We are always looking to improve our methods and materials when it comes to home building and repairs. As we learn about the materials, we find that some may be more harmful than others. There was even a time when we would use lead pipe to run all of our water. But then in 1880, we discovered the dangers it possessed and replaced it with what a lot of people see more commonly today – galvanized pipes.

So what are galvanized pipes?

Galvanized pipes are basically just steel pipes that have been coated with a layer of zinc which is intended to prevent from rust and corrosion. Most homes built prior to the 1960’s—unless otherwise replaced—still have galvanized pipes. Unfortunately, we have found that even with this layer of zinc, after years and years of exposure to water, these old pipes and pipe systems are beginning to rot from the inside out—and you may not even be aware of it.

What effects will this corrosion have on my water?

Well, for starters, it can quickly make the distribution of your water uneven. As corrosion and rust clog up the lines, the water may not flow properly in certain parts (or any) of the system. Also, as you can imagine, rusted metal is not nearly as durable as it was when it was shiny and new and may very easily spring a leak; which means you are wasting water, running up your bill, and making one ugly mess. And we can’t forget the grossest effect it causes—that nasty, brown-colored water.

If you have ever been in an old house or have seen the homes in horror movies where they turn on the faucet and out comes this disgusting, dark water that doesn’t even begin to pass as drinkable—that is the consequence of having an old galvanized steel pipe system.

However, the most dangerous issue with galvanized pipe systems is that if it were ever connected to a lead service line, that corrosion can snag lead particles and contaminate your water. You may think that your house wasn’t built prior to 1880, so obviously it wouldn’t have ran to lead service lines—and that’s where you could be very wrong. Many major cities and urban areas didn’t stop using lead service lines until the late 1980’s. So if those pipes are older than your dad’s prized Trans-Am in the garage, you very well might have a problem on your hands.

How can I tell if I have galvanized pipes?

Easy! Grab yourself a magnet and flathead screwdriver. Find the water pipe and if you can’t tell just by looking at it, go ahead and give the pipes a little scratch. If it has a silver or gray color to it, put the magnet to it. If the magnet sticks, then congratulations, you have galvanized pipes.

This method can also test for copper pipes (if the scratched surface is the color of a penny and the magnet does not stick), plastic (white in color when scratched and the magnet does not stick), and even lead (the metal will be soft and easy to scratch, give off a dull gray or silver color, and the magnet will not stick).

So if you find yourself wondering if you have galvanized pipes—or why your water is low on pressure and turning brown all of a sudden—this might be your answer. And as always, if you want those pipes looked at or even replace, you know who to call.