Do I need to rip up entire bathroom floor to replace broken lead pipes
May 28, 2015 1:03 PM   Subscribe

We have a small bathroom (sink, toilet, small tub) on the second floor of our house that hasn't been touched since original construction (sometime in the 1950's). When using any of the three bathroom fixtures, water leaks through the ceiling below (just started last night after plunging the toilet). A plumber came out, took a look and said we'd need to rip up the entire floor as the pipes are all lead and the only solution is to remove entirely and replace with something newer. This sounds odd and expensive. Any advice/suggestions?
posted by thankyoumuchly to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, it's no longer considered safe to install lead pipes. You can find a summary of the lead pipes issue at the EPA website here.

If the pipes are damaged, it may not be possible to repair them without using more lead pipe, which is prohibited. So you may in fact be on the hook for replacing them. IF they are lead.

I would recommend getting another plumber in, to see whether the first one is stringing you along. And look up your local jurisdiction's rules about lead, as well.
posted by suelac at 1:23 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Assuming that the pipes are in fact toast, then yes, replacing them does sound like the logical solution. Did the plumber give you an estimate?

I agree with getting a second plumber and a second estimate.

As far as ripping up the floor goes, that depends. Is there access to the area downstairs? If so, you might be able to rip the ceiling instead. Your ceiling is already leaking, so it may already need replacement.

Also, assuming you do have lead pipes, do not drink your domestic hot water, and when running cold water for consumption, let it run for at least 30 seconds or until it runs cold. Ideally, you should really get your drinking water tested for lead. Lead is not safe and if you do have lead pipes, it's probably an issue throughout the house.
posted by pie ninja at 1:28 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I had to have part of my kitchen floor ripped up and the tiles replaced because of leaking pipes last fall. I don't know what kind of metal they were.

A townhouse built about 1881 that I looked at had brass pipes, which an inspector told me lasted about 125 years.
posted by brujita at 1:47 PM on May 28, 2015

When I needed to have my lead drain pipe repaired my plumber advised that it had to be removed and replaced. The reason he gave was that the lead is porous, and has absorbed water over a lifetime of use. He could not solder to that pipe due to the water content. Attaching a new pipe to the existing lead pipe with a rubber boot did not seem to be a viable option either, because he could not make a good lifetime seal.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:49 PM on May 28, 2015

A house built in the US in the 1950's most probably would have galvanized steel supply water pipes. The drain pipes typically installed would be cast iron with lead soldered joints. A quick test with a magnet will identify that the pipes themselves are not lead. Both types of pipe have inherent problems that develop over time, including leaking. Replacing them may indeed be necessary but they don't present a significant health hazard.
posted by X4ster at 1:57 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Surely the supply pipes aren't lead in a 1950s house. Probably galvanized as X4ster suggested.

If the leak happened after plunging a toilet you probably blew a seal on the drain stack. Or maybe even just blew the wax ring where the the toilet seals to the drain flange. Surely he would have checked that though. Get a second opinion.
posted by LoveHam at 8:08 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Aside from the lead/iron question:

Water feed lines are all under pressure, all the time, whether or not you're using the fixtures, so a leak is likely to happen constantly (there are weird exceptions, but this is generally true) -- A hole in a pipe is a hole in a pipe, water should leak out whenever it's full of water, and the freshwater feed lines are always full of water.

If you are only getting leaks when the fixtures are on, that likely means the leak is post-valve, so in the fixture itself or in the drain pipes.

Just something to keep in mind, if you've got plumbers absolutely certain the leak is in the freshwater lines, maybe press for an explanation of why it doesn't leak when the fixture is off.

Echoing X4ster -- test with a magnet before you get too excited about lead pipes.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:11 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well... they're pipes, so they're actually below your floor. Go from the ceiling below instead, leave the floor alone. If it's just the leaking you want to fix, I would think you might be able to do it from below. Then you would just have drywall patching on the ceiling instead of re-tiling/waterproofing a bathroom floor.
posted by annie o at 9:08 PM on May 30, 2015

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