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Decades ago, galvanized pipes were the shiny new home improvement homeowners were clamoring for – until they were no longer as attractive as they were originally marketed to be.
A common sight in homes built in the pre-1960 era galvanized pipes soon gave in to the elements, corroding over the decades and becoming almost as toxic as the lead pipes they were supposed to replace to enhance safety.

As brand new installations, galvanized pipes sport the color a nickel, but as their zinc coatings wear off, gradually giving way to rust, they can become tanner, darker or grayish, depending on environmental factors. However, a light scratch on their body can clear out rusts to reveal the pipes’ silver-grey shade.

Besides the color shades, galvanized water pipes can also be identified with a simple magnetic test. Locate your water line and then hover a strong magnet over the pipes, and the magnet will latch on to them. Note, however, that if you’re investigating the type of pipe system installed in an old house, you need to check multiple points since the pipe system can contain a combination of many different types of pipes.

How Long Do Galvanized Pipes Last?

Although galvanized pipes have a general life expectancy of 50 years, their lifespan depends on many factors, from the frequency of use to the amount of water pressure. As such, they might come in need of replacement sooner or later than expected. In the plumbing industry, a replacement is called a repipe.  When you repipe a house all the existing hot and cold water lines get replaced usually in PEX Uponor.

If they’ve been well maintained and have not been subjected to excessive pressure, then you might be able to get a few more years from their backstretch. Frequent exposure to extreme pressure, on the other hand, not only weakens the pipes but also accelerates corrosion, detracting from the lifespan of the pipes in more ways than one.

How to Tell if Galvanized Pipes are Bad

Defects in galvanized pipes can manifest in multiple ways. The mounting build-up of mineral deposits resulting from corrosion can obstruct water pressure. Low water pressure around the house is usually a sign of a massive build-up of mineral deposits in galvanized pipes.

A total replacement of the pipes is usually the only viable solution. In some cases, the obstructed pressure might result in uneven water distribution. This is typically the result of an uneven build-up of deposits across different portions of the pipes.

Besides obstructing water pressure, the mineral build-up can also contaminate the water. They can give rise to discoloration in the water. Sometimes, discolored water from rusty galvanized pipes can leave visible brown stains on a porcelain sink. And as the corrosion eats deeper into the pipes, it weakens their integrity, inducing leakages across them.
If any part of the galvanized pipes in an old house is leaking, then you should brace up for other leakage spots that could break forth owing to years of gradual corrosion.

Is It Safe to Drink Water From Old Galvanized Pipes?

Old galvanized pipes that are rusting will contaminate the water flowing through them. New galvanized pipes are coated with zinc to prevent rusting, but over time, this coating might wear, giving way to corrosion.

To check for toxic levels of rust in the system, leave the pipes without water for a few days, and then turn the water back on. If the build-up of mineral deposits grows expansively within those few days, the fresh gusher of water will be brownish, yellowish, or orange. Upon seeing this, you should know then that the pipes are seriously degraded and need replacement.
Galvanized pipes corroded can release particles of heavy metals like lead and other impurities into the water it conveys, exposing those who drink the water to lead poisoning and other similar ailments. Independent lab test results show that rusty galvanized pipes can be fraught with amounts of lead up to 10 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazard threshold.

Can You Clean Out Galvanized Water Pipes?

Without the right tools, cleaning materials, and expertise, you might not be able to DIY your galvanized water pipe clean up effectively. And since the safety of your water isn’t something you want to treat with guesswork, you might want to enlist professionals to help clean out your galvanized water pipes. The visible outer parts are much easier to clean. You can wipe them with soapy water or distilled white vinegar.

Also, in some cases, the pipes might be too corroded and clogged to salvage through clean up, you might need to replace the entire system. Even if the degradation isn’t quite as extensive, we might still recommend a complete replacement of your galvanized piping with more modern, refined piping as an ideal long term plan.

Should Galvanized Pipes be Replaced?

It can be quite dicey to manage aging galvanizing piping as more and more problems might surface now and then due to continuous corrosion. Replacing an entire system of old galvanized pipes with modern piping like copper pipes or PEX might be expensive upfront, but the cost of repairing the old system might quickly outstrip this upfront cost over time.

To boot, leakages from compromised water pipes can damage many other parts of the house, causing issues like concrete leakages, mold build-up, cracks in walls, and damages to furniture, electronics, etc. And if the leakages are hidden from plain sight, they might go unnoticed for a long time, wasting hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water per year and causing mysterious increments in water bills.

Even if the galvanized pipes may seem to be in good condition in an old house, you’re inspecting, and you might run into perpetual repairs shortly after moving in if the pipe is in the final stretch of its lifespan.

Reach out to us today to get professional advice on how best to handle your galvanized piping issues. We are based in Southern California and provide service in the cities of Corona, Riverside, Redlands, San Bernardino, Highland, Eastvale, Chino, Ontario, and Rancho Cucamonga.

Billy Henley
Billy Henley is the Vice President of Operations for BHI Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. Before becoming vice president, he worked six years in the field as a service technician and has over ten years of experience working in the industry. Billy often shares his knowledge about plumbing and HVAC issues on industry publications.