"Understanding Your Home" by Building Inspector Mark Visser
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If you have reasons to believe that your house was built before the mid-1950s it would be a good idea to look for and check out the watermain. Now that maybe easier said than done. As a building inspector I spent a lot of time just locating the water meter or main valve. Many homeowners are very crafty in hiding the water meter or main shut-off valve, especially in a finished basement.
If possible, look at the watermain section where it is protruding the basement floor. If it is grey, scratches easily and does not sound hollow when you tap it, it may be lead. Lead is a very soft. When the metal is scratched, it shows a bright silver colour. Lead pipes can also be identified by a large ball type connection at the joints, see image.
Galvanized steel watermains are about the same colour as lead but it is much harder and cannot be easily scratched as lead.
NOTE: Not all homes have a water meter. Many homeowners are still charged a flat water rate. In a nearby city, where I did most of my home inspections, the new homeowners did not have an option of staying on a flat water rate as installing a water meter was mandatory at the time of sale.

Plumbing in a house built around 1965. There is lead in the solder used as well as in the brass valve. A water filter system is used to remove any lead traces from water used for cooking and making drinks.

Check this site which water
treatment systems are
effective for lead
removal/reduction from your
drinking water.

Lead in Drinking Water
from Watermains, Solder and Faucets

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Lead has been used for a long time in common consumer products such as gasoline, paint products and plumbing supply pipes. Over the years many studies have shown that lead exposure can cause a wide range of illnesses in adults and poses especially high risks for children under six year old, affecting their neurological development, growth and intelligence. The use of lead in gasoline and paint has been banned but there is still a major problem with lead poisoning in our homes.

Next to chlorine, lead is the most common contaminant found in tap water. Although municipally treated drinking water is virtually lead free when it leaves the plant, it may pick up lead from the plumbing systems between the main in the street and the faucets in your home. Most lead in drinking water comes from:
- Lead in watermains (till mid 1950s)
- Lead in solder (till the late 1980s)
- Lead in brass or chrome-plated brass faucets (till the late 1990s)

Up till the mid 1950s watermains running from the street to the house were made of lead. Over the years a good number of homeowners have replaced the lead pipe and replaced it with a copper one. However, even today, there are thousands and thousands of homes where the lead watermain has not been replaced. Even with all the publicity about lead and lead poisoning many homeowners never bothered to check out if the house has a lead watermain, although low water pressure would be a good tell-tail sign. The cost of replacing the old lead watermain can be expensive, especially if the home is set back from the street a fair bit. The municipality is responsible for the section from the road to the property line. You have to pay for the section of pipe that runs from the property line to the water meter inside of your home.

Even after a lead watermain has been replaced there can still be traces of lead found in your drinking water. If the house was built before the late 1980s the solder used for soldering copper pipes contained a fair bit of lead. My own home was built in 1965, new enough to have a copper watermain but old enough to contain lead in solder. Some argue that over time a film, coating the inside of copper plumbing pipes, will neutralize the solder so it cannot leach into the drinking water. Maybe so, but I use filtered water for personal use and cooking.


Most faucets purchased prior to late 1990s were constructed of brass or chrome-plated brass, which contain up to 8 percent lead (the main metals in brass are copper and zinc). Water sitting for several hours or overnight in a brass faucet can leach lead from the brass faucet interior which may produce high lead levels in the first draw of drinking water. Due to recent regulations, most faucets purchased after approximately 1997 contain less lead than previously used thereby reducing the possible leaching of lead.
Look for faucets made of copper or other alloys which contain less than one quarter of one percent (0.25%) total lead content by weight. You can find this information about lead percentage by going online or by contacting the manufacturer. Some leading manufacturers label their products as "Low lead compliant"

It has been known for a long time that large amounts of lead can cause serious illness or even death. However, we now know that over a long period of time, exposure to even low levels of lead can effect the development of a child's brain and nervous system.
Replacing a lead watermain could cost thousands of dollars but is a small price to pay if you can avoid any or several of the following health issues.
- Symptoms associated with lead poisoning may include insomnia, irritability, poor attention span, loss of memory, headaches, stomach cramps
- Damage to the brain and kidneys at very high doses..
- May impair male fertility.
- Increase the chances of complications during pregnancy.
- Affect brain and nervous system grows, especially effecting the fetus, infants and children under six years old.
- Lead to shortened attention span, intellectual, and behavioral problems such as hypertension and reduced attention span in children.
- Causes high blood pressure, reduces hemoglobin production necessary for oxygen transport
It is estimated by the U.S. EPA that lead in drinking water contributes to 560,000 cases of learning disorders in children and 680,000 cases of hypertension in adults each year in the U.S. alone. The agency has also documented that, in adult males, better control over lead in drinking water could prevent over 680,000 cases of hypertension, 650 strokes, 880 heart attacks, and 670 premature deaths from heart disease every year in America alone.

If you are pregnant and/or have a child under six years old: Install an end-of-tap water filter. Look for filters certified by the National Sanitation Foundation that have "NSF-53 for lead removal/reduction" on the label. For information on good filters, call 1-800-673-8010.
- Hot water picks up more lead than cold, so don't use water from the hot tap for drinking, cooking or making baby formula.
- Use a water filter or bottled water for drinking and making baby formula.
- If you haven't used the water for a few hours let the tap run till it is very cold. This is necessary to flush out any lead that has settled in the supply line.
- Use cold water for cooking and drinking to reduce the small amounts of lead that might be in your water from lead solder

There is only one permanent solution to prevent lead poisoning. Replace the entire lead watermain from the road to your house, period.
Check with your municipality if there is a Lead Water Service Replacement Program or if they provide low interest loans. In many cases the loan is transferred to the property owner’s tax roll with annual payments due on the final tax installment due dates. The loan, if approved, will only be paid to the property owner upon receipt of the invoices for the completed work, and the inspection of the completed work by City staff under the water service permit.

- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) : Lead in Drinking Water
- Health Canada: Minimizing Exposure to Lead from Drinking Water
- Lead and Faucets, Q&A Massachusetts Water Resources Authority
NOTE: These links are not automatically updated when changes are made to the government's websites. Please send me an e-mail if you have trouble accessing these sites and I will try to find the updated links.

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