Then vs. Now: How Toronto Plumbing Has Changed and Improved

The streetcars here in Toronto used to look more like trolley cars. The skyline used to be low to the ground, with only the Royal York Hotel towering above the others. The buildings used to be covered in soot, and you used to be able to get a hot meal for a nickel. But as with everything in the world, Toronto has changed in the last 100 or so years. In many ways, the new technologies and advancements of the intervening eras have greatly improved the city.

And Toronto plumbing is no different. 80 to 100 years ago, plumbers used different pipes and fittings when building houses. They were going off of the best contemporary research available to them, as well as – well – what they had available. But as the times in Toronto changed, so did our understanding of plumbing’s best practices.

In this post, as part of our ongoing series of plumbing tips for Toronto homeowners we’ll take a trip down memory lane, looking at how Toronto plumbing used to be. After, we will explore why some of the common materials of the time no longer hold water (pun intended). Finally, we will discuss what materials plumbers use contemporarily, and why these materials have replaced the old ones.

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The Way Things Used to Be

Older Toronto homes tend to be like museums for defunct types of plumbing materials. Many older homes still contain these following materials, and many homeowners consistently find problems. Here are a few old plumbing materials they used to use in Toronto that are generally considered to be problematic nowadays:

  • For water, they use galvanized steel pipes with threaded connections.
  • For the underground drain and sewer pipes, they used vitrified clay,
  • For the soil stack (or vertical main drain pipe), they used cast iron, with branches made of lead and galvanized steel.

It is important to stress that each of these pipes are pretty strong, so it is no wonder that a lot of houses in Toronto still have their original drain systems. But like everything in nature, these materials age, and the older these pipes and connectors get, the more problems they start creating. And the moment you notice a problem, hire a local plumber in Toronto to sort things out.

The Problem with the Old Materials

As popular as these materials once were, we now know that they each present unique and unavoidable problems. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, and plumbers of the time really did believe these materials to be the best bet for homes, but time has a way of humbling our best intentions. In this section, let’s look at a few of the popular types of materials listed above, and discuss the degenerative issues each present.

Galvanized steel pipes – a popular choice in homes – can easily start leaking at the joints or get a pinhole, especially with hot water, as temperature spikes increase the speed of chemical processes. The process happens from the inside out, too, as the protective layer of zinc eats away, making it hard to detect. What this means is that, once any small leak in a galvanized steel pipe presents itself, it is already indicative of a significant level of damage.

The vitrified clay used in underground drain and sewer pipes are susceptible to its surrounding elements. Many of the older clay drain and sewer pipes we have come across at Mister Plumber have a depression in them, caused by soil settlements and clogs that form in and around them. For example, the joints in underground clay pipes are affected by roots, which snake their way into small openings or hairline cracks. It may start from a tiny hairline crack, but as more roots grow, they make the crack bigger, further compromising the pipe.

Lead branches, which were used with the soil stack, often have an opposing slope because of settlement down the middle portion of the house. The problem here is that the wrong slope causes drain congestion and waste water backup. And cast iron, which the main soil stack pipe is made of, is affected by this corrosion.

The corrosion built up inside the pipe significantly reduces its diameter. Because of this, plumbers often install a bigger pipe (4”, or a minimum of 3” for the toilet), and the drain system will still work, even with reduced space inside. At the same time, however, corroded particles fall down and collect in the 90-degree cast iron elbow underground. Plumbers know, therefore, that if the cast iron stack is clogged, the underground portion must be replaced first as the worst pipe is underground (soil moisture speeds the corrosion processes).

These are complicated processes that aren’t always understandable to the layperson, but at Mister Plumber we take special pride in knowing the ins and outs of residential plumbing in Toronto. We offer our plumbing services all over Toronto and so have seen these problems countless times before, making us well equipped to tackle them in a timely and well-priced fashion. Your home may seem like a confusing patchwork of pipes to you, but, to us, each home’s plumbing system is like a fun puzzle.

The New Toronto Plumbing

Nowadays, plumbers tend to use materials we know will not deteriorate over time (or, at least, not as quickly). Plastics are popular, since they are rigorously pressure tested, difficult to crack, and have superior longevity. Copper is another material we like to use, which, like plastics, doesn’t suffer the deteriorative effects of corrosion as badly.

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In the picture above, you can see an old cast iron stack that we’ve replaced with PVC and ABS – complete with a new clean-out, as the plumbing code requires. Then, as you can see, the floor was restored with concrete mix patching.  For underground main water pipe installation, we use type “K” copper, a soft temper copper specially designed to be used underground. It’s the same type The City of Toronto uses, and allows us to install without using any joints.

If you are at all unsure about the materials used in your plumbing, or are experiencing leaks, backups, low water pressure, etc., call us today here at Mister Plumber and we can chat about updating your Toronto home with contemporary plumbing materials.

There are some wonderful aspects left of the way Toronto used to be – from the stunning Distillery District to the fields of Fort York – but your plumbing shouldn’t be one of those relics. Call us today and get a free estimate!