Decatur, AL, Indoor Plumbing History

Every day, you use indoor plumbing, whether you see it or not. If your refrigerator makes ice, it requires indoor plumbing. Your washing machine, toilet, faucets, and more require high quality plumbing, but what we take for granted today hasn’t always been as efficient as it is today. Today, the residential and commercial properties in Decatur, AL have so many options in terms of piping, from copper to galvanized steel; from PVC to PEX, and so much more. Originally, in America, early settlers knew nothing of lead or iron pipe – they knew only to build with wood, the country’s bounty. Thus, water pipes were made of bored-out logs, preferably felled from hemlock or elm trees. The trees would be cut into 7 ft. to 9 ft. lengths, their trunks around 9-10 inches thick. Unfortunately, laying wooden pipes below ground; uneven ground below the joists would cause sags in the log where water would stagnate, infest with insects, and generally leave a woody taste. Essentially, the settlers used gravity water system, starting from a spring or stream on high ground, allowing water to flow downhill to the house or farm. It would cut a path to the back of the house, through the barn, and flow into a catch basin. In 1652, Boston incorporated the country’s first waterworks, formed to provide water for firefighting and domestic use. Since the homes were made out of wood and often had chimneys, fire was a common hazard, so it was imperative that a ready supply be on hand. Firefighters would punch a hole into the wooden pipe along the edge of the street, insert a smaller pipe (pre-sized to fit the newly-bored hole), and harness the hose of their fire wagon, a two-man pumper. When they put the fire out, they would plug up the hole again by banging a pre cut conical stopper on the end of a long pole. This was the “fireplug,” the wooden pole left sticking out of the ground marked the plug for the next chimney fire.

Wooden pipes were common until the early 1800s when the increased pressure from rapidly expanding streets began to split the pipes. Consequently, people changed to galvanized iron for potable water use from the late 1800s until around 1960. After that period, copper piping took over, originally with soft copper with flared fittings; however, they later switched to rigid copper tubing utilizing soldered fittings. The use of lead for potable water declined sharply after World War II because of increased awareness of the dangers of lead poisoning. Interestingly, this is where the term “plumbing” comes from; the Latin word plumbum means lead.

Today, most homes are fitted with any number of pipes (depending on the type of home or building, when it was built, and any remodeling done to the home). For example, mobile homes commonly use PVC pipes, but commercial buildings in areas close to the ocean used galvanized steel. Other homes use copper or PEX piping. The greatest factors in deciding what is right for your home or commercial property are location, budget, and city requirements. The licensed technicians at Lamco Plumbing are ready, willing, and able to help you with any of your residential and commercial plumbing needs.

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