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Why Lead Pipes Need Replacing: Key Insights

Updated:  |  Published:

Lead pipe is still used in many water supply systems
Lead pipe is still used in many water supply systems

Have you heard about the Biden Administration's recent proposal to remove all the remaining lead pipes in the next ten years? Are you concerned you may still be using lead pipes?

We are here to help answer all your lead piping questions. Here at Repipe Specialists, we have been assisting our clients in maintaining clean drinking water for over thirty years.

In this article, we will investigate what lead pipes are and why they are dangerous, where they are still used, whether filtration systems can eliminate lead contamination, how to identify if your plumbing system still contains lead pipes, and the best lead replacement options to ensure that you have non-toxic, clean fresh water plumbing.

What Are Lead Pipes and Why Are They Dangerous?

Lead pipes, composed of the heavy metal lead, were widely employed in plumbing systems and service lines leading to the home.

Historically, lead's ductile nature allowed craftsmen to fashion pipes that could navigate intricate and irregular spaces, making it a practical choice for plumbing in older structures.

Its resistance to corrosion also contributed to its widespread use in plumbing applications. However, as we now understand, the malleability that made lead pipes easy to work with also proved to be a significant drawback.

Over time, exposure to water caused lead to leach into the water supply, posing severe health risks. Long-term exposure may lead to severe health complications, especially in children and pregnant women. The adverse health effects of lead consumption led to a shift away from its use in plumbing.

One of the most recent major lead health concerns was the Michigan Flint water crisis in 2014. After changing Flint's water supply to the local Flint River, there was a sudden increase in lead levels in the water supply. Over 100,000 residents were exposed to these high levels of lead, causing severe long-term health effects.

Most lead pipes have been phased out of residential plumbing in homes and properties after the implementation of the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act Lead Ban, stating that lead cannot be used in any pipe or solder replacement of plumbing that provides potable water to humans.

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Where is Lead Pipe Still Used?

Lead pipes can still be found in water service lines or in properties that have not been repiped since the 1986 ban.

Service lines connect a property to the public water supply main and are a crucial component in the overall plumbing infrastructure. They are typically responsible for delivering water from the municipal source to individual homes or buildings. This can result in lead potentially leaching into potable drinking water through the fresh water lines entering the home.

Lead pipes can also be found in municipal distribution systems. These pipes are responsible for transporting treated water from the water treatment plant to various locations within a city or community.

An article by the New York Times states that over 9 million service lines of lead pipe still present across the country. These pipes are often located in more industrial and older parts of the States.

Identifying and replacing these lead service lines has become a priority in water safety initiatives in the United States. As of 2023, the Biden Administration has announced that all lead pipe across the country must be replaced within the next ten years.

This program will focus more on service lines entering the home instead of fresh water lines situated in the home. Most homes should no longer have lead piping; however, the lead replacement plan will not replace lead pipe if it is still present in the internal water lines of your home.

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Can Water Filtration Systems Eliminate Lead Contamination?

Water filtration systems can be effective in reducing lead contamination in drinking water and improving the water quality of your fresh water plumbing.

Point-of-use water filters, such as activated carbon filters or reverse osmosis systems, can significantly decrease lead levels by capturing or blocking lead particles in the water. However, it's crucial to note that the effectiveness of these systems may vary, and regular maintenance is essential to ensure optimal performance.

Point-of-use water filters are particularly beneficial for removing lead from tap water at specific outlets, like kitchen faucets. It's important to select filtration systems certified to meet lead reduction standards. Some systems may also include a water softener component.

While a filtration system can be valuable, it should not be considered a sole solution. Water filtration systems will eliminate lead contamination from service lines outside of your home's internal plumbing; however, they may not filter lead that is still present in the internal water lines.

The most reliable approach to eliminate lead contamination is to combine water filtration with measures such as checking your internal water lines to ensure a more comprehensive and long-term solution to safeguard drinking water quality.

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How Can I Tell If I Have Lead Pipes?

Determining the presence of lead pipes in your home can be done using a scratch test, among other methods.

