White Powdery Buildup on Water Heater Supply Pipe

Eddy54321November 18, 2012

Hi,

I've just noticed a white powdery buildup on the valve fittings on the water supply pipe to my water heater (please see image). There are two affected areas (one quarter sized, the other dime sized) and the buildup looks like what one might see on a corroded battery. Should I be dialing the plumber's number or just brush the substance off and take the wait-and-see approach?

Thanks very much for any help!

-Eddy

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justalurker

You should be replacing that gate valve with a 1/4 turn full bore ball valve.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 1:05AM
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lazypup

There is no need to change that valve. Code requires a "Full Bore Valve" and both gate valves and ball valves are full bore valves.

That corrosion looks like the type of corrosion we see on automotive battery terminals because basically that is exactly what it is. It resulted from applying too much flux when they soldered the valve and the failure of the installer to wipe excess flux off the exterior of the valve after installation.

In all probability that corrosion has by now consumed the acid in the excess flux, but just to be on the safe side I would suggest you thoroughly clean the exterior of the valve and the pipe for a couple inches from the solder joints.

Before you begin the cleaning process I would strongly advise you to get your safety goggles out and wear them. Remember that you will be scrubbing that valve with a brush and there is a strong possibility that you could splash some of it in your eyes.

Begin by wiping the majority of that corrosion off the pipe & valve with a rag, then clean the pipe and valve with a strong soap & water solution. (a cup of hot water with dish washing or laundry soap would be fine). Apply some of the water, then scrub it using a small brush. ( an old vegetable brush or discarded stiff toothbrush would be fine).

Now thoroughly rinse with hot water containing baking soda. ( cup of hot water with a tablespoon of baking soda would be fine.)

Use a dry rag or paper towels to wipe off the excess liquid and you are done.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 2:19AM
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justalurker

With respect pup, I have have come across 3/4" ball valves (of pacific rim origin) that are necked-down(?) to 1/2" internally both on the shelf and installed. A local plumber tried to off one on my water heater install and I caught him. He said that's the same valve I use all the time". I got another plumber in to do the job.

I've also seen gate valves on WH service lines fail when you need them most... like saddle valves on ROs and water filters... regardless of the fact that gate valves are code approved. JMO

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 10:44AM
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lazypup

Gate valves & ball valves are defined as "Full bore valves" as opposed to "globe valves" which defined as "throttling valves".

Now assuming you are correct that there are 3/4" ball valves with a 1/2" bore through the ball, and I have yet to see one, but for the sake of argument, even if that is so, they would still qualify as a full bore valve because they would neither cause a significant change to either flow or pressure.

My point in this case is the minor corrosion on the exterior of the valve is not a significant reason to ask the homeowner to go to the expense & bother of changing the valve.

1 Like    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 12:19PM
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justalurker

Yes, indeed, I have seen 3/4" ball valves with a 1/2" bore and logic leads me to conclude that will be of some restriction compared to a 3/4" ball valve with a 3/4" bore.

With respect to "my point in this case is the minor corrosion on the exterior of the valve is not a significant reason to ask the homeowner to go to the expense & bother of changing the valve" I would agree if that particular gate valve works but seeing many gate valves that are main water service shut-offs and at the WH supply that won't shut off when one needs them to I'd preemptively replace the gate with a ball valve before a critical emergency arises... I'm just that way. You, being a plumber, can easily deal easily with whatever plumbing emergency may arise at your home, without the emergency service call costs, while we non-plumbers are at considerably more risk.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 12:50PM
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lazypup

Logic may indicate it would cause a restriction but the math says the resultant restriction is so slight that it would require a precision lab grade pressure gage to measure it,and it simply is nothing we need be concerned with.

1 Like    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 2:14PM
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justalurker

I'll defer to the math and will still prefer a 3/4" valve that really is 3/4" all the way through but will always replace an old gross looking gate valve when I come across them especially when they look like the OP's picture.

Just doing my share to keep the good plumbers working.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 3:52PM
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lazypup

Actually that valve looks pretty good with the exception of that corrosion.

In regards to your statement:"Just doing my share to keep the good plumbers working."

That is doing your share to keep the greedy hacks working,,,Good plumbers are honest with the customer and only change things out when it is necessary rather than seize every little opportunity to clip a homeowner for a hundred bucks or so.

1 Like    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 4:13PM
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justalurker

We will agree to disagree.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 4:35PM
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lazypup

Actually,,if I got called on a service call to look at that valve I would begin by opening & closing the valve a couple times to see what kind of shape it's in, but I can assure you, from an experience eye, that valve is not very old and it is highly unlikely that it has any internal problems. That corrosion is solely on the outside and has nothing to do with the integrity of the valve, it is merely cosmetic and simply points out that the installer was too lazy to complete the job by wiping the excess flux.

After I tested the valve to satisfy myself that it is working okay, I would go to my truck and get a couple rags and and a small wire brush, then I would get some hot water and a bit of dishwashing soap from the homeowner and clean the corrosion off. Total time would be about 10 minutes.

I would then tell the customer that I will charge the basic service call fee for coming out, but no additional charge for testing & cleaning the valve and I would give them a sticker with my company name and phone number in case they need a plumber in future.

On the other hand, I could have charged them $150 or so to change out an otherwise good valve, what do they know?

What I know is if you are honest with the customer you will get their repeat business and a lot of word of mouth advertising to boot. In my career as a plumber I never had to worry about "keeping the good plumbers busy", I was turning work away because there was not enough hours in the week to do it all and I never advertised anywhere except our company name on the truck, and that is a state law.

1 Like    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 6:07PM
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justalurker

If only your service area extended to here... BTW, what is your basic service call fee for coming out?

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 6:46PM
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lazypup

Our basic service call fee is $39.00 if the job is within 12 miles and the service call fee is waived if we get the job.

We also waive the service call fee for Senior Citizens, active duty military and when in the opinion of the plumber running the call the family appears to be low income and having hard times.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 8:51PM
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justalurker

That does it... I'm selling my house and moving to Ohio!

Around here we can't get a plumber to answer the phone for less than $100

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 8:54PM
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lazypup

I am no longer in Ohio, after I retired 5 yrs ago I turned the shop over to my son and I now live in Massachusetts, however I still stay in daily touch with my son and help him however I can from here, including him sending me prints and I work out the specs and material lists & such or sometimes he sends me photos of a job and I offer him pointers on how to handle it.

I also work part time with a plumber here that I have known for years and I teach some of the apprenticeship classes.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 9:19PM
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SnidelyWhiplash

Lazypup,

Thank you for putting a smile on my face. The world would be a much better place if there were more people like you. And fewer people like ...., well, you know like what.

S

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 11:15PM
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Eddy54321

You guys are hilarious. Thanks very much for the advice. I'll clean the corrosion off and leave it at that. If the valve ever fails, I'll just cut the water off to the house and call our trusty neighborhood plumber.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   December 29, 2012 at 10:39AM
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plumlazy

Thank you lazypup! I recently called a plumber for the same problem with ball valves on 2 water heaters, and on the water main line at the water meter. He told me that the scale buildup was penetrating through the valve walls! He wanted to change out 4 valves. Sounded fishy to me so I did not have the work done.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2015 at 10:33PM
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