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Cast iron pipes were used for more than a century for home plumbing because they were a relatively cheap product and had a life expectancy of 80 to 100 years. They’ve been virtually replaced since the invention of PVC plastic pipes, which are even less expensive and can last even longer.

Still, an estimated 76 million American homes have cast iron pipes. Many houses built in the 1920s through 1940s are reaching the end of their pipes’ life expectancy. But some pipes have failed after just 25 years.

Pipes in South Florida homes built as recently as 1975 are failing at higher rates than the rest of the country. Homeowners have been caught off guard with surprise bills.

What Causes Pipes to Fail Early?

An estimated 2.5 million Florida homes may be affected by early iron pipe failure. A combination of salt rich soil and high humidity is blamed for causing the pipes to deteriorate faster than in other parts of the country.

Plumber Jack Ragan told FOX 4 News (WFTX) in Fort Myers that the combination is a “double whammy” for the region.

“It begins corroding from the outside while the water and sewer gases are corroding from the inside,” he told the station in February 2019.

A blocked drain is often the first warning sign of failing pipes. Water backing up in the sink or shower, or toilets flushing slower than in the past are signs of corrosion. But there are other things that can indicate a problem with your home’s safety.

Signs of Cast Iron Pipe Failure
  • Sewer or drain backup
  • Leaks
  • Odors
  • Mold
  • Discolored Water
  • Puddles or extra plant growth in lawn
  • Insect or rodent infestation

Drain pipes tend to wear out on the bottom first. This causes pinhole leaks and a buildup of ions inside the pipes that clogs the flow. Water that leaks from exterior pipes can wash away soil and form small sinkholes.

Unexpected Costs

Estimates for replacing cast iron pipes in a home range from $10,000 to $30,000, according to some plumbing companies. But replacing pipes can turn into a full-blown home remodeling job.

Cast iron pipe lawsuits claim the costs have ranged from $50,000 to $150,000 for some homeowners when they added in the price of replacing walls, floors and concrete. It can be even more for large commercial buildings or condos and apartments.

In addition to replacing your pipes, you may face other costs.

If there is an exterior leak, your first warning sign may be a surprisingly large water bill. Some may be hundreds of dollars.

If you buy a home with cast iron pipes, you may not be able to get homeowners insurance. Some companies will not insure the house until you replace the plumbing.

Insurance companies have also been accused of denying payments or underpaying for damage. They may also require that you report water damage within as little as 72 hours of first discovering it. Companies may also cap payments at as little as $2,000.

What to Do If Your Pipes Fail

You can extend the life of your pipes by being careful about what you put down the drain. The rough interiors of cast iron pipes can snag on wet wipes and feminine products, even those labeled as flushable, and can cause clogs and contribute to deterioration.

Harsh drain cleaners and other chemicals can also corrode metal pipes. Enzyme-based drain cleaners are a better alternative.

Corroded cast iron pipe
Corroded cast iron pipe.

If you’re buying an older house, you may want to have a plumber inspect its pipes in addition to the regular home inspector. Pipes in the walls may have been replaced with PVC, but pipes encased in or buried below concrete may still be cast iron.

You should also consider a pipe inspection before committing to other big home improvement projects that could bust your budget right before your pipes burst. A simple pipe inspection may cost as little as $200 and could keep you from draining your savings account for pricey repairs.

Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making decisions about your health or finances.
Last Modified: July 17, 2020

6 Cited Research Articles

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  1. Accurate Leak and Line. (n.d.). 10 Signs You Need to Replace Your Cast Iron Plumbing. Retrieved from https://www.accurateleak.com/plumbing/10-signs-need-replace-cast-iron-plumbing/
  2. Feldman, H. (2014, September 10). Some Sound Advice for Dealing With Cast Iron Plumbing Woes. Miami’s Community Newspapers. Retrieved from https://communitynewspapers.com/pinecrest-tribune/sound-advice-dealing-castiron-plumbing-woes/
  3. Hurtibise, R. (2015, December 7). Most Insurers Fail to Respond to State Advocate’s Request for Water Damage. Sun Sentinel. Retrieved from https://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/jobs/fl-water-damage-data-call-20151207-story.html
  4. Klas, M.E. (2013, September 21). Citizens Racks Up Millions in Attorneys’ Fees as It Denies Claims. Miami Herald. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/article1955243.html
  5. Nolan, P. (2019, February 18). Cracked Pipes Below Your Home Could Cost the Environment, Homeowners. FOX 4 South Florida. Retrieved from https://www.fox4now.com/news/protecting-paradise/cracked-pipes-below-your-home-could-cost-the-environment-homeowners
  6. Total Care Restoration. (n.d.). Cast Iron Pipes. Retrieved from https://totalcarerestoration.com/cast-iron-pipes/