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What are galvanized pipes?
Galvanized iron pipes are actually steel pipes (water distribution lines) that are covered with a protective layer of zinc. Galvanized pipes were installed in many homes in the Seattle area that were built before the 1960s. Over many years, zinc erodes from galvanized pipes. Corrosion can build up on the inside walls of the pipes and creates the potential for lead to accumulating over time. Corrosion in galvanized pipes can lead to lower water pressure and water quality issues. Replacement of these lines can also be expensive. We watch out for this type of plumbing when we are performing a standard home inspection.
Should I be concerned about my galvanized pipes?
One concern would be water leaks and flooding. These types of lines fail inside walls and can cause extensive flood damage. The life expectancy of these water lines is around 50 years so the majority of them are now within this range as they are not used anymore. Some insurance companies will not provide coverage to a home with galvanized water lines.
Secondly, homes that have galvanized pipes and have or had lead service lines can potentially have lead released in tap water from these corroded pipes. Customers that had lead service lines replaced, but still have galvanized pipes, are still susceptible to lead in water from lead released from the galvanized pipes. Customers that never had lead service lines, but have galvanized pipes, are not at significant risk for lead release from galvanized iron pipes.
How can customers determine if they have galvanized pipes?
Find where your piping enters your home and then scratch it. If the piping is:
Copper —the scratched area will have the look of a copper penny.
Galvanized steel —the scratched area will be a silver-gray color and have threads.
Plastic —usually white, blue, red, gray, or yellow in color and you will be able to see a clamp where it is joined to the water supply piping.
Our licensed inspectors can advise you of the type of pipes in your home during a home inspection or during our water testing services.
What is the relationship between galvanized pipes and lead?
Homes that have galvanized pipes and have or had lead service lines are at risk for the release of lead in water from corroded pipes. In-home galvanized iron pipes are found to accumulate lead that is released from lead service lines. As galvanized pipes corrode and form rust, lead that is accumulated over decades is likely to be found deep in the interior walls of rusty pipes. Lead in galvanized iron home plumbing can periodically contribute to lead in drinking water. The only way to ensure that lead is not mobilized from plumbing to tap in a given home is to fully replace the galvanized plumbing and lead service lines. Galvanized pipes may continue to serve as a lead source in drinking water long after all other sources of lead have been removed, including lead service lines and fixtures.
Can lead be released from galvanized pipes if the lead service lines have been replaced?
Lead accumulated in corroded pipes can persist and be present in household tap water after the full replacement of lead service lines, potentially for the remaining service life of the galvanized plumbing. Although lead service lines have been replaced, the rusted areas of galvanized pipes contain deep layers of iron and lead minerals that have accumulated over decades and continue to be released in water. Lead released immediately after lead service line replacement can increase as a result of disturbing the fragile interior surfaces of in-home corroded galvanized pipes. Lead release following lead service replacement varies with location. Typically, a decreasing trend is found in a lead release as time elapses following lead service replacement.
What factors should I look for that can increase the release of lead from galvanized pipes?
Lead release from galvanized plumbing can be increased by excessively high water flow or physical disturbances, such as water hammer (vibration of the pipes when they are suddenly turned on or off quickly). Any modifications or improvements to the plumbing, including water heater installations or even fixture replacements, could potentially lead to short-term spikes in a lead release. Call our office for a water test or drop a sample off at our office ( Use a clean water bottle and collect 16oz )
Can lead released from galvanized pipes vary by location?
The potential for lead release from galvanized plumbing at a given home must be assessed on an individual basis because lead released from galvanized plumbing can differ substantially in magnitude and behavior from one location to another. Lead-in water testing is recommended. Call 425-608-9553 for testing. Other factors, such as plumbing history, pipe layout in the home, and length of the lead service line might impact the degree to which lead is accumulated in galvanized plumbing at a given location. We find steel lines in Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Bothell, and other areas in the State of Washington.
Does flushing your water for a specific time decrease the presence of lead from galvanized pipes?
If you have galvanized pipes and have had lead service lines, lead can be released at any time, and may still be present in the water after flushing your taps. Pacific Northwest Inspections Group recommends replacing galvanized pipes or using NSF-certified filters to prevent lead in drinking water. If you have lead service lines and no galvanized pipes or if you have galvanized pipes and never had a lead service line, we recommend flushing your water for at least two minutes prior to using water for cooking or drinking, when the water has not been used for several hours.
Can galvanized pipes cause discoloration in the water?
Yes, in-home galvanized pipes can release iron and cause discoloration. An easy way to check for this is to look inside your toilet tanks. Lift the lid and inspect the bottom of the tank. If you have or had lead service lines and still have galvanized plumbing, we recommend replacing lead service lines and galvanized pipes or drinking filtered tap water.
What if I am pregnant or have young children?
We take exposure to lead very seriously and all of our inspectors are State Licensed Lead Risk Assessors and can help in any Lead paint, solid or water testing. If you are pregnant; have children under the age of six; have lead service lines; and/or previously had lead service lines and still have galvanized plumbing:
Drink filtered tap water and use filtered tap water to prepare infant formula or concentrated juices until the source has been identified and removed.
Boiling water does not reduce lead levels. If you have additional concerns about a child's health or would like the screening done by his/her own doctor, please contact his/her pediatrician to have lead levels in your blood tested.
Should I have my water tested for lead?
If you have or had lead service lines and have galvanized pipes, it is likely to lead is only periodically released in the water and a single lead test may not be an effective tool in identifying actual lead levels. However, if you have a concern, call our office @ 425.608.9553 to order a water test.
What types of filters are recommended for removing lead in water?
If you are purchasing a treatment device to reduce lead levels at your tap, choose a treatment device installed at the tap or use a filtration pitcher. These devices must be used, installed, operated, and maintained according to manufacturer instructions. Be sure to purchase a treatment device certified by an independent testing organization, such as NSF International. You can search for the NSF International website for certified drinking water treatment devices by visiting. Please be advised that the EPA does not endorse specific home drinking water treatment devices.
What do I do if I own a home that has galvanized pipes?
The only way to fully ensure that lead is not mobilized from galvanized plumbing in a given home is to fully replace the galvanized plumbing.
What do I do if I live in a rental property that has galvanized pipes?
Contact your property manager or landlord to discuss this issue.
Please understand the above video is great with the following exceptions for Bellevue and Seattle Washington areas. Most local code now requires that all retrofitted PEX piping is still secured to current code standards. So what does this mean? Well, you just can't run it in walls without tearing into them because the piping is required to be secured within the wall system. Washington area water also eats the piping from the inside out as this video from Texas explains.
Cost for water line re-piping in Bellevue, WA area