Should You Replace Cast Iron Pipes

this cast iron drain pipe will need to be replaced

Buying a home that is 45 years or older means there is a good chance that it has cast iron drain pipes.  Although cast iron pipes aren’t necessarily a defect, their presence provokes a lot of a questions. Such as should you replace cast iron pipes? Or should you buy a home with cast iron pipes? Let’s look at the facts.

What are Cast Iron Pipes?

Cast iron drain pipe is found in older homes. It is a heavy metal pipe that rusts from the inside out. This means that the outside of the pipe can look to be in good condition, even though the pipe is actually close to failure.

The life expectancy is about 40- 60 years. Accordingly, most of it installed in American homes, is nearing the end, or past the end of its life. Defective cast iron pipes can cause sewage backups, water damage, and sometimes even structural damage.  In addition, cracks in the pipe are common and can allow sewer gases into the home which carry a foul odor and can also cause health problems.

What is Sewer Gas?

Sewer gas is scientifically known as hydrogen sulfide gas. Its a naturally occurring gas in sewer systems that we prevent from entering our homes with plumbing traps and vents. The problem is that sewer gas exposure causes headaches and eye irritation. However, high concentrations and long term exposure can cause unconsciousness and even death.

cracked cast iron pipe is releasing sewer gas into the home

Should I Buy a Home With Cast Iron Pipes?

It depends…

A home inspection is a visual inspection and may not discover the entire condition of your pipes. Specifically, the majority of the pipes will be in the walls, under a concrete slab, or under the dirt. This of course makes them not accessible for inspection.

In the video below, you can see dozens of small pin hole leaks on the outside of the pipe that was exposed in the basement.

However, you will need a professional plumber, or a qualified home inspector to scope the inside of the pipe to determine its full condition. As the interior of the pipe rusts it also creates a lot of areas for toilet paper and anything flushed down the toilet to get caught. The old pipes are also susceptible to damage from tree roots. In this video below you can see slow draining water and lots of toilet paper build up.

You will also want to check with your insurance company

Mark Ogorchock, an insurance expert at Central Virginia Insurance Group says that most insurance companies won’t knowingly write a policy on a home that has cast iron sewer pipes. You will be left with carriers that charge higher premiums on these homes.

If you do get coverage on your property with cast iron pipes, some companies will drop you after an insurance claim for property damage cause by the old cast iron pipes. This will leave you scrambling to get coverage on your home.

There is a lot of risk when buying a home with a cast iron plumbing system. Just make sure you do your due diligence to mitigate that risk. And even if it is in good condition, you should budget and plan for replacement and repairs.

Should I Replace My Cast Iron Pipes?

If you own a home with cast iron pipes, start planning and budgeting for replacement. The risk of sewer backup, leaks, property damage, and the health concerns associated with sewer gases aren’t worth it. A slow leak in the wall can cause mold and rot for years before it is noticed.

Most home owners replace cast iron with PVC pipes. Pipe replacement can be expensive (5-15k), but in the long run it is worth it.

Bottom Line

Cast iron pipes are old and found in older homes. The common issues are cracks, leaks, back ups, property damage, and sewer gas concerns. If you’re buying a house with cast iron pipes, make sure to get them inspected as thoroughly as possible and make sure you are at peace with the risk. If you own a home with a cast iron pipes, you should start saving for replacement or repairs to be safe.