converting galvanized to copper

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by Henry Ramsey, Apr 12, 2007.

  1. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    I'm curious about the costs of going from galvanized to copper pipes.

    I live in a 30+ year old townhome that was converted from apartments in the 70s. The buildings are probably closer to 35-40 years old(tax records say they were build in 65 or 69).

    We have galvanized pipes throughout and have had a lot of problems with the common water pipes bursting from time to time due to the high mineral content of our water.
    My homeowners assocation has been simply replacing the pipes with new galvanized pipe. Wouldn't it be better in the end to replace the pipes with copper? The HOA board says it's too expensive(we have money problems)because of the special union needed to bridge the copper with the galvanized, but isn't copper more desireable over all? How much does this galvanic union *really* cost to install and wouldn't it make it easier to replace the pipes when/if they go bust to install them?
    Do most all plumbers have the ability to do this or do only certain companies as a rule even work on copper>galvanized unions?
  2. dialectric unions....

    they dont cost much at all 5 bucks each??

    I cant immagine anyone re-running galvanized pipe
    when copper or plastic would be so much easier...
    and less labor intensieve...

    Can the plumbers that they are useing speak English??
    What planet are they from??
  3. Wet_Boots

    Wet_Boots Sprinkler Guy

    Messages:
    798
    Location:
    Metro NYC
    Copper pipe is an expensive commodity these days, so don't blame the HOA for hoping the price will go down. There might be other materials they can consider. There are opinions that the 'dielectric unions' you're speaking of aren't as good as a short length of brass pipe between the galvanized and copper.
  4. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,387
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Granted copper prices are through the roof, but I wonder if one considers the labor involved in installing galvanized pipe just how much more expensive refitting with copper would actually be.
  5. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Thanks for the terminology. I couldn't remember the word "dielectric union". :D

    Ok, good then, they're not totally lying to use when they said it was "too expensive". Our association is cash poor and insurance doesn't pay for the pipes. If the copper costs more than the labor of the steel then that's why they went with the steel again.

    I just wonder though, how long does it take for sediment to encruse galvanized steel? We've had several pipes break then re-break in the same units.

    How much labor is involved with the dielectric unions or brass btw? Is it more labor intensive than threading and fitting the steel?

    The problem is there's no time for a bid in our case when the pipes break(the pipes feed cold water to 15 units plus a hot water boiler, and there's no individual cut offs), so I guess the HOA goes with the company we use regularly.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2007
  6. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Thank you for your reply,

    I think the problem is that when the pipes break we have to go with the plumbing company that we use regularly with no time for getting a bid.
    When the pipe breaks it cuts off water to 15 units(of 30) and one hot water boiler. There are no individual cut offs for each unit the pipes run through each units' living ceiling. So as soon as a leak is discovered no one can even use the shower or wash dishes. We had this problem when we had to replace the gas lines(in January 05) and people were constantly asking "when's hot water going to come back on?!" It's the same kind of thing, get the water on as fast as possible.

    The reason I asked is because I asked my HOA board about replacing the damaged pipes with copper and I was told the dielectric unions cost "too much". But, maybe it's the copper that actually costs too much. We are a cash poor HOA with only 30 units and much to do with little money.

    What about labor? Do dielectric unions present any extra labor costs?
  7. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,274
    Location:
    New England
    The pipes aren't really filling up with sediment, they are rusting from the inside out. Elemental iron is smaller than rust, so when iron rusts, it exposes more iron. Hot water pipes often rust faster. Eventually, you'll end up with the water volume being so reduced that taking a shower will be a problem. Time to bite the bullet and maybe consider an assessment and stop spending money on patches that won't last. At least plan for it in the next year or so to give people a chance to save up.

    I also live in a condo environment. One of the hardest things to do is to put away enough money to replace things that are known to be wearing out. I think Florida has some of the toughest laws: If something has a life of say 10-years, and 5-years have passed, you better have 50% of the replacement cost in your reserves or the state will require an immediate assessment to bring up the reserves. This way, people can't keep putting things off, crying cash poor at the detriment of the whole community.
  8. Wet_Boots

