Down the Pipe: An Exploration of Galvanized Drain Pipelines
Galvanized drain pipes. Just saying those three words likely conjures up images of rusty steel tubing snaking its way under sinks and behind walls. While galvanized pipe may not be the sleekest or most glamorous plumbing option, it has remained a staple in many homes and buildings for decades. In this blog post, we’ll dive deep down the galvanized drain pipe, exploring everything from its composition and history, to pros, cons, and future.
First, what exactly are galvanized pipes? As the name implies, they are steel pipes that have been coated with zinc to resist corrosion. The zinc serves as a protective barrier, shielding the interior steel from exposure to water and oxygen. This galvanization process was patented in the 1840s by French chemist Stanislas Sorel, marking the birth of modern galvanized pipe.
The zinc coating gives galvanized pipes their distinctive matte-gray appearance. But over time and exposure to water, the outer zinc layer begins to erode, leading to the familiar rusting on old galvanized pipes. Still, the corrosion-resistant properties allow galvanized steel pipes to last upwards of 50 years.
Galvanized drain pipes became especially popular in the early to mid-20th century. Their durability and low cost made them a go-to choice for plumbers working on residential and commercial projects. They were used for drain lines under sinks and tubs, toilet drain lines, vent stacks, condensate drains, floor drains, and more. Galvanized pipe was perfect for all things drainage.
Even today, galvanized remains common in older homes and buildings. Homeowners may be unwilling or unable to spend the money to fully replace functioning galvanized drain lines. And so the pipes remain in service, still doing their job decade after decade.
However, galvanized drain lines aren’t without their downsides. Over time, built-up corrosion and rust can lead to restricted water flow, leaks, and even total pipe failures. The rough interior surface of galvanized pipe can also accumulate mineral deposits, further blocking drainage. And compared to more modern materials like PVC plastic, galvanized steel is difficult to modify or thread new connections.
For these reasons, galvanized pipe is no longer used in most new construction. Copper, PVC, ABS, and cast iron have become the dominant drain piping materials. And if replacing old galvanized lines, homeowners and plumbers typically go with plastic piping, which is smooth, cheap, and easy to install. The future of galvanized is one of phasing out…inch by rusty inch.
Yet there are still situations where galvanized makes sense. For draining acidic condensate from high-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners, galvanized’s corrosion resistance gives it an advantage over PVC pipe. It’s also suitable for garage floor drains and other non-potable outdoor uses where appearances don’t matter. And galvanized remains a viable option today for those willing to accept shorter service lives from their drain piping.
So while galvanized piping will continue fading from use, it’s unlikely to vanish completely anytime soon. There are simply too many miles of galvanized drain lines lurking under buildings to be replaced wholesale. Even if no longer installed in new construction, galvanized pipes will continue carrying water down the drain for years to come.
In closing, galvanized steel has served as a stalwart drainage piping material for over a century now. From its zinc-coated origins to its eventual decline and replacement by plastic, galvanized pipe has had a good run. Rusted and aged galvanized lines may not be glamorous, but they stand as a testament to the slow, steady role this unassuming product has played in keeping our homes and buildings dry for decades. Next time you’re shaving or brushing your teeth, take a moment to appreciate the unseen galvanized drain pipe that whisks away your wastewater, as it has faithfully done for generations.