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Old Copper Pipes: Keep or Replace?

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: John in New York has a problem with the copper pipes in his home. What can we do for you?

    JOHN: Basically, I was looking for some information on something that my plumber called white brass. He came in to check some pipes and said that because they were installed during war time, they were made with a lower copper content – mostly zinc – and that, therefore, they were brittle and they probably had a service life of about 80 years; after which they would start cracking and spewing. So I’m wondering if your experts have ever come across this problem and any advice on how to handle it.

    TOM: And are you having some problems with them now or is your plumber just predicting that you’re going to have issues?

    JOHN: Well, what happened was they were given a hit. They took a little hit and it cracked; the riser that brought hot water in.

    TOM: OK.

    JOHN: And that had to be fixed right away. I had to turn off the main valve and bring in a plumber. And by the way, one other piece of advice: if you open up your main valve and it’s 40 years old, it’s going to throw a lot of scale into the pipe. (Leslie chuckles)

    TOM: (chuckling) Yeah, I bet, right?

    JOHN: Just a little something to avoid or you may want to replace that preemptively when you get a chance. What he said, basically, was that the pipes were what he called white brass. It was made with a very high zinc content and less copper.

    TOM: Right.

    JOHN: He said it was common during wartime. Most of the copper was diverted to war production and that he’s seen that in some of the houses in brownstone Brooklyn and that it was something to watch out for.

    TOM: Well, it probably is but I wouldn’t necessarily tell you to replace all your plumbing prematurely. If they’re a little more fragile, I think that you should probably just live with that and replace them as incidents occur.

    JOHN: Right. No, that sounds reasonable. That’s reassuring.

    TOM: Yeah, I wouldn’t – you know sometimes you get plumbers that – in any part of the country; Brooklyn or anywhere – that will predict imminent failure and what they mean is they need a new job. (Leslie chuckles) So I just want to make sure that’s not what’s going on here. Sure, there are pipes out there that are a little more brittle than others but, in this particular case, I would only address it as the leaks form.

    JOHN: OK, great. Great. OK, I thank you both.

    TOM: You’re welcome, John. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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