Lead used to be considered the best material for making pipes and pipe fittings, since it's both pliable and strong. Unfortunately, this wonder material is also toxic, which led to it being banned in plumbing materials in 1986. Houses that were built before that can have lead pipes, which leach lead into the water once they start to corrode. Here's what you need to know about replacing your lead pipes with something safer.
Do all lead pipes need to be replaced?
Lead pipes have an expected life span of about 100 years, but keeping them around for that long is a bad idea. They can start contaminating your drinking water earlier than that, especially if the pipes weren't well maintained by the home's previous owners, or you live in an area with hard water. When the pipes start to corrode, lead particles enter your water, but they don't change the taste, smell, or appearance of it. This is a very dangerous situation, since lead is very harmful to your health.
What does lead do to your body?
As you drink water that's contaminated with lead, the lead builds up in your body. In adults, it can cause problems like constipation, headaches, and low energy, and if your lead levels get high enough, it can even cause vomiting, seizures, and coma.
Lead is bad for adults, but it's even worse for children. Children's nerves and brains are still developing, so lead has a more serious effect on them. Children who are exposed to lead have lower IQs, hearing problems, behavior problems, and their bodies don't grow as quickly. The younger your children are, the more at risk they are, with unborn babies having the most risk.
What are lead pipes replaced with?
Modern pipes are made from lots of different materials, so you have a few options for replacing your pipes. Pipes can be made from metals such as copper or galvanized iron; both of these metals are safe, but galvanized iron tends to corrode quickly.
Pipes can also be made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC); this is a type of plastic that you are probably familiar with. It's both inexpensive and safe, so it's a good option for replacing your lead pipes. The best thing about plastic pipes is that they don't corrode.
How do plumbers replace pipes?
To replace your pipes, the plumber will first turn the water off to your house. Next, your lead pipes will be removed and safely disposed of, and new pipes will be installed. This job sounds like it would be fairly straightforward, but it's a huge job since there are so many pipes in your house. You have pipes connecting all of your taps, showers, and water-using appliances to your main water line, and pipes connecting all of your drains to the main sewer line.
One thing that can complicate the plumber's job is the location of the pipes. Some of the pipes in a house are easy to get to, like the ones that are exposed in your utility room or basement. If you're lucky, many of the pipes in your house will be similarly exposed, but that isn't always the case. Pipes can also be buried beneath your floors or inside your walls, which means that the walls and floors will need to be opened up to get at the pipes.
Is it expensive?
The cost of replacing all of the lead pipes in your house can vary quite a bit based on the size of your house, how many pipes need to be replaced, and the location of those pipes. The job can cost between $2,000 and $15,000 for an average sized house, but you'll need to get an estimate from a plumber to know how much you can expect to spend.
Lead pipes are very dangerous, and they put both you and your family at risk. If you've been told that you have lead pipes, you need to get rid of them as soon as you can. Call a plumber to get an estimate and to discuss replacing your pipes with safer materials. You can also find more info here.