Let’s start at the beginning. All pipes have a finite lifespan. Water supply pipes in the home tend to be made from a few different materials, including copper, brass, galvanized steel, and lead. In the case of lead pipes, the answer to the question, “when do my pipes need to be replaced?” is immediately. However, if you have copper, brass, or steel pipes, you’re likely in the clear unless your home is very old. According to the CDC, there are no safe levels of lead exposure. The effects of prolonged lead exposure can be lifelong, including developmental delays, attention span issues, and other factors that may impact academic achievement.
What Are the Common Sources of Lead in Home Plumbing?
If you suspect you have lead pipes in your home, you can have your water tested to be sure. Your water utility company or local health department will be able to provide resources for water testing near you. If the results indicate that you have lead in your water, it may be coming from the following sources:
Service line running from the water main to your house
Soldering in your plumbing
Brass faucets and valves in older homes and fixtures
Your Home’s Drinking Water Comes From the Service Line
If your home has a basement, you can typically find the water service line there. It’s usually in a corner. If you do not have a basement, you’ll find your service line on the lowest level of your house. In many homes, it’s in the corner closest to the street.
If you suspect you have lead in your water or it has been confirmed by a water test, you can visually inspect your service line to see if it’s coming from there. Pay attention to the following:
Lead service lines will appear dark matte gray in color. You can scrape the pipe with a screwdriver or rock; if the metal is soft and shiny, this indicates that your service line is made of lead.
If the supply line is brown or copper-colored, it is most likely made of copper.
Sometimes the service line will be made of plastic, in which case you can feel the difference.
If you can stick a magnet to your service line, it is made of galvanized steel.
While knowing what your service line is made out of is helpful, your water may still be exposed to lead from other sources. Your municipality can provide additional information about city service lines and water mains.
How Old is Your Plumbing?
Knowing the age of your home plumbing can help you determine whether it will need to be replaced soon. Copper supply pipes can last as long as 80 years, while brass pipes and galvanized steel pipes can provide between 80 and 100 years of service. Older pipes may begin to leak and show signs of age eventually.
If your house was built before 1986, it’s possible that your home’s plumbing contains lead pipes or lead solder. In some cases, it’s already been updated to copper lines, but it may still contain lead solder. In this case, your plumber may recommend replacing plumbing components or buying a water filter.
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