If galvanized pipes are such a problem, why was it made? Galvanizing steel protects it from the elements and makes it more durable. To galvanize, the steel is dipped into zinc to protect it against corrosion. However, problems come with age. While galvanized water distribution pipes last approximately 50 years, once the zinc coating wears out, problems can develop quickly. There are three health concerns with old galvanized plumbing.
1. Rusty Water
Some galvanized pipes release traces of iron which turns water a reddish-brown color and gives off an odor. It’s not good to drink or pleasant to bathe in. Iron may also affect kitchen and bath fixtures, so they need to be replaced earlier. Running the water briefly before use and cleaning the screens on faucets will help.
2. Lead Buildup
Galvanized steel pipes may contain traces of lead. Some older steel pipes were dipped in naturally occurring zinc, particularly between 1900 and 1965. Natural zinc contained a variety of other substances. One of those was lead. Those lead particles may have stayed on the surface initially, but with age small particles may fall into the water and be transported to your kitchen and bath fixtures. Lead buildup can cause health issues.
3. Low Water Flow
Common minerals in water may react with the zinc coating the galvanized pipes. The reaction can cause plaque to slowly build up in the pipe. Eventually the plaque builds up enough that it can restrict the flow of water in the home. Areas of accumulation are also more likely to cause leaks that can damage your walls and floor if they are not discovered and repaired.
What can you do about it? One option is to reline the pipes with zinc which is cheaper than replacing all the water pipes. So it is an affordable way to improve your home. Another option is to replace the distribution pipes. Copper, PVC/CPVC, and PEX are common choices. Copper pipes are a popular choice and are fire resistant. PVC/CPVC (Polyvinyl Chloride and Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride) pipes are corrosion resistant and typically last over 50 years. PEX (Cross-linked Polyethylene) contains fewer points of connection and it expands and contracts with the weather. There are good options available once the galvanized pipes begin to wear that can take care of the problems and add value to your home.