Residential water pipes have been made from a variety of materials since the earliest days of indoor plumbing. Wood, lead, copper, paper fiber, concrete and plastics of all kinds have been used to transport water for residential customers.

One of the most common materials used for water transport is galvanized steel. While galvanized piping has faithfully served customers for decades, it is now obsolete and may need to be replaced due to possible problems it can cause homeowners. Below is more information on galvanized pipe and why you should contact a plumber for assistance if you discover it in your home.

What Is Galvanized Steel Piping?

Steel is affordable, strong and readily worked by craftsmen, but it will quickly rust if not protected from the effects of moisture. One way to prevent steel from rusting is to immerse it in a hot zinc bath or to attach the zinc via an electroplating process; these processes are known as galvanizing.

The zinc coating will prevent the steel core from corroding by serving as a protective outer layer. In addition, zinc in low quantities is not toxic to humans, and that makes it an ideal metal for coating water pipes.

When compared to lead pipes, which are decidedly much more toxic, the use of galvanized pipes represented a major advance in indoor plumbing. However, by the 1960s, copper pipes had replaced the use of galvanized steel pipes in most American new home construction.

Why Is Galvanized Steel Piping No Longer in Widespread Use?

Despite galvanized steel piping’s ability to withstand corrosion, it is inevitable the protective zinc layer will erode due to constant exposure to moisture. Most of the zinc erosion takes place inside galvanized pipes first, and this leads to an ever-increasing buildup of corrosion byproducts. These byproducts are not harmful to human health, but they greatly restrict the flow of water.

Another concern with the use of galvanized piping for water transport is a process known as a galvanic corrosion. All metals transfer ions to neighboring metals, and dissimilar metals transfer ions much more quickly. Galvanic corrosion results in the eventual destruction of the zinc as its ions are transferred to the steel and other metals that may contact it.

This problem is particularly accelerated whenever galvanized pipes are joined to fittings made from brass, copper, or other metals. Leaks are prone to occur at these locations as a consequence.

How Can Problems with Galvanized Steel Piping Be Detected?

As mentioned, one of the major concerns with the use of galvanized steel piping is the likelihood of buildup inside the pipe, thus restricting water flow. Water pressure itself isn’t negatively affected, but water volume is lowered significantly; this makes it challenging to fill a bathtub or get a sufficient amount of water to perform other daily tasks.

To test for water flow restrictions, turn off all valves and faucets inside your home and allow them to remain off for at least fifteen minutes. Then, choose a faucet on the lowest floor of your home and turn it on; if there is an initial “burst” of water at good pressure, but the water flow dwindles noticeably, then you may be facing internal pipe corrosion.

Another way to check for problems with your galvanized steel pipes is to examine fittings where galvanized pipes connect with other pipes. If you see white, powdery residue and/or water leaking, then you should suspect that galvanic corrosion is destroying your pipes.

Ultimately, if you are concerned about the negative effects of galvanized steel pipes inside your home, then you will need to contact a professional plumber for assistance. They will be able to perform testing and evaluate your plumbing on a much more in-depth basis. In addition, a plumber can make recommendations for pipe repair or replacement and perform the necessary work once you make a decision.