. This causes lower water pressure and you may also notice rusty colored water at fixtures that don’t get used as often. As the corrosion turns loose the particles that are sent down stream get hung up in the aerator screens at various faucets – again causing loss of water pressure.
Corrosion inside the pipe will eventually eat through the pipe and the pipe will begin to leak. This is usually just a slow leak which may not show much immediate damage. Sometimes these small leaks are “self-sealing” when more corrosion fills in the hole for a while. Eventually you will notice a brown water stain in the area or if you don’t notice it in time, the ceiling may fall in.
The worst case scenario happens in pipes that are weakened by heavy corrosion. When these pipes are exposed to freezing conditions they are likely to burst. Now, all at once you have a flood inside your home that can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.
Can a home inspector determine the condition of galvanized pipes?
Most times, there are only a few areas we can see. In this area along the Texas gulf coast the majority of pipes are often not visible. We don’t have basements so the pipes are almost always in the attics and walls. We can’t see behind the walls. In the attic spaces pipes are often covered by insulation and not visible. In some cases where there is not much insulation or the insulation has been disturbed the pipes may be visible to some degree. They can usually be seen at places like water heaters, under sink fittings, toilet connections, and other stub outs for hose bibs and washer connections.
Even when they are visible it is difficult to tell how badly corroded they are. In some extreme cases it can be seen but this is not as easy to spot as you may think. Attic spaces are often difficult and sometimes unsafe to move around in. Some homes are designed is a manner that makes complete attic access virtually impossible. A good home inspector, like James with Barrie Inspections, will at a minimum let you know in his report that galvanized water pipes are present.
What is Galvanic Reaction/Corrosion?
Galvanic reaction, also called galvanic corrosion, is when two different types of incompatible metals are put together, such as copper and galvanized piping or stainless steel and aluminum. The two metals interact chemically with each other due to electrons in the water, causing rusting/corrosion. Eventually this joint will corrode enough to leak. Use of a special connector, called a di-electric union, is necessary to prevent or slow this type of corrosion.
So what is the bottom line?
First and foremost remember that the average lifespan of galvanized pipe is 50 to 70 years. Some will make it to 60 years and some won’t make it to 40 years. Consider the age of the house, and what replacements have been made. A house built in 1965 has 58 year old pipes in 2023 when this was written. The bottom line is those old galvanized pipes need to be considered for replacement.
Barrie Inspections is ready to handle all your real estate inspection needs! We have the experience and expertise to give you the best value and the most detailed inspection! Call 361-298-0472, email James@BarrieInspections.com, or schedule on our website 24/7 HERE. Barrie Inspections is here to help you with your buying or selling decisions!