Re-bath tub reliner (C) Daniel Friedman How to Determine The age of Building Plumbing Piping, Drains, Materials & Fixtures

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Age of plumbing materials:

Here we provide a photo guide to determining the age of a building or its plumbing system, piping, and fixtures by examination of visual clues.

The age of a building can be determined quite accurately by documentation, but when documents are not readily available, visual clues such as those available during a professional home inspection can still determine when a house was built by examining its components, building materials, even nails, fasteners, and types of saw cuts on lumber.

Here we list some helpful clues to answer the question "how old is the house?" and we provide photographs of key visual clues useful for determining the age of a building.

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Guide to the Age of Plumbing Materials & Plumbing Fixtures as Indicators of Building Age

PHOTO of gas light fixture which we discovered still was fed by an active gas line in an 1860 New York Home

[Click to enlarge any image]

Above: Photograph of an active gaslight found in a 1900 home in New York. Often old gas lines have been disconnected entirely and sometimes they have been re-used to route electrical wiring to new light fixtures or to gaslight fixtures which have been converted to electric. Don't assume that an old gas fixture or valve on a wall or found in a fireplace are inactive. We turned-on and lit this fixture which gave a bright surprise to everyone.

Article Contents

Bathubs Help Determine the Age of a Building

While nearly any home inspected in North America will have an indoor bathroom at present, in 1921 only one percent of homes had an indoor bathroom.

Claw foot tub (C) Daniel Friedman

Claw foot tub (C) Daniel Friedman

Re-bath tub reliner (C) Daniel Friedman

The really ugly green 1960's vintage plastic bath tub shown below is installed in home in Christchurch, New Zealand (Photo 2014 -df).

Plastic or fiberglass bath tub in Christchurch (C) Daniel Friedman

The green of this tub was such as perfect match for a combination porcelain and plastic McSkimming toilet that we speculated that the tub might have been produced by McSkimming too.
See LOW COST TOILETS. McSkimming brick & ceramics works produced clay toilets and other products in New Zealand from 1882 until the 1980's.

Age of Supply & Drain Piping: Chart of Dates When Different Types of Plumbing Piping Were Used in Homes

Chart showing when different types of piping were used in homes (C) CarsonDunlop

Above, our chart of plumbing types and years of use is provided courtesy of Carson Dunlop. The chart shows that lead water service piping was in common use in North America from 1900 to 1940. During that same period Galvanized steel pipes were also in use, extending up to about 1950, while brass water supply piping also was in use as early as 1900 or even the later 1800's, but fell from common use in new construction by 1935.

Copper water supply pipes came into widespread use in 1935 and extend to the present, while plastic water supply piping (polyethylene, PVC, etc. were not in common use before 1970. PEX plastic supply piping for water distribution and in some cases for heating water distribution has been in wide use since the 1990's.

Prior to 1800 in North America pipes were made of wood, from hollow trees or carved from solid wood hewn from trees. Cast iron piping was not produced in the U.S. before ca. 1825.

Plumbing fixtures and piping materials offer considerable age in dating a building, including easy clues such as the presence of a date of manufacture stamped into many toilet tanks to the periods of use of types of water supply piping (lead, galvanized steel, black iron pipe, copper, plastic piping) and building drain piping (lead, cast iron, copper, plastic, clay).

Often on older buildings multiple types of piping will be present as repairs and changes have been made in the building plumbing system. And determining just what the piping materials are can be tricky. Below our photo of old water or heating pipes (follow the pipes to see their connections) illustrates the difficulty of pipe material identification by simple inspection. One may need to scrap a bit at the pipe surface to distinguish between brass and copper, or use a magnet to identify steel.

Old water supply piping of unknown material, probably asbestos-insulated (C) Daniel Friedman

Watch out: while the black tarry debris on the pipes at left in our photo may be a bituminous compound, both that mastic and the white debris on the pipes may contain asbestos. Handle inspection and sampling with appropriate care.

Below we see lead water supply entry main piping (red arrow) and cast iron drain piping.

Lead water pipe and cast iron drain (C) Daniel Friedman

Cast iron piping used for in-building drain piping as well as sewer lines is shown at FIND the MAIN BUILDING DRAIN, and at How to Use a Power Snake on Building Drains you can see a common splice-in of ABS plastic drain piping into an existing cast iron sewer line.

Clay drainfield piping or "drain tiles" is shown in fragments [photo] in our article on sewer line replacement, at DETERMINE NEED for DRAIN LINE REPLACEMENT.

We also provide this photo of another type of octagonal clay sewer and septic piping [photo] that was often used in drainfields as disjointed sections.

Lead water entry piping (see LEAD PIPES in BUILDINGS) connecting a building to the street water main is shown in our photo (left) where you can also see gray-painted cast iron drain piping.

Orangeburg drain & septic field piping, most widely used in drain piping and septic fields, was made of ground wood fibers bound with an adhesive mastic (coal tar), typically looking like black"tarred" piping. Orangeburg piping was first used in Boston in 1865.

Orangeburg pipe is not orange - its name comes from its main producer, the Fibre Conduit Co., in Orangeburg, New York. After 1948 the company changed its name to Orangeburg Manufacturing. Black coal-tar impregnated fiber piping was widely used in North American from 1950 to 1970.

Orangeburg drain piping and sewer piping [citation] was not made just by Fiber Conduit. Other manufacturers included American Piping Co., J.M. Fiber Conduit, Bermico (Brown Manufacturing), and American Manufacturing

Details about all types of building supply and drain piping materials and heating pipes are found at PIPING in BUILDINGS, CLOGS, LEAKS, TYPES.

