Plumb Crazy

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

History's lessons should be heeded

Roman cupPlumbing has been in use since ancient times. The Romans seem to often get credit for "inventing" plumbing. The Roman aqueducts are renown. Yet many ancient civilizations, Greek, Persian and Chinese for instance, did in fact have public water systems. What is historically notable to the ancient Romans is the use of lead plumbing. The word plumbing is derived from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. A controversial theory as to the decline of the Roman empire has been blamed on lead plumbing and the use of lead in eating and drinking vessels. The ancients did recognized that lead had a detrimental effect on people. Dioscorides, a Greek physician who lived in the 1st century CE, wrote that lead makes the mind "give way".

Water supply pipeWith such a long, well documented history of detrimental health effects, one would think modern man would steer clear of lead. So it may be hard to fathom why lead has continued to be used in many products throughout history. The most notorious in modern times being lead based paints. Interestingly lead paint was banned by the League of Nations in 1922, with the U.S. refusing to adopt. 

Like the ancient Romans, lead pipes have been manufactured and used for plumbing in the United States. Typically I will find lead domestic waste pipes still in use in older homes. The toilet connection is the most common. 

Lead pipes have a distinctive sweeping bend. Lead is very malleable, a property that made it so attractive for pipes. The connection is also unique. A bulbous, egg shaped joint. 

Lead water supply pipeDuring a recent home inspection, I did a double take when I saw the distinct, oval connection of a lead pipe on the main water supply pipe. Astoundingly, upon closer examination, I found that the pipe was indeed lead. One has to wonder why lead would have been used for this purpose with so much historical knowledge as to its detrimental health effects. None the less, lead water supply pipes were quite common at one time. 

The repair will require the pipe to be removed from its connection at the street to the house. A fairly large and expensive job. Certainly not nearly as costly as lead poisoning. An expense that can not be calculated.  

History teaches only if we are willing to heed the lessons. 

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

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Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Wow!  I don't think I've ever seen that.  Pretty sure anyway.  Like lead solder, I wonder if the inside of that tubing has been so coated with minerals that there isn't much lead leeching into the water anymore.

Did you probe it with your screwdriver?  It looks like it might be deteriorating.  I hear your state allows probing by home inspectors.

Mar 29, 2015 09:40 PM #1
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Couldn't resist!   ; >)

Mar 29, 2015 09:42 PM #2
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker and Attorney Licensed in DC, MD, VA,

Fascinating.  When did the utility companies stop using lead in water pipes or are they still being made with lead?

Mar 29, 2015 09:45 PM #3
Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

The detrimental effects of lead on young children are not appreciated by many.

It's deadly and if it doesn't kill, will cause children so poisoned that they will suffer all of their lives.

I suspect that the hazard of lead in paint, which is the primary focus, is negligible to that in lead pipes.

Mar 29, 2015 09:48 PM #4
Debbie Gartner
The Flooring Girl - White Plains, NY
The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers

Yes, I agree less costly than lead poisoning.  It's also an issue for pets.

Mar 29, 2015 10:00 PM #5
Raymond E. Camp
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services - Ontario, NY
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester

Good morning James,

Ptobably because it is abundant and cheap. Also when did the FDA or other goverment agencies make a rational decision!

Make yourself a great day.

Mar 29, 2015 10:23 PM #6
David Popoff
DMK Real Estate - Darien, CT
Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct

wow, a very good catch and proof on why buyers need a proper home inspection.

Mar 29, 2015 10:37 PM #7
Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

Amazing, I have never seen that. It looks like a nice source for grounding as

Mar 29, 2015 11:29 PM #8
Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert
Zion Realty - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner of Zion Realty

That will be an expensive fix what you can't put a price on your health. It's a repair that has to be done!

Mar 30, 2015 01:05 AM #9
George Souto
George Souto NMLS #65149 FHA, CHFA, VA Mortgages - Middletown, CT
Your Connecticut Mortgage Expert

James it is amazing that the health department has not required this lead pipe to be replaced.  I wonder if the Buyers will step away from this house unless the lead pipe is removed.

Mar 30, 2015 02:36 AM #10
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jay, Wouldn't want to speculate on the coating of the pipe. It is quite old, but... And yes I did probe it with my screw driver. Actually I scratched it to make sure it was not copper or some other metal. Sometimes you just have to remember who you're working for, put on your big boy pants and go ahead and scratch or probe and face the consequences :)

Lise, No idea when lead pipes were no longer installed. Most newer pipes around here are plastic.

Lenn, Lead poisoning is a centuries old problem and one people seem to forget.

Debbie, Yes I guess it would be a problem for the cat or the dog too. 

Raymond, Based on history, the government may be making rational decisions, but industry seems to have an all to great an influence on implementing or not implementing those rational decisions. Lead paint is a perfect example.

David, You never know what may be lurking in the basement :)

Fred, Fortunately the service is upgraded with an exterior ground rod.

Nicole, With out question, expensive and 100% necessary.

George, One way or another that pipe is gone.

Mar 30, 2015 10:14 PM #11
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim, That is cool, I have never ran into a lead supply line. Where's Nero when you need him ;)

Mar 31, 2015 01:04 AM #12
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Don, This is actually the second time I found a lead supply pipe. 

Mar 31, 2015 10:01 PM #13
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