Inspect Galvanized Pipes Before Buying or Selling a Home

There’s a threat lurking in the ground beneath that beautiful, “vintage” Fort Lauderdale home you’re looking to buy. It’s a potential burden that could cost thousands of dollars to remedy if not discovered before it bursts. The threat: plumbing made from galvanized pipes in older homes.

Galvanized pipe corrosion is common in Florida’s older neighborhoods. Are galvanized pipes in the home you own – or are looking to buy? It’s worth finding out. Because for older homes with galvanized pipes, it’s not a matter of “if” they will fail. It’s a matter of “when.”

At Gary Lanham Group at Coldwell Banker Fort Lauderdale Beach Office, we’ve seen the fallout that comes from damaged or failing galvanized pipes. We’ve been through this ourselves. Not only can we offer a realtor’s advice to buyers on plumbing issues. We speak from personal experience.

Before PVC, there was Galvanized

First, a little history. Before the introduction of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, piping in the late 1960s and 1970s, homes around the country were plumbed with galvanized pipes. Galvanized pipes are steel pipes dipped in a protective zinc coating – or “galvanized” – to help prevent rust, corrosion and general deterioration.

Corroded and Blocked galvanized pipes

Corroded and Blocked galvanized pipes

No one ever questioned the life expectancy of galvanized pipes. They should have. Over years of use, the protective zinc coating wears away. The result is the pipe’s inner lining begins breaking down. The edges grow rough and become “hooks” that can capture material flowing through the pipes.

Making matters worse, flushed and other material and sediment that built up over the years hastens the deterioration of the pipes from the inside. So not only do the pipes clog like arteries, the walls wear thin.

Additionally, joints and elbows that join two or more pipes, either to extend their run or make turns, also become vulnerable and can leak at the seams.

There’s no easy remedy to a clogged galvanized pipe. If your drain clogs, the caustic chemicals and drain “snakes” often used to clear clogs can cause further damage to already jeopardized pipes.

While it has its own issues, PVC generally wears much better over time than galvanized pipes. But that’s of little solace to a homeowner facing failing galvanized pipes.

Galvanized Pipes and Health Issues

Keep in mind, there’s generally no health concern related to the breakdown of galvanized pipes. The highly publicized lead contamination in cities like Flint, Michigan, pipes carried potable or fresh water into the home. The pipes in question here are drain pipes, not plumbing for drinking water or outdoor irrigation. Generally speaking, well-water pipes for lawn irrigation are not galvanized, as elements in untreated well water drawn from the aquifer can harm galvanized treatments.

While it’s not an immediate health issue, if the galvanized pipe collapses, then sinks, showers, toilets, and floor drains won’t clear and water won’t drain.

Health issues can emerge. Sewage can back up, which will create an immediate health situation with noxious gasses, fumes, or odors, and the potential spread of harmful bacteria.

The homeowner could be faced with an emergency “re-plumb” to install new piping to effectively replace the old. This costs thousands of dollars, lost use of the home, drawn-out insurance claims, and generally a difficult situation few want to endure.

A Well-Known Plumbing Problem

The problem of galvanized pipes is well known – and on the rise. Law firms across South Florida and around the country are running television, newspaper, and online advertisements. They’re filing class action lawsuits and suggesting affected property owners sue for damages related to failing pipes or pipes overdue for replacement.

Whether a lawsuit is in order is between a homeowner and their attorney. Our suggestion is to avoid a potential situation with galvanized pipes in the first place.

The easiest way is to know before you buy. If you already own, it might be wise to know before you list or sell.

How can you find out? If you own a home built before the 1970s, you can hire a licensed and insured plumbing contractor. He will snake a camera down your drain lines to visually inspect their condition. If you’re there during the inspection, you can see the condition for yourself. Some can even provide images or videos of the findings. The plumber can assess the current condition and advise on whether potential of future issues exist.

Galvanized pipes can result in expensive repairs to a homeI noted previously that I had a problem with breakdown and failure of galvanized pipes. A duplex I own, which was built decades ago, suffered a pipe breakage. I called our trusted plumbing contractor, Doc's Plumbing, a dependable and reliable second-generation plumber in Oakland Park. Doc’s team sawed through the terrazzo floor, dug under the attached unit, and rerouted the plumbing around the point of the break. It was an ugly job, but a necessary repair.

Galvanized pipes can result in expensive repairs to a home

An inspection brings peace of mind

If you’re selling your home, a certified inspection attesting to pipe’s good condition can help put potential buyers at ease. If you’re buying a home you suspect might have galvanized pipes, have your real estate agent or broker request the visual inspection. It can cost several hundred dollars. But it provides tremendous peace of mind, and can be powerful and valuable data during home price negotiations.

The importance of these inspections cannot be overstated. A seller’s failure to disclose a known issue can result in thousands of dollars in costs to you as a buyer. It also can lead to a lawsuit for failure to disclose a known flaw. As your realtor, I will assist you as a buyer if the seller from whom you purchased a home never disclosed known issues related to aging plumbing, the electrical system, or other components of the house.

A caveat: All homes, especially those where the buyer will be securing a mortgage or other outside financing to close, are subject to a thorough home inspection by a licensed and certified home inspector. Increasingly, galvanized pipes are on the list of items to be inspected.

At the Gary Lanham Group, we’re not plumbers. We cannot offer the advice a licensed plumbing contractor can. But in our experience, various remedies – and negotiation strategies – exist related to homes with actual or potentially failing galvanized plumbing.

Pros Helping Clients Assess Real Estate Issues

We’re not only real estate agents and brokers trusted by our clients throughout the community. We’re experienced in helping assess many aspects of the condition of homes for sale across Broward County and south Palm Beach County. We work with buyer and seller clients to point out homes’ strengths and weaknesses. We also have performed upgrades or repairs on our own residences. This gives us first-hand knowledge about many aspects of home repair and remodeling. We’ve worked with South Florida’s best licensed electrical contractors, carpenters, roofers, landscape architects, and – yes – plumbers.

If you need a referral, just ask. If you’re not buying or selling today, we still want to be a resource for all your homeownership and real estate needs.

At the Gary Lanham Group, we stand up for buyers. By discovering what issues may exist, this becomes part of the negotiation so you don’t overpay for the house. You probably still love the house. Let’s make sure you get it at the right price.

So if you’re wondering whether that vintage South Florida home you might be looking at has problems with age, let’s find out together. For any home anywhere in greater Fort Lauderdale – from Wilton Manors, to Imperial Point, Coral Ridge, or Pompano Beach, the Gary Lanham Group at Coldwell Banker Fort Lauderdale Beach Office works with one guiding principle: to be the real estate professional who can help guide the inspection process to make sure you get the home of your dreams.

Gary Lanham GroupLogo for ample light at Coldwell Banker Fort Lauderdale Beach Office is a boutique real estate organization offering sales, leasing, and brokerage services to the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. A listings agent matches home sellers with buyers and tenants with landlords. While Broward County is our universe, we focus on Coral Ridge Country Club, Oakland Park, Wilton Manors, Pompano Beach, and the surrounding areas. Call us today at (954) 695-6518 or visit www.GaryLanhamGroup.com.

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