Picture of a brownstone

Dear People With Historic Plumbing

Dear people with historic plumbing,

If you live in one of Boston’s beautiful brownstones, or in a property built before the 1990s, your plumbing is considered historic. The character and charm that come along with your historic home age well; however, its plumbing doesn’t quite follow suit. Behind your gorgeous crown molding and decorative walls, a plumbing disaster may be brewing.

Here are the most common plumbing problems you may run into when you live in a well-aged home.

Historic Plumbing Problems

Outdated Materials

Building codes constantly change. And, if your home has not been renovated in the last couple of decades your pipes probably need replacing. Here are the piping materials that pose a threat to you and your home.


Lead is toxic. If your home is on the older side, and you do not know what type of piping it has, get your plumbing system checked. Lead was a popular plumbing material until the mid-1960s when the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed, banning the installation of lead pipes.

If your home still has lead piping, and you do not want to replace them, you should install a water filtration system to prevent lead contamination of your water supply.


Common in homes built between the 1970s and 1990s, polybutylene pipes were a cost-effective plumbing material. However, this material has proved problematic, as numerous malfunctions were reported.

It turns out that the minerals and oxidants naturally found in water supplies were causing a chemical reaction with the plastic polybutylene pipes. These pipes were cracking, and flakes of plastic were peeling off into the water supply. These issues lead to extensive property damage and compromised potable water. If you have polybutylene pipes, make sure you schedule an appointment to get new piping installed before your pipes breakdown.


These iron pipes were most commonly used for residential water lines. The issue here is with the coating on galvanized pipes: zinc. Over time, zinc erodes causing galvanized pipes to malfunction.

Rust formed from aging zinc accumulates within galvanized plumbing, causing clogs. These clogs then restrict water flow, increasing the pressure within your plumbing, and your pipes can rupture.

Galvanized pipes can also affect your drinking water. If you begin to see an orange hue to your water, your water has rust in it and it should not be consumed.

Pipe Bellies

Pipes installed underneath your home are subject to natural shifts in the ground. If a pipe is forced downward, “bellying out”, your water flow will be restricted and sediment will begin to accumulate, causing repetitive clogs. Preventative drain cleaning will need to be performed until you are ready to replace your piping.

Outdated Fixtures

Vintage fixtures—from showerheads to faucets—are costing you more money in utilities than an upgrade would. Older fixtures are going to leak due to natural wear and tear. And, over time, they can develop a stench as well. You can still purchase a fixture with character and antique design, so change out your fixtures to start saving on water costs.


That’s all for today’s history lesson! Until next time!


CJ The Plumber


Contact Winters Home Services, at (617) 977-3101, to update your historic home. We’ll bring the latest plumbing technology into your home without jeopardizing its historic values.