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Cast Iron Pipes History, Maintenance, and Warning Signs

Inside of a cast iron pipe that has rusted

Using cast iron pipes for plumbing began in the early 17th century. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they received a challenge for plumbing popularity as plastic PVC pipes were introduced. In the 1980s, PVC pipes became the norm for plumbing, but some older houses still have their cast iron pipes. They’re built to last for 100s of years if properly maintained but can also cause lots of damage to a home over time. If you live in an older home that has the original cast iron pipes, you need to be aware of some warning signs that your pipes may need to be repaired or replaced.

Determine if your home has cast iron pipes

If your home was built before the 1980s and you are unsure what kind of pipes you have, this is something you need to find out. What kind of pipes you have determines what kind of things you need to watch out for to maintain your home properly. Ask your home inspector when buying the house to determine what kind of pipes you have. If you did not have the opportunity to do that, it’s a good idea to have a plumber come out and assess them to be safe.

How to maintain your cast iron pipes

Upon determining your home has cast iron pipes, you must consciously make a plan to ensure they are maintained, and budget for any necessary repairs or replacements. It’s a good call to have a plumber come out every year to assess your pipes to confirm you do not need any maintenance on them. If maintenance is needed, you need to be sure you’re having a licensed plumber take care of the job.

Potential damage cast iron pipes can cause

If not properly maintained, and generally over time as they age, cast iron pipes can cause a lot of damage in your home. Because cast iron is made of metal, the drainage that runs through them causes a reaction leading to the pipes rusting from the inside out. When this happens, that rust grabs onto any solids that pass through the pipes- like toilet paper. This will then block your pipes and cause backups in your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and main sewer. The photos below show customers who had this problem happen and layers of rust built up on their pipes, along with barnacles forming on the outside of the pipe:

Rusted Cast Iron Pipe

Inside of corroded pipe

This buildup of rust can cause a myriad of issues: pipes being blocked, inviting tree roots to invade the pipes, pipes deteriorating all together. All of these can cause sewage to back up into your home, which creates a whole new slew of problems and health hazards.

Warning signs your cast iron pipes need to be repaired or replaced:

1. Slow Drainage

2. Long term stoppages

3. Discolored pipes

This example shows a pipe leading down into their cast iron pipe that has corrosion and sediment built up, which indicates there may be a problem with their cast iron pipes.

Pipe Corrosion

4. Wet Spots

5. Odor

6. Mold

7. Barnacles growing on pipes

Noticing any of these indicators in the plumbing of your home should prompt you to call a plumber to take a look at the state of your pipes. We will come out, assess the damage to the pipes, and can repair and replace anything that needs it and have your pipes flowing freely again ASAP.