Water treatment systems are often installed to remove contaminants that come from your water supply – such as bacteria, chemicals, or excess minerals. But if your house was built before 1970 – a very common case in Pennsylvania – you should also be concerned about what might be added to your water after it enters your home. Many older homes have pipes made of galvanized steel or even lead. Metals can leach out of them and cause minor inconveniences – or serious health concerns. And if you live in an old neighborhood that uses public water, your municipal water line might also be part of the problem. If you aren’t able to replace your pipes, the best course of action is to install a water treatment system to remove any metal from your drinking water.

The Pitfalls of Galvanized Steel

Prior to the 1960’s, galvanized steel was the most common material used for water pipes. Steel was easy to fabricate but had one major flaw – it corroded quickly. To combat that, pipes were galvanized by coating their insides and outsides with zinc. This kept them from corroding for about 45 to 65 years. Unfortunately, we are now in or past that window. As their zinc has worn off over time, these pipes have begun to rust. As water passes through them, it picks up iron from the rust. Galvanized steel pipes were phased out in the 1960’s, but they’re still in use in many homes, particularly because they only started corroding recently.

While increased iron levels aren’t dangerous, they can be extremely inconvenient. Iron can leave hard to remove red or brown stains on laundry, dishes, and in your bathroom. It can build up inside your pipes, decreasing your water pressure and causing clogs. It may also make your water taste like blood or look slightly yellow, brown, or red.

As galvanized steel pipes eventually rust, they become more susceptible to leaks and failures. Not only can this lead to costly water damage and serious plumbing issues, but bacteria may make its way into your water supply through the compromised pipes, causing digestive issues for your family.

The Dangers of Lead

While galvanized steel pipes can cause trouble, lead pipes are far more concerning. Although we now know that lead is highly toxic, that wasn’t discovered until the 1900’s. Before that, lead was a commonly used material dating back to ancient Rome. Lead was not outlawed in pipes and plumbing fixtures until 1986. If your house was built before then, you should determine what your pipes are made of. Lead pipes are dull gray, and scratching them with a coin will leave a shiny silver mark behind. If you suspect your pipes are lead but aren’t certain, a plumber can verify.

As lead corrodes it makes its way into your water supply. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems, especially in young children and pregnant women. Lead poisoning can be fatal. Even small doses are extremely unpleasant, causing a wide variety of symptoms from fatigue and insomnia to headaches, digestive issues, reduced cognitive abilities, and reproductive problems. If you do have lead pipes in your home, it’s worth the expense to replace them rather than risk repeated exposure.

But even if you have steel or copper pipes, lead may have been used to solder them together, or it may be hiding in some of your fixtures, which can be much harder to determine. And according to the American Water Works Association, lead is also still used in a disturbingly high 6.1 million municipal water lines. If your house is connected to one of those, lead may already be in your water before it enters your home.

Water Treatment to the Rescue

The plumbing in older houses may be an inconvenience or a danger, and replacing pipes isn’t always feasible, especially if the problem is the water line coming into your home. But you don’t have to resign yourself to bottled water. Water treatment can remove lead, iron, and other metals and contaminants from your water.

The first step is to have your water tested for heavy metals to give you a current assessment of your water quality. Remember that corrosion will increase as your pipes age. Slightly elevated iron levels now could become high iron levels in just a few months. And any amount of lead is cause for concern.

Several types of water treatment can remove lead and other metals, including reverse osmosis, distillation systems, and carbon filters. Dierolf Plumbing & Water Treatment can help you decide which system is best for you.

Iron can also increase your water’s hardness, leading to the first four items on our list of seven signs your home may need water treatment. Hard water is common in Southeastern Pennsylvania even in newer homes, but your old pipes might be making the problem worse. You may wish to install a water softener in addition to another filtration system. Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to remove excess minerals, but will not remove lead.

In Summary

Older homes with metal pipes are more prone to water quality issues, but the proper water treatment system can ensure that your water is safe to drink. You don’t have to live with rust stains in your bathroom, hard water, or the threat of lead poisoning. Order a water test today and let us help you find a solution.

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