Sinks as Indicators of Building Age

Here we illustrate the wide variety of materials used to construct kitchen, laundry, and bathroom sinks and we discuss the typical age of each sink type.

Cast concrete laundry sink with and wringer, Akaroa New Zealand (C) Daniel Friedman

The cast concrete laundry sink with a hand-wringer for clothing shown above is installed at a national park building in Akaroa, New Zealand and is still in active use. In North America cast concrete sinks have been in use for more than 100 years.

In the U.S., Erwin O. Warndorff, assigning to the Concrete Fixtures Company, patented an improved metal rim for concrete laundry tubs in 1925. The wide use of these fixtures led to a plethora of patented improvements in sink production, features, and components. (Stoddard 1933). The sink shown above has a metal rim.

As with toilets and bath tubs, often a look at the materials and style of sinks used in a bath, kitchen, or in a laundry area can give clues about the probable age of the building as well as of the plumbing fixture. Lucas (2012) traces the history of kitchen sinks in Canada and illustrates various of these fixtures beginning with galvanized wash tubs used in homes where plumbing was not yet installed.

Below: the author Daniel F. in a galvanized washtub, being bathed by his mom, Teal, ca: 1944, Dunnsville, Virginia.

Daniel Friedman having a bath by his mom, ca June 1945 (C) Daniel Friedman

Please see SINK TYPES & MATERIALS for our catalog of types of sinks and sink materials, uses, ages, history.

Also see PLUMBING FIXTURES, KITCHEN, BATH, a guide to choosing & installing plumbing fixtures for kitchens and bathrooms.

How to Use the Date Stamp in Toilets as A Way to Date the Age of A Building

Antique toilet (C) Daniel Friedman

Does the toilet date stamp tell the age of a building? Well not exactly, but lots of toilets include a date stamped or embossed into the interior of the toilet tank, often in the toilet tank lid, as we show in our photo (above right).

That embossed date stamp indicates the year of manufacture of the toilet. If the toilet is original to the home that may give us a clue about the age of the building.

Of course if the toilet has been installed during a plumbing update it will be newer than the home. In our example the example toilet was manufactured 30 July 1994 but the toilet was installed in a home built in 1920.

Date stamp shown in a modern toilet tank lid (C) Daniel Friedman

Sir John Harington is credited with invention of the first flush toilet (for Queen Elizabeth I in 1596), but the flush toilets were not produced in volume before the water closet designed by Alexander Cummings - 1775.

Indoor toilets using a high wall-mounted local water reservoir (and a pull chain flush valve) have been in use in the U.S. since around 1890. An early wall-tank flush toilet is shown in the sketch at left.

Flush valve toilets that operated by (high) municipal water pressure (and excluded a local water reservoir tank) have been in common use in the U.S. since around 1920.

Modern tank type toilets that incorporate their water reservoir right atop the bowl have been in common use in the U.S. since around 1940. Reader Kathy Bohon points out that the date stamp on a toilet tank or lid is a useful age indicator provided that the building plumbing system has not been renovated. Of course since the toilet will have been manufactured before it was installed, or if the toilet was re-used from another structure, in either case it's date will be a bit earlier than that of the building.

History and Dating of Low Flush Toilets

Low-flush toilets that reduce the quantity of water used began in popular use in the U.S. by 1980, but you may need to look closely inside the toilet tank to identify some models.

low flush toilet information stamp (C) Daniel Friedman

Look for a label (photos shown just above) in the tank lid stating "This toilet complies with ASME / ANSI A112.19.2M. This fixture qualifies according to ANSI test procedures as a low consumption water closet with an average consumption per flush of 1.8 gal or less."

low flush toilet information stamp (C) Daniel Friedman

As this tag may have been removed, also look on the toilet tank or base for a low flush designation included in the porcelain coating such as we show in our photos.

Toilet low flush indication (C) Daniel Friedman

Simple plastic retrofit internal reservoirs allowed toilet manufacturers to leave the toilet exterior size and shape intact even when going to a low-flush water savings design.

At TOILET OVERFLOW EMERGENCY you can see one of these toilet models.


Can the Age of a Water Heater Tell Building Age?

Rheem water heater (C) Daniel Friedman

How can we determine the age of a residential water heater? By looking at and decoding data on the water heater's label. It would be unusual to find an original water heater in a building built before 1970 in the U.S. so don't assume that the water heater age is the building age for an older home.

Nearly all modern water heaters, electric, oil fired, or gas fired, include data tags and stickers that indicate the year and month of manufacture of the water heater.

That doesn't tell you exactly when a water heater was installed in a particular building but it does indicate the age of the water heater itself.

However most manufacturers encode the year and month of manufacture of their water heater in the product's serial number so that the water heater age is not immediately obvious, but it can be decoded. .

Our photo (left) shows a gas-fired Rheem™ water heater. The label containing the unit's serial number is probably at the water heater top left. The label above the gas control at the water heater bottom typically contains water heater lighting instructions.

For details about determining the age of water heaters, see AGE of WATER HEATERS where we include a chart which Scott LeMarr has generously shared.

For the most complete and very detailed HVAC and water heating equipment data tag and age decoding information anywhere, Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, offer Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment ($69.00 U.S.). At Water Heater Life Expectancy Comparisons we list factors that determine the life expectancy of a water heater.


Continue reading at CESSPOOL AGE ESTIMATION or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.





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