Old Pipes
October 5, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Plugged Pipes - Is there a way to clean out the water pipes in my home without spending oodles of $s to replace them?

I own an up/down duplex. The water pressure in the upstairs apartment is fine. The water pressure in the downstairs bathroom is horrible and getting worse by the day. It is so bad that I now have to hand fill the water tank for the toilet. The pressure in the sink and tub are getting progressively worse.

My handyman checked the pipe leading into the toilet and found it severely clogged. The pressure did not get better after cleaning. He has found a work around by putting in pipe from the sink to the toilet. It won't work long as the sink pressure is getting bad too.

I have majority old fashioned lead piping. It will costs thousand of dollars to replace with copper. Needless to say I don't have the cash to do it.

Are there any methods of flushing out the lead pipes?
posted by Juicylicious to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you get a plumber in with a coil snake to clean it out? There is also a coil-less pipe cleaner, but I can't remember the name. Try Roto Rooter.
posted by parmanparman at 2:03 PM on October 5, 2007

I don't think you can use a roto-rooter or snake for water pipes, those are more for drains.

Some ideas, including a possible chemical solution here and here
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:14 PM on October 5, 2007

You don't need to replace with copper. The new standard that is allowed is PEX which is considerably less than copper and easier to work with. Definitely get rid of the lead instead of trying to rooter out the scale. That is a major health hazard.
posted by JJ86 at 2:38 PM on October 5, 2007

We just redid our whole house in PEX. Saved us about $4k over copper. We have a small 3bd/2ba 1,000 sqft ranch home built in 1963.

It's probably not lead pipe but galvanized steel, which has a lifespan of about 40 years.
posted by Big_B at 2:42 PM on October 5, 2007

Response by poster: You're right, it's galvanized steel. May I ask aprox. how much it cost to redo the pipes in your home?
posted by Juicylicious at 2:45 PM on October 5, 2007

A temporary solution, until you can afford replacement, is to tie into a line in the upper duplex. Most houses/apartments are built with the bath/kitchen/laundry near each other to minimize the amount of piping in construction. Is the downstairs bathroom directly below an upstairs bathroom/kitchen? This is usually the case to , again, minimize supply piping and allows the use of a common vent.
posted by Mblue at 2:54 PM on October 5, 2007

I'd want to know what is "clogging" my current pipes, before shelling out for a full replacement system. If your water main has developed a bad leak, and your pipes are being infiltrated with clay and mud from the street, no repairs you make to your house piping can correct that, and you'd still have a water quality and health issue to be solved, after spending a lot of money to replace your pipes. This would also be consistent with only the service on the first floor of your home being badly affected, as entrained material, heavier than water, will generally settle in the lowest parts of your piping, when water is not flowing.

It would probably be worth while to take apart some of the union joints nearest the mains entrance to your house, if they are accessible. Otherwise, such as in the case of a slab construction house, you might want to examine the interior of your water heater tank, and such additional pipes as you can access easily. If they are filled with obvious rust and hard lime scale, that may well be one thing calling for replacement as a solution, but if they are filled with soft, discolored, clay like "rust" looking stuff, that may well indicate an upstream mains leak, which must be fixed. After such a repair, you might be able to flush your current pipes, with acceptable result, simply by running plenty of fresh water through them, for some time.

You should also carefully examine the surface of any property leading out the street water main, looking for wet spots, or erosion (in the form of low spots on the ground), as a precursor activity to replacing pipes wholesale. If a slow leak has occurred on your property, on your side of the water meter, you might also be seeing increased water bills. Most water line leaks will not result in entrained material into the water lines, because the water line maintains constant positive pressure, relative to the ground it passes through. But a small number of such leaks do occur, that can, because of soil conditions and the mechanics of the failure, cause significant amounts of contaminants to enter the plumbing, over time.
posted by paulsc at 3:42 PM on October 5, 2007

Further to paulsc's question, do you have any big trees near the side of the house where the water comes in? Is there a big oak in your front yard?
posted by bonehead at 3:57 PM on October 5, 2007

Can water supply pipes really be easily infiltrated if they leak? The pressure is pretty high.

I'm voting rust and lime--I've seen examples of iron plumbing that's gotten like that before, and it's amazing how close to completely occluded they can get.

Go PEX, if you can afford it.
posted by oats at 4:29 PM on October 5, 2007

It's probably not lead pipe but galvanized steel, which has a lifespan of about 40 years.

It can actually be as little as 10, especially if there are any sections of other metals interspersed with the galvanized.

You can't bore out severely corroded pipes. I agree that you should find out exactly what is clogging them- is your water rusty or discolored? I also agree that there's no need to use copper, unless you have some building code in your town that requires it.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:21 PM on October 5, 2007

We just finished replumbing our house with PEX today, it's a 30 year old house with galvanized that was developing leaks and was overdue for a fix. The intake/outlet pipes on the 17 year old water heater was down to the diameter of a pencil with buildup.

I did some reading about a process where the pipes are sandblasted from the inside and then coated with epoxy. I couldn't find any reliable longevity information about it so decided on the replumb. The inspector said he's talked to several owners who were happy with it, the plumber said he's heard of pipes developing leaks a few months after having it done, so I don't know if there's any consensus on how well it works. But that option is out there.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:19 PM on October 5, 2007

Plastic pipes are really easy to work with, even fun. It is like the giant tinkertoy set you never had as a kid. I plumbed out new kitchen when we remodeled and I could not believe how fast and easy the process was. Plus plastic pipe is cheap that if you do screw up it is not big deal. You just clip the offending sections and replace them.
posted by LarryC at 8:40 PM on October 5, 2007

My parents had an upstairs bathroom that had the worst water pressure; they were worried that a complete repipe was in their future.

Then, while having a few fixtures changed out, they had to have a few 90-degree bends replaced -- and suddenly the water pressure came back, not full-force, but significantly better and totally usable. Turns out that sediment starts building up at the turns first, then as that sediment builds up, it slows the water such that the straight pipes start to clog as well.

To be honest, it sounds like yours might be too far gone, but before you fully repipe try replacing elbows in the lines leading to the bad bathroom, starting with those that are easily accessible.
posted by davejay at 9:46 PM on October 5, 2007

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