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This page lists our in-depth articles on inspecting, testing, and repairing problems with brass water supply plumbing. Our page top photograph shows a great place to look for brass piping: in the plumbing access behind the tub wall of an older home.
This photograph was taken in a home built in Poughkeepsie, NY in 1935. We found brass water supply pipes, brass drain piping, lead drain pipes, and asbestos pipe insulation all in this opening.
The articles at this website will answer most questions about water supply & drain piping, wells, & water tanks as well as many other building plumbing system inspection or defect topics. Reproduction of this web page electronically at other websites is prohibited.
Watch out: on older buildings brass water supply piping may have been used, and may be at or near the end of its useful life.
It can be tricky to tell the difference between brass water supply piping and copper water supply piping if you are not experienced with these materials, as their colors are similar, especially when both types of piping have become an oxidized brownish color with age.
Both brass and copper are non-magnetic, so they won't respond to a "magnet" test to look for iron or steel.
Brass water supply piping, unlike copper, is a thicker material that is usually joined by threaded fittings of the same size and pipe thread specifications (NPT) as iron and galvanized iron piping.
Usually, brass piping is also so rigid that it is not bendable. Or not very bendable anyway.
Don't worry about that odd little machine in bottom center of the photo above - we were collecting an air sample in this wall cavity.
Galvanized steel will be characteristically silver in color, but beware: we have found galvanized steel that has been spray-painted with gold paint. You will also encounter very black copper tubing whose surface has oxidized - usually the cold water copper pipe will be blacker than the hot water pipe, thanks to the additional oxidation invited by condensation on the colder pipe surface.
A magnet will reliably identify galvanized steel and black iron (by adhereing to it).
Our brass pipe photograph at above left helps identify brass water supply piping: the combination of shiny gold-colored metal (scratch it to see), and threaded pipe fittings confirms that the material is brass, not copper.
A brass union and brass water pipe fittings in our photo at above right also show the threaded connections characteristic of this material.
We discuss the lead drain line shown in our above-left photo,
Here we show vintage brass water supply piping rising to a third floor bath tub in an older home.
The water shutoff valve is probably chromed brass, and you can also observe a larger diameter brass tub drain pipe just behind the brass water pipe and valve shown in the foreground.
Older brass plumbing fixtures such as faucets, valves, drain controls, were often nickel plated, also silver in color but usually not shiny, and in the opinion of some, more durable.
At the right edge of the photo is a second brass water supply pipe riser, and in the floor we noticed a brass cap over a floor-access plumbing drain access.
Incidentally, from its age, location, and retrofit status, this tub drain did not work very well - it was un-vented.
More recently a plumber had installed a vacuum breaker on this drain line, found in a nearby attic knee wall crawl space.
Unlike it's look-alike cousin galvanized iron piping, brass water pipes are less likely to become clogged internally by rust build-up. However if the building water supply is heavy in minerals, mineral deposits, particularly in hot water pipes, can over time clog brass water piping just as it may cause clogs in galvanized iron or copper water pipes.
We often find brass water supply piping working well after more than 50 years and we have inspected and found in good condition brass water supply pipes in buildings more than 75 years old, including some of the photos shown in this article that were obtained in a home built in 1935.
We suspect that the life expectancy of brass water pipes may depend on part on the corrosivity or aggressiveness of the building water supply.
Thin-wall, non-threaded brass drain pipes and on occasion chrome-plated brass drain piping may be more commonly found in buildings than you realize. Lots of plumbing traps and some tub drain parts were made of brass or chrome-plated brass. In this case it can be difficult to distinguish between copper and thin-wall non-threaded brass drain pipes.
This photograph shows brass drain connections at a bath tub. We scratched the horizontal drain connector to better-show its characteristic yellow-gold brass color.
Scratching a copper pipe will reveal a characteristic red color.
Watch out: even though the brass drain line in this photo appeared to be in good condition with no signs of leaks despite its age, there could be perforations developing on the non-visible underside of the brass pipe.
Worse, in this same location the brass tub drains connected to a lead plumbing drain that will be costly to replace when it leaks.
On 2019-07-31 by (mod) - threads - a key in distinguishing between brass and copper
Thank you for careful reading, Tom. I have edited the article and added notes on a photo or two above to make it more clear.
I agree that the presence of threads is a key in distinguishing between brass and copper
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On 2019-07-31 by Tom
That first picture where you say, "the larger-diameter left-hand pipe is surely brass, connected to a galvanized iron fitting at its bottom end.", based on that picture, I am not convinced.
In addition to that looking like copper with some oxidation, it doesn't appear to be threaded pipe at the bottom connection.
Would you please slove it and double check and/or explain that connection to the galv. iron fitting?
On 2019-05-16 by (mod) - buy 6' of bright brass water pipe
Any plumbing supplier, renovation hardware supplier, architectural design supplier.
Also building suppliers such as Home Depot, Lowes, and at online vendors. Depending on diameter and weight, figure as much as $6.50/ ft.
On 2019-05-11 by John Gamble, Gamble Truman-Oaks LLC
Where can I buy 6' of bright brass water pipe for a towel rack?
On 2016-04-11 by (mod) - do we need to replace brass pipes embedded in cement with PEX to get rid of lime inside of the pipe?
No, JS if the lines are not leaking then any lime or calcium in the piping is coming from the water supply and its chemistry, not from the slab.
No, if you need to replace the lines and have space to route new pipes above the concrete slab, for example along a wall or through a wall or ceiling
Yes if for cosmetic reasons you need to run new supply pipes to replace pipes that are leaking AND there is no place to run the pipes except through the concrete slab.
Also test your water for lead content.
On 2016-04-08 by JS
Our 1937 home has brass supply lines laid in cement from riser to the sink. We have been told we need to demo the supply out of cement due to the lime and replace the brass lines (3/4") with 1 1/4 pex. Is this really necessary?
(July 15, 2011) Craig said:
The old brass fixtures are nickel plated not chrome plated. Big difference. Chrome is newer, cheaper, and doesn't last. Nickel will last much longer.
I agree, Craig, and have included your note in the article above.
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