The Trouble with Galvanized Pipes

You might not spend much time thinking about what sort of pipes you have connecting the plumbing in your home, but your insurance company does. In particular, they are worried about galvanized pipes; steel pipes that were coated with zinc intended to prevent rust and corrosion. Originally created as a lead pipe substitute, galvanized pipes are most common in homes built before 1960, but they can be found in all sorts of buildings across Chicagoland. Unfortunately, time has proven the zinc coating on these pipes to be inadequate, and decades of exposure to water corrode the inside of the pipes, leading to leaks, bursts, and collapses.

The expected lifespan of galvanized pipes is 40 to 50 years, and since most were installed before 1960, they now all present a risk. Since corrosion happens on the inside of the pipes, there is no way to be certain about how much damage the pipe has suffered until it’s too late. Because of this risk factor, some companies have chosen to no longer insure homes with ANY galvanized plumbing, asking for it all to be replaced before moving forward. Other companies will still insure you, but may increase your water damage deductible or limit the coverage offered.

Your home should ideally have copper or plastic pipes, both non-corrosive materials. Appearing penny-colored and white or black, respectively, they should be easy to distinguish from silver or grey galvanized piping, either from just looking at the pipe or scratching the surface. If you still can’t tell what sort of material your pipes are made out of, get a strong magnet and hold it against the surface. Galvanized steel is magnetic, unlike copper and plastic, so it should attract the magnet.

Replacing all your plumbing can be a major expense, but if you still have galvanized pipes, it will need to be done eventually. You should replace your pipes right away if you see rust around your pipe joints, rust spots on the pipes themselves, patched leaks, brown or rust-colored water coming out of your faucets, or lower-than-usual water pressure (calcium builds up in galvanized pipes as they corrode, restricting water flow). If you have galvanized plumbing but have not seen any of these warning signs, you may not be in immediate danger, and you can decide if fully replacing your plumbing is affordable. Just understand that you are accepting a certain amount of risk and your insurance options may be limited.

If you have any concerns about your plumbing and how it may affect your homeowners insurance, call (708) 383-9000 and talk with one of our account managers. We are happy to answer your questions, and we’re always here to help.


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