Question? Just ask us!
Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
InspectAPedia ® Home
PLUMBING SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
AGE of PLUMBING MATERIALS & FIXTURES
AIR DISCHARGE at FAUCETS, FIXTURES
ANTI SCALD VALVES
ANODES & DIP TUBES on WATER HEATERS
BACKUP PREVENTION, SEPTIC
BACKUP PREVENTION, SEWER LINE
BACKWATER VALVES, SEWER LINE
BATH & KITCHEN DESIGN GUIDE
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
CHEMICAL ODOR SOURCES
CHLORINE IN DRINKING WATER
DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater
DEPTH of SEPTIC TANK
DRAIN & SEWER PIPING
FAUCETS & CONTROLS, KITCHEN & BATH
FAUCETS, OUTDOOR HOSE BIBBS
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
FLOOR DRAIN / TRAP ODORS
FLUSHOMETER VALVES for TOILETS URINALS
GAS PIPING, VALVES, CONTROLS
GALVANIC SCALE & METAL CORROSION
HARD WATER - SOFTENERS
HEAT TAPES, Heat, Insulation prevent Freeze-Up
LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE
LEAD IN DRINKING WATER, HOW to REDUCE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MIXING / ANTI-SCALD VALVES
MUNICIPAL WATER PRESSURE IMPROVEMENTS
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS IN WATER
ODORS, SEPTIC or SEWER
ODORS SEWER GAS in COLD WEATHER
ODORS, SULPHUR SMELL SOURCES
ANIMAL or URINE ODOR SOURCE DETECTION
PIPING IN BUILDINGS, Clogs Leaks Types
PLUMBING FIXTURES, KITCHEN, BATH
PLUMBING NOISE TRANSMISSION CONTROL
PLUMBING VENT DEFINITIONS & CODES
PLUMBING VENT DEFECTS & NOISES
PUMPS, WATER REPAIR
RELIEF VALVE LEAKS
RELIEF VALVE, TP VALVE, BOILER
RELIEF VALVE, TP VALVE, STEAM BOILER
RELIEF VALVE, WATER HEATER
RELIEF VALVE, WATER TANK
REPAIR BURST LEAKY PIPES
METHANE GAS HAZARDS
SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
SWEATING (CONDENSATION) on PIPES, TANKS
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WATER PRESSURE LOSS DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
WATER PUMPS & TANKS
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SOURCE ALTERNATIVES
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE, WELL PUMP
WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Lead pipes in buildings: this article discusses identification of lead drain or water supply piping, durability, leaks, health questions. We give a brief history of the use of lead supply & drain pipes, we illustrate where you will find and how to recognize lead pipes, and we discuss the question of which lead pipes need replacement and what the health and leak issues really are with lead plumbing.
Our page top photo illustrates an easy-to-spot lead water supply pipe: the building water main entering at left of the water meter. The articles at this website will answer most questions about water supply & drain piping, wells, & water tanks as well as many other building plumbing system inspection or defect topics.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2014 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
How to spot lead water pipes in buildings
Lead Hazard Warning: consumption or absorption of lead into the human body is hazardous, particularly for children but in fact for anyone.  & [3-23].
And at least one correspondent has expressed the view that there is no level of lead exposure for which they have not found an adverse effect. 
Our lead water pipe photo at left illustrates one of quite a few places to look for hidden lead pipes in older buildings: in the plumbing access behind a bath tub or shower.
Portions of the following summary are from Carson Dunlop Associates' Home Reference Book, adated & used with permission:
Lead piping was used between the street main and the house up until the 1950s. A good deal of lead supply line is still in use, and the health authorities indicate that as long as it is used regularly, there is no functional [that is flow] difficulty with it.
Watch out: some assert that one can avoid the hazards of lead in water when the water has not been run for some time, by running water several minutes before using it.
In fact our own tests conducted in concert with City authorities in Poughkeepsie NY at homes with lead water entry mains confirmed that if the city flushed out nearby water mains and the homeowner flushed out the home's water piping until the water ran cold - that is, was fresh water from the mains - immediately before collecting a water sample to check for lead, the resultant lead levels were very low and were often below the city's minimum acceptable lead levels.
