If your household pipes are sprouting leaks like a sprinkler system, there’s no question that your plumbing needs professional attention. But ceiling water stains, puddles-under-the-sink, and dripping pipe fittings are not the only indication that your pipes might need work. If you know what to look for, your home’s water quality can give you a heads-up about possible trouble long before that trouble turns into a tempest.
Even households that appear to have the clearest, cleanest water can still have dark rings on the porcelain around the drains of sinks and baths. This is especially common in older homes with vintage porcelain fixtures, exposed to years of accumulated water leaving concentric rings of stains.
Staining can be an indication of slow but steady corrosion in your piping materials. Over time, dissolved molecules of metal oxidize and accumulate, manifesting as a stubborn film. A bluish-green stain is likely due to copper corrosion. Tan, brown, or yellowish-brown may be due to iron and/or manganese. Staining is not an indication of an immediate problem, but a signal that you should check both the age of your pipes and their current condition.
If there’s a local water main break in your town, you may notice that the water coming out of your faucet is murky and discolored. This is likely due to sediment or organic matter getting into the pipes and being churned up as service is restored. Fortunately, this is a temporary problem that will pass in a day or two.
But if the water in your home is consistently discolored and your neighbors aren’t experiencing the same trouble, the source of the problem is likely in your plumbing. Cast iron, galvanized steel, and lead pipes do corrode over time. This can cause darkening of the water, most commonly to a rusty brown color.
A sure sign that pipe corrosion is taking a toll is the presence of particles in the water. Those particles might include flakes of rust, crumb-like pieces of old rubber gaskets, and even eggshell-colored flecks of “pipe scale,” an accumulation of hard-water compounds such as calcium or magnesium carbonate.
Since particles can accumulate at exit points like faucets and showerheads, you may also be experiencing a drop in water pressure or a need to clean out these filters more frequently.
Even copper pipes don’t last forever. If you are noticing deteriorating water quality that is not due to outside influences, consider calling a trusted plumber to take a good hard look at your plumbing.