Lead pipes often exhibit a dull gray appearance. A scratch test involves gently scraping a key or coin against the surface. If the material is lead, the scratch will reveal a shiny, silver-colored mark. (Note: it's essential to exercise caution during this test)

There are home water testing kits available that can help you determine if your water pipes contain lead. Some examples of these include:

  1. Lead test strips: These strips, such as a WaterSafe Lead Water Test Kit, are designed to detect lead levels in water. You immerse the strip in your water sample, and it changes color based on the lead concentration.
  2. Home Water Test Kits: Water test kits, like the Allora Water Test Kit, often include multiple tests for various contaminants, including lead. They usually come with detailed instructions on how to collect and test your water.

Lead pipes are now far less common in a homes internal plumbing. However, galvanized steel can be easily mistaken for lead pipe and is still very common in plumbing systems.

Galvanized pipes can also be assessed using a scratch test. Galvanized plumbing looks very similar to lead pipe, but where galvanized pipes are magnetic, lead piping isn't. Lead also doesn't rust unlike galvanized steel which often causes rust to appear in drinking water. Lead pipes were regularly phased out and replaced by galvanized piping from as early as the 1920's.

corroded old galvanized plumbing
Corroded, old galvanized plumbing

It is important to note that galvanized plumbing has similarly been replaced by more up-to-date materials. If you have either lead or galvanized plumbing, it is not a case of if, but when you need to replace your plumbing.

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What is the Best Lead Or Galvanized Replacement Options?

Life depends on water… Clean water! When considering repipe options to ensure clean water from your home's plumbing - whether that be lead pipes or galvanized steel - there are two options that we provide, each with its own set of advantages.

  • Copper: Copper piping has been a trusted and popular choice for repiping projects for decades, offering numerous advantages for whole home repipes. Copper is a durable material that ensures a long-lasting solution that minimizes the risk of lead leaching into the water supply.
  • PEX: PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) tubing has quickly become one of the safest and best options to ensure that your home's fresh water is clean and long-lasting. PEX is flexible, cost-effective, and resistant to corrosion. You can read more about the benefits of PEX tubing in our in-depth article.

Both copper and PEX pipes comply with modern plumbing standards and regulations, providing homeowners with peace of mind regarding their water quality.

The importance of a home's clean water supply cannot be overstated, as it directly impacts the health and well-being of occupants. Choosing the best repipe option is a crucial step in ensuring a reliable, safe, and contaminant-free water supply for households, contributing to the overall health and quality of life for residents.

For more information, please feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation with one of our local repipe consultants.

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Get a Quote for Your Home Repipe

Here at Repipe Specialists, we've fully replaced the plumbing in over 75,000 homes since 1991 using both copper piping and PEX tubing. We continually get positive customer feedback from customers about their overall home repipe experiences. We often exceed their expectations on:

  • Speed: Our repipe crews typically complete a repipe in a day, returning on another day for wall patching.
  • Convenience: Through our One-Stop Repipe™ Process, we handle everything from permits, to wall patching, to inspections.
  • Cleanliness: Our crews are trained to protect your home while working (we cover all surfaces with protective sheeting), and to clean up fully at the end of each day.
  • Peace of Mind: Repipe Specialists is a fully licensed plumber in every state we operate in, and we back all of our repipes with a lifetime warranty.
  • Financing programs: To help take the sting out of unplanned repipe expenses, we offer several financing programs.
  • Price: As a specialist that performs hundreds of repipes a week, we can deliver high-quality repipes at a lower cost vs generalist plumbers. We have an article that covers repipe cost factors in detail. Our quotes typically range from $4,500 to $15,000 depending on the size and complexity of your project.

Schedule a free in-home consult, and one of our local repipe consultants will explain all your repipe options and provide you with a written, fixed-price quote. Remove outdated pipes for good, repipe with PEX or copper.

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About Repipe Specialists

Expert Repiping at an Affordable Cost

Since our founding in 1991, we've been completing residential and multi-family building repipes to the highest standard.

With over 75,000 repipes completed, we've perfected our  One Stop Repipe™ process: providing you with a high quality and convenient repipe experience while offering significant savings compared to traditional plumbers - plus, our work is guaranteed for life.

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