The Worst Plumbing Pipe Materials Installed in Homes

blocked corroded galvanized steel pipes

Was your home built prior to the mid-1990s? If so, there might be some “less than desirable” materials that comprise part of its plumbing. While some of these piping materials can result in problems like leaks and water damage, others can cause serious health issues, particularly in children.

Below, we will elaborate on three types of problematic plumbing piping that should be removed from all homes as soon as possible: lead, galvanized steel, and polybutylene.


Toxicity is the chief concern with having lead in any part of your home’s plumbing, especially if children live under your roof. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe blood lead level for children. Sadly, there are many documented cases of lead’s adverse effects on children, including the way it damages the brain and central nervous system.

When a part of your home’s plumbing contains lead (particularly the water supply system), over time, corrosion will cause the lead to enter your drinking water. Ingesting that water will expose you to lead in a way that can poison you. The EPA reports that lead pipes, faucets, and fixtures are the most common sources of lead in drinking water.

How Do I Know If I Have Lead Pipes?

Lead pipes and plumbing fixtures are far less common than they used to be because of the widespread knowledge of lead’s toxicity. However, if you own an older home, you may want to double-check that lead has been eradicated from it. The metal will be dark gray, and you should be able to mark it fairly easily.


Galvanized steel pipes were a great idea--in theory. After all, steel is durable. The zinc coating was added to protect the steel from its greatest weakness: rust. What could go wrong?

In reality, galvanized steel pipes work just fine right up until the point that the zinc coating erodes. Once that happens, corrosion takes place inside the pipes, creating rust and a buildup of mineral deposits within the pipes’ walls. This buildup results in rising levels of water pressure inside the pipes until they eventually break and start leaking.

How Do I Know If I Have Galvanized Steel Pipes?

If your home was constructed before the 1960s, it might contain galvanized steel piping. A telltale sign will be visible rust around the pipe joints. Also, if you own a home with this piping, likely, you’re already having issues with your plumbing, such as problems with water pressure or poor water quality.


Polybutylene was an immensely popular, cost-effective piping material for years between 1975 and 1996. It’s estimated that around 10 million homes in the United States were outfitted with polybutylene pipes during their heyday. However, these pipes possess a significant design flaw that has lead to multiple class-action lawsuits, the most famous being Cox vs. Shell Oil.

The water that your home gets from your municipal water treatment plant is treated with disinfectants, including chlorine. When polybutylene encounters chlorine in treated water, it starts to wear down from the inside out. Eventually, the piping becomes so brittle that it breaks, allowing water to leak out.

How Do I Know If I Have Polybutylene Pipes?

Homes built between 1975 and 1996 are the most likely to have polybutylene piping. These pipes come in a variety of colors, including gray, black, blue, and white. Because they wear down from the inside out, unfortunately, you won’t be able to tell if there’s a problem with your pipes just by looking at them.

If you discover that you do own polybutylene piping, you’ll want to replace it not only to prevent plumbing issues and water damage but to also avoid issues with insurance coverage. Because polybutylene pipes have a reputation for causing problems, some insurance carriers may restrict your coverage, make you pay higher premiums, or even refuse to cover you at all.


In terms of top-quality piping materials, plumbing experts recommend copper, cross-linked polyethylene (PEX), or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. Often, a home will contain a combination of these pipes, as certain materials are better for some uses than others. For instance, even though PEX pipes have the advantage of being flexible and requiring fewer connections, they should not be used in certain outdoor locations because they will wear down under sun exposure.

For partial or whole-house repiping, trust the experts at Rudd Plumbing. Call (903) 290-0851 for a free estimate.

Related Posts
  • Upgrading Your Plumbing: Is It Time to Replace Old Pipes Read More