It is certainly pretty rare to still find lead supply piping in homes—-most has been replaced/abandoned. If you find it in a home it will be one that was plumbed before 1910.
However, after that date lead pipe was routinely used until the mid 50’s as the transition fitting from the cast iron drain to the toilet. These fittings are usually visible from the basement if the basement has not been finished off—-or visible in the crawl space. There is often signs of corrosion and past leaking.
These types of connectors don’t make a “positive” connection to the toilet the way more modern connectors do. Toilets were typically bolted to the floor instead of directly to a flange connected to the drain pipe.
Flushed materials, including bowl and drain cleaners have corrosive effects on these lead connectors and all should be considered past their expected life. The “newest” of these elbows would be at least 60 years old as of the date of this writing.
When remodeling areas below these elbows, they should never be covered over. They should be replaced prior to remodeling to avoid more costly replacement later.
The interesting thing about corrosion of these connectors is that they do not usually corrode on the bottom—they usually corrode on the top side of the pipe where it typically can’t be inspected—-but the drips down the side of the pipe may be evident. Sometimes the first clue of failure is unexplained sewer odors in the home. Corrosive materials in the drain condense/collect on the surface that isn’t routinely washed clean causing that part of the pipe to decay more. This first picture is of a piece of a lead fitting that I took out of a home during a remodel—back when I was still doing such work.
The holes you see are where corrosion has eaten through the pipe. Because the corrosion is at the top is why these fittings rarely actually leak unless the drain backs up.
Here is a picture of a typical lead connector.
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