Compressed air pipes

Do I really have to replace all of my galvanized pipes?

Question: I live in a house from the 1940s that has galvanized pipes. The cold water faucet in the tub is clogged. A plumber said pipe debris was clogging the pipe and the only thing I could do was reseal the whole house. Is this my only option?

A: There are a few other options, but in the end the best is probably the one recommended by the plumber.

Galvanized pipes, which have been in use for decades, are steel with a zinc coating, inside and out, to prevent the steel from rusting. But over the decades, the minerals in the water gradually eat away at the zinc, and the coating itself wears out due to the friction of the passing water. Anywhere that zinc wears out, rust can form and accumulate. Rust takes up more space than steel, so corrosion eventually fills the pipe. “It’s a rusty, crusty mess,” said Tim Whistler, owner of Tim Whistler Plumbing & Gas Fitting, who works in parts of Maryland and Washington, DC.

No piping system lasts forever. Many plumbing websites say that galvanized pipes have a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years, while others say 80 to 100. Obviously, the lower range was not accurate for your pipes. House. But at age 80 or older, time is running out.

You can find advice online on unclogging galvanized pipes by injecting compressed air to blow out debris. But it can just push the mess further down the line, where it can build up in plumbing elbows or clog faucets, Whistler said. This would not resolve the rust that has formed at the threaded joints. And because the pipes are hidden behind the walls, there would be no way of knowing if the air pressure had passed through the weak spots where the steel was mostly rusted – until you turn the water back on. , to discover soggy walls, floors or ceilings. .

Some companies have relied on the idea of ​​blowing up the debris by offering a service that removes corrosion with forced air and then sprays an epoxy coating that protects the remaining steel from corrosion. The big advantage is that it fixes corroded pipes without creating the mess it takes to dig the ground or drill through the walls to change the piping. For sewage pipes and water pipes in commercial buildings, which are wider than residential water pipes, this process is well established. For house-sized water pipes, a concern would be whether the coating reaches all surfaces.

A company that uses the epoxy coating process, Specialized Pipe Technologies, no longer processes residential water pipes, but only drains and commercial water pipes. President Justin Mizell has stated that the pipe diameter of residential waterlines is too small for a camera to pass after epoxy is applied. “We have to check, make sure everything is coated,” he said. “Before, we did residential, but two years later, there was a leak. ” The best solution? “Just repipe,” he said.

The last option, other than replacing all the pipes, is to replace only the section that is clogged. But there is a good chance that other sections of pipe will corrode as well. A spokesperson for Heil Plumbing DMV said ad hoc repairs are often short-term solutions at best. “It’s a bandage – an expensive bandage,” she said.

For a long term solution, replacing all hoses is the best option. But it’s not cheap or hassle free. Whistler said the cost often ranges between $ 6,000 and $ 10,000 for a home with three bathrooms, but this only applies to plumbing work, which includes cutting wall or ceiling surfaces to access pipes. . Refurbishing an upstairs bathroom usually requires removing the entire ceiling from the room below. And replacing the pipes in a tiled tub or shower means cutting through the other side of the wall. If it’s an exterior wall, it gets even more complicated, Whistler said, because insulation standards today are different than they were a few years ago. In a recent job, the customer finally decided to move a tub so that the piping could pass through an interior wall.

Whistler said renovating a home often takes three to six days for a team of three experienced plumbers. Homeowners, who will usually move during the work, can choose copper or PEX piping; PEX costs less than copper.

Many homes with galvanized pipes in need of replacement also have plaster walls, which are more expensive to repair than those covered with drywall. In some areas, it is even difficult to find a company that does plaster repairs. It is impossible to estimate the cost of these repairs without inspecting the home.

In some parts of the country, companies have made pipe replacement a science. Repipe Specialists, which is based in Burbank, Calif., Offers its clients a package deal that takes care of both plumbing and repairs. The company claims that because it has to patch the holes it drills, it has techniques that minimize damage, so it can often reseal a home in a day with the water only shut off in the middle. of the day.