However as we point out in a companion article LEAD IN DRINKING WATER, HOW to REDUCE
Lead water entry mains & Lead Drain Pipes in Buildings
Our photo at above left shows a lead water main entering the building - to the left of the water meter. At above right simliar but larger-diameter lead piping is used to drain plumbing fixtures.
In our OPINION both lead water supply piping and lead drain piping are potentially hazardous sources of lead in drinking water. The lead supply pipe risks are obvious and are discussed in this article. The hazard of lead drain piping are a bit more subtle and rest in the possible discharge of lead containing water into private sewer systems and thus into local aquifers.
The life expectancy of lead water supply piping is indefinite in some soils and in more corrosive soils we have plumbers' opinions that the service life of buried lead water supply piping is 40 to 50 years.
The life expectancy of lead drain piping may be 50 years or longer, but varies by water corrosivity and amount of use as well as mechanical disturbance. Below we include a photograph and text of corroded leaky lead drain piping below a toilet.
Should We Replace Lead Water Supply Pipes?
Our own tests confirmed that where water is aggressive (leaching out lead from the pipes) and or where water that has been sitting in lead piping over night lead levels can be considerably higher than the US EPA standard cited above.
Our photo (left) shows a lead water supply pipe delivering water below a bathroom sink.
The right-hand pipe from the floor to the galvanized iron tee is lead, which you can recognize by the pipe diameter, by the lead wipe joint at the connection, and if necessary by gently scraping the pipe or using a magnet (lead is not magnetic but then niether is brass). Notice that the left hand water supply riser has already been replaced.
Watch out: our tests have found that running the water until cold water from the street is felt at the tap will reduce the levels of lead in building water and in some tests that lead level was below the current EPA standard. However in our OPINION and that of at least one writer from the US EPA, because of numerous variables this is not a safe reliable way to avoid ingesting lead.
There may be other reasons besides leaks to replace lead water supply piping, including possible health concerns (arguable), or poor water pressure or flow.
Lead Water Pipes & Poor Water Pressure: Up until World War II, most of the service pipes in built-up areas were lead. While these generally provide good service, they are small in diameter and may have to be replaced.
Long runs of relatively small (1/2-inch diameter) pipe result in considerable pressure drop, especially with more than one fixture flowing. Solutions include replacement with larger pipe or shortening the runs.
Also, lead is relatively soft, and if building settlement occurs, there is a chance of leakage or crimping the pipe. Leaks can also occur at connections as a result of long-term deterioration.
Another source of water entry main piping leaks is a little more subtle:
Many of the old lead service lines were connected to a galvanized nipple – a short piece of steel
that was often in contact with the soil. This pipe rusts on the outside and inside, and may be close to the end of its life. It is often wise to replace this as a precautionary measure.
When Do We Need to Replace Lead Drain Piping?
Don't assume that because visible building drain piping in an old house is cast iron that no lead pipe bends were used.
As our lead toilet bend photograph (left) shows, often the toilet in older homes was mounted using a lead drain line.
- Home Reference Book, used with permission.
Extra Costs for Renovation or Repair of Lead Drain Piping
Watch out: a lead drain line below a bath tub was identified in our photo at left - found by viewing the floor piping seen at a plumbing access opening in a 1935-built home in Poughkeepsie, NY.
We did not see any signs that the lead drain (the silver-gray colored, bulged horizontal pipe in our photo (left)).
But because this second-floor bathroom was constructed using a poured concrete floor, and because asbestos pipe insulation was present on the brass hot water supply pipe (parallel to and above the lead drain line shown at left - see BRASS WATER PIPES), when this drain leaks and needs repairs, extra costs will be involved, both to access the concrete encased piping, and to properly handle the asbestos insulation.
Until there is a leak, this piping and the asbestos insulation should be left undisturbed.
Quick Tests to Determine if Building Piping is Made of Brass, Copper, Galvanized Iron, or Lead
See our detailed articles about lead plumbing pipes in buildings at
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No FAQs have been posted for this page. Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
Questions & answers or comments about lead supply or drain piping in buildings: hazards, lead poisoning, leaks, repair, replacement.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Search the InspectApedia website
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
Technical Reviewers & References