What it Means for You
Does this mean you should not buy the home after all? It depends.
If you are thinking of buying an older home, you should definitely have a home inspection performed by Imperial Pro Inspection before you agree to the purchase. One of the things that the inspector may inform you of following the inspection is that the home has galvanized plumbing rather than the copper or PEX plumbing that is standard in newer homes. Does this mean you should not buy the home after all? It depends.
How Old Are the Pipes?
Many older homes in the Greater Houston area, those built before the mid-80s, rely on galvanized steel pipe for water distribution. For the Houston area, galvanized pipe has been considered a good quality material that provides a good service life. Typically, the service life of galvanized steel pipe in this area is about 30 to 70 years. The life of galvanized steel pipe depends upon factors such as pipe manufacture quality, thickness of galvanizing, water quality, and water condition.
We may see a home built in 1960 and the pipes have been well maintained, and you’ll be able to get a few more years out of them. Or we may see a home with galvanized pipes built in 1970 that may need to be re-piped immediately. There is no definite timeline.
If the pipes are very old, patched and you’re not financially in a position to have them replaced in the near future, it may be best to explore other options. On the other hand, if the home is a bit newer and you do not mind handling this maintenance in a few years, you should move on to investigating other defects that are a more immediate concern.
How Is the Water Pressure?
One of the reasons why galvanized pipes are no longer used is that they tend to accumulate mineral deposits. As the deposits grow thicker, they begin to impede water pressure. Turn on the water at several taps — or ask your inspector to do so — and evaluate the water pressure. If the pressure is low, you will need to plan on having the pipes replaced sooner rather than later if you buy the home.
Is the Water Rusty?
Galvanized pipes were originally coated with zinc to prevent rust formation. But as the zinc wears away, these pipes begin rusting. Try to visit the home after the plumbing has not been used for a few days. Turn on the water, and pay attention to the color. If the water is orange, yellowish, or brown, the pipes or plumbing system have begun to rust.
Are There Signs of Repaired Leaks?
Once galvanized pipes begin developing leaks, additional leaks are usually just around the corner. The inspector will look for water marks on drywall and ceilings, along with repairs made to the pipes themselves. Typically most of the supply pipes isn’t visibly accessible in the attic space due to blown-in insulation.
If there have been a lot of leaks already, you can bet that there will be more in the coming years. Best practice is to keep the pipes insulated and and always be looking up for potential leaks as part of your home maintenance routine. The worst type of leak is a small pin hole leak that isn’t discovered in time.
There are plenty of gorgeous, well-maintained homes with galvanized plumbing. As long as you’re willing and able to have the home re-piped when the need arises, there’s no reason to walk away from a home with galvanized plumbing that is still in decent condition. If your home inspector does discover any leaks or you are ready to have the pipes replaced, then we always recommend that the pipes be further evaluated by a licensed plumbing professional to quote the cost of replacement prior to closing.
Houston Area Home Inspections
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