Galvanized pipes and copper pipes are both very common in residential and commercial buildings. While the material of your plumbing may not be something you think of often, it’s important to have an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of the pipes in your home. The following covers everything you need to know about galvanized and copper pipes.
Nowadays, most plumbers prefer copper to galvanized pipes for your plumbing. Galvanized pipes are made when steel is dipped into a bath of molten zinc to coat them. They became popular after builders discontinued installing lead pipes for fresh water lines and are most often seen in homes built between 1880 and 1960. They came in 21-foot lengths that were cut, threaded, and then attached to fittings. Galvanized pipes were and are used for hot and cold water lines, as well as drain, waste, and ventilation lines. They weren’t used for gas because gas caused the zinc coating to corrode.
Since galvanized pipes have a lifespan of between 40 and 50 years, it means that those pipes are way past their sell-by date. Indeed, it is unusual to find a galvanized pipe that’s still in use that’s not clogged with rust, limescale, and corrosion. This rust and corrosion are simply the results of decades of Las Vegas’ extremely hard water and the minerals it brings flowing through the pipes.
Though galvanized pipes were used to replace lead pipes, the zinc they were dipped in was not pure, and at least some of it contained lead and other contaminants. Sometimes, galvanized pipes were connected to service lines made of lead, and small amounts of lead could still leach into the water and contaminate it.
Besides possible lead contamination, galvanized pipes can become so corroded that they lower the overall water pressure or cause the pressure to be low at one fixture and normal at another. The iron in the pipes can impart a rust color to water and cause rusty stains on porcelain sinks that are hard to get off. Since galvanized pipes are so old, leaks are nearly inevitable. These leaks can damage your house.
You can tell you have galvanized steel pipes because if you scratch off an area and hold a magnet to it, the magnet will stick strongly. A magnet won’t stick to copper. If you find that most of your pipes are galvanized, you may want to start thinking about an upgrade.
Copper is a natural metal known for its unusual reddish-gold color and its great ductility and malleability. Starting in the 1960s, copper pipes began to replace galvanized pipes. They have an even longer lifespan than galvanized pipes. Copper pipes can last 50 to 100 years. Rigid copper pipes are used for hot and cold water lines, as well as drain, waste, and vent lines, while flexible copper pipes are used for hot and cold water lines.
There are four grades of copper pipe, with the K type being used most often in homes. Type L is thinner than K, and Type M is even thinner than L. DMW pipes are used for drain, waste, and vent lines. Copper pipes are valued not just because they last longer than galvanized pipes, but also because they are resistant to hard water and corrosion and can tolerate a lot of heat. They don’t contain lead. They are smaller in diameter than galvanized pipes and so can be installed in tight spots that are not suitable for galvanized pipes. Nearly every plumbing and building code in the country accepts copper pipes.
Copper also has antibacterial properties, and this makes it excellent for conveying fresh water. The one problem with copper pipes is that copper is expensive, certainly more expensive than galvanized steel. They’re not only costly in and of themselves, but they’re also expensive to install and repair. Though they can tolerate heat, copper pipes fail when the water temperature goes above 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Condensation can build up in copper pipes, and if the temperature goes below freezing, it will ice up and block the flow of water. Still, our experienced plumbers at BEST Air Conditioning Plumbing Repair enthusiastically recommend copper pipes over galvanized pipes.
Options for Galvanized Steel Pipes
If you live in an older home and decide to replace at least some of your old galvanized pipes with copper pipes, you first need to know not to connect copper directly to galvanized pipes. This will lead to a chemical reaction that causes corrosion. If you are going to need to connect copper and galvanized pipes, our plumbers will use special fittings to make sure they don’t come into contact. Also, the pipes are most likely going to be of different sizes, so this also needs to be taken into account. Because copper piping is smoother than galvanized piping, water will flow more easily through it, and the pressure of the water coming into your water-dependent appliances will need to be adjusted.
Some homeowners reline their galvanized pipes. This is a way of repairing old and broken pipes without having to dig them up or cut holes in your walls. Basically, a new pipe is placed inside of the old one. The plumber injects a composite resin inside the old pipe and allows it to harden. The steps are:
- Inspection of old pipes
- Creation of pipe lining
- Creation of the bladder
- Installation of composite resin
- Checking and testing of the new pipe
Customers opt for relining their pipes because it is not as expensive as replacing them completely with copper. It also takes less time to reline your plumbing system than it takes to repipe it. Relining also removes the risk of corrosion and lead leaching into the water supply from old galvanized pipes. On the other hand, relining is not a panacea. A section of galvanized pipe may be so corroded that there may not be enough left of it to restore.
Replacing galvanized steel pipes with copper is basically installing an entirely new plumbing system. It is, to be sure, expensive and takes a while to do if you are going to repipe your entire house. That’s why our plumbers at BEST Air Conditioning Plumbing Repair inspect your property before any work is done. You may not have to repipe your entire system — just a section or two that have failed. The plumber will also need to know if you’ve had any repairs done, what your old pipes are made of, the layout of your plumbing, and any aspects of it that aren’t up to code.
The repiping job itself can take anywhere from two days to an entire week depending on the size of your home and your plumbing system. The plumbers will protect your furniture and floors with drop cloths, and then make cuts in the drywall to find the old pipes, remove them, and replace them with new pipes. During this time, your water is going to need to be shut off at the source, so it’s a good idea to prepare for this.
Call Us for More Information
Many people are surprised to learn that Las Vegas is such a family-friendly place to live and that many of the homes here are over 50 years old. This means it may be time for their galvanized plumbing pipes to be replaced with more durable and more reliable copper or relined pipes as the area’s hard water and time itself takes their toll.
Whatever you decide to do with your plumbing, our professional plumbers are ready to assist you. We provide pipe replacement and repair along with a full range of other plumbing services. Our team also offers heating, cooling, and indoor air quality services. Don’t hesitate to call BEST Air Conditioning Plumbing Repair today.