    Wet_Boots Sprinkler Guy

    Messages:
    798
    Location:
    Metro NYC
    As long as the HOA is cash-poor, it may always come down to patchwork maintenance. If it wasn't my money, I'd develop a plan for a new supply that could be installed alongside the existing one. The most likely replacement for copper tubing might be PEX tubing. Lots cheaper. Maybe someone who works in your area will post here with comments about PEX, or other alternatives.
  9. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Well, the problem is the maintenance issues are an inherited problem.
    I've lived here for 15 years and the property has steadily declined then became better then declined again. We had one homeowner who was wonderful doing most everything then she moved and things went to pot.
    The nervous nellies who took her place on the board kept being over conservative with the money then things started needing repairs in a hurry and now 15 years later here we are. The maintenace dues for my unit alone is $324 per month and the board tells us we *still* don't have enough to do the things we need to get done. They say we have a $450 per month short fall.
    We just voted against raising the dues by a majority of 48% because it would have made the due $387 which would have been the second $50 increase in two years time. But that's bound to come back to haunt us as an assessment at some point.
    We are a small complex of only 30 units and no one really want the board positions except those who are already there. Then we have one neighbor who is lawsuit nuts. The board acted arbitrarily by not fixing an issue in her attic(a limited-use, common area according to the bylaws) and she sued and lost, but sued again and again. This has the side effect of our GL insurance policy now costing us $24000 in premiums per year because she asked for damages and the legal bills were being claimed on insurance. We were assessed $50 at the time the insuance was increased before it was made a permanent part of the normal dues last year. Now they wanted to raised the dues again.

    As you can see raising the dues is not popular with me. ;)

    Personally we can't afford that extra $50 per month anyway. It's my mother's home and she's lucky not to have a mortgage or she'd've long since been evicted for non-payment of the dues. She only gets < $1000 per month and along with things being kept up inside here her costs are almost all of it per month. I split the bills with her, but we still don't have enough.
  10. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    I would hope someone from my area would reply so I can find out if PEX is even code here which might be why they didn't use it. How much cheaper is PEX vs copper and do all plumbers install it or only certain ones? The plumbing company we usually use was hired on because they were the only ones certified to work on the hot water boiler that a previous plumbing company installed, but couldn't get to work because they botched the flue connections and it wouldn't fire up. They're not the biggest outfit in town, but they're well known. It is likely they would do PEX work?

    The question I think I'd like to know is would it have been cheaper for them to do PEX instead of steel? And by doing steel, did they rip us off if they do infact do PEX (and it's code here) and it's cheaper?
    What are the downsides of PEX if any?

    The problem too is still that things are being done on a priority basis.
    I believe the priority is to spend $20000 on gutters and rotted fascia boards because the gutters were let go so long that the fascias won't hold the gutters anymore. And the next higher priority is air conditioning platforms at second-floor level, made of wood framing that are rotted out. As a safety issue the HOA board has been replacing these as money allows one-by-one with high priority.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2007
  11. TedL

    TedL New Member

    Messages:
    604
    Location:
    NY Capital District
    The absolutely most expensive way to replace the supply plumbing is to do it piecemeal, on an emergency basis, whenever there's a failure, sometimes paying night or weekend rates. A planned, systematic replacement would be much cheaper in the long run.

    If your mom's 60+, she should look at a reverse mortgage.
  12. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    :) Thanks for the thought. :)

    Mom is over 65, but we will need to sell at some time in the future.
    She's already check into the reverse mortgage. She was told not to do it if she plans to sell since she'd need to pay it all back at the sale closing and and she doesn't have a mortgage, so all the proceeds from the sale of this home would go to buy a new one. The reason we will need to move is our neighborhood is being developed with expensive homes and the local bus which we both depend on may be relocated elsewhere in the next 5-6 yrs. Taxis are too expensive and neither of us drives so we'd be forced to sell or live even harder using a taxi to get around.


    As for the plumbing, I agree wholeheartedly, but my HOA board does what they are advised to do by a management company. :( The board members pretty much let the manager do whatever except to be told what's going on.
    And I can't run for a position because my mother is the homeowner not me. Bylaws state only homeowners may be on the board. So there's nothing I can really do about it. And mom is not going to run either for various reasons.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2007
  13. dubldare

    dubldare Plumber/Gasfitter

    Messages:
    286
    Location:
    MN/ND
  14. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Thanks, that's really interesting.

    Too bad my HOA board is dumb and will never go along with changing to copper even with dielectric fittings. :(
  15. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,062
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    copper

    1. Di-electric unions are mostly cosmetic designed to make inspectors feel good.
    2. The new galvanized will last a lot longer than the rest of the piping.
    3. Mixing copper and galvanized will cause the galvanized to fail sooner/faster, with, or without, dielectics,
    4. Using galvanized is not "easier" and may not be "cheaper" than using copper for a patch.
    5. Any "real" plumber can work with whatever material he has to.
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