Galvanized pipes dominated as the material of choice for plumbing in the past. If your home was built before the 1960s, as 20 percent of the homes on Oahu, according to census data, you probably have galvanized plumbing. The pipes are made of steel, and then coated in zinc to protect against corrosion. The problem is, when they are used for plumbing, the zinc has a tendency to react to the minerals in the water. This can lead to plaque forming in the pipes, which means lower water pressure and possibly even burst pipes. The coating also tends to flake, which may lead to lead in your tap water.

Today, homeowners are getting wise to the problems associated with galvanized piping, and they are opting for copper pipes instead. How do you know when it’s time to make the switch? The experts at D’s Plumbing suggest homeowners keep an eye out for these three signs:

1. Rust around your pipe joints and pitted rust spots on your pipes
2. Brownish water coming out of your faucets
3. Lower-than-usual water pressure

To get started, first take a good look at what you have. Do all the pipes need to be replaced? Copper is a pricey material, and replacing all the pipes at once can be a costly venture. Copper may also not be the best choice for all of your pipes. PVC pipes may work better for drain and waste, while copper might fair better for water-supply lines. To help curb costs, consider using copper only where necessary.

Just remember: If you are connecting copper pipes to galvanized pipes, you must use a dielectric union, which is a type of fitting that isolates two different metals to prevent corrosion. Without it, the copper and steel connection will produce a rapid corrosion, just the thing you want to avoid. You’ll need to solder the brass end of the dielectric union to the copper pipe and the steel end to the galvanized pipe in order to avoid this. While handy homeowners may be able to tackle this on their own, consulting a licensed and bonded plumber is always the preferred route.