Many homes built before the 1970s may have “galvanized” plumbing. Galvanized pipes are steel pipes covered with a protective layer of zinc.
Galvanized plumbing was a popular choice in new homes and discontinued after discovering the zinc coating erodes over time. As the outer layer of zinc wears away over time, corrosion can start to build up in the inside walls, causing the potential for harmful substances to affect your home’s water supply.
Most Galvanized pipes were built in the 1950s and 1960s with lead service lines, causing them to release lead as they erode. The lead releaded from the walls of these pipes contaminates the home’s water supply. The ingestion of lead can be hazardous to your family’s health.
With lead no longer being used in the water lines since the 1960s, galvanized pipes were still in use as late as 1990. The corrosion caused by these pipes can build up in your water supply.
An easy way to determine if your home has galvanized pipes is to look where your piping enters your home and scratch the line. If the pipe looks like a copper penny, then you have copper plumbing. When struck galvanized steel, the area will look silver-grey and have threads.
If the pipe is not copper or galvanized, it most likely is a plastic PVC or PEX pipe. PVC is typically white, and PEX is usually blue, red, or white. Another material, polybutylene pipe, could be a milky grey or black.
The average lifespan of galvanized piping is 40-50 years. However, plumbing that is well built, well installed, and well maintained can easily exceed this. If your house has galvanized pipes, it is essential to know how old they are. If the lines are from the 1960s or earlier, they should be near the end of their functional lifespan.