While there are plenty of points in favor of buying an older home, there is one crucial concern that you can’t see – the plumbing. Home plumbing systems older than 25 years are more likely to need expensive repairs. Considering that the plumbing inside those walls and under the house could be as old as the structure itself, you could be looking at a future of hidden problems and unanticipated costs if the system hasn’t been well maintained and kept up to date.
Since your plumbing system accounts for 15 percent of your home’s value, you need to inquire into how the system was maintained by the previous owner. Because plumbing can pose challenges to a home inspector’s usual procedures, it’s best to hire a professional, licensed plumber to perform an additional evaluation. Here are six common concerns they will likely look out for.
Old Pipe Materials
Older homes often use any combination of outdated pipe materials including lead, galvanized steel, polybutylene, and copper. You’re probably aware that we now know these materials to be highly susceptible to corrosion and breakage or, in the worst case scenario, highly toxic. That’s why U.S. building codes were updated in the 1990s to reject these materials. If your older home has been extensively renovated since then, some or all of these defective pipe materials have probably been replaced – but this is a time when settling for “probably” could mean expensive or even dangerous problems down the road.
While this issue may sound cute, it’s not. As any house shifts and settles over time, the correct slope of the pipes underneath can also shift and warp, causing them to have low points or “bellies.” These restrict water flow, collect waste or sediment, and can eventually result in blockages and leaks. If the bellies occur in your sewer lines, toxic wastewater can seep into your home or yard. If they occur inside the concrete foundation, they can result in slab leaks and extensive property damage.
Old Sewer Lines
Problems with old-fashioned sewer lines often combine the worst of the two previous problems. Old sewer pipes were made of clay and cast iron, which makes them susceptible to cracking, erosion, leakage, waste clogging, and intrusion by tree roots. In addition, older homes weren’t built to accommodate modern appliances like garbage disposals and dishwashers, so neither were their sewage systems. Forcing more water and waste through the lines than the amount they were designed for makes them more likely to fail. In short, if your home’s sewage lines are older than 25 years old, they should be closely checked (ideally by an experienced plumber with a line camera) and even replaced.
The Wrong Water Heater
Did you know water heaters have a predictable life span? Most conventional tank heaters are not designed to last longer than about 15 years. Handily, the manufacture date is listed on each unit, so it’s not hard to determine if it’s time to take preventive action.
No matter the water heater’s age, however, you should confirm that the unit is large enough to handle your household’s hot water needs and what its energy rating is; it may be more cost-effective to replace it. If you want today’s gold standard of water heating, eliminate the tank entirely and replace it with a tankless water heater that is significantly smaller, much more energy-efficient, and provides endless streams of hot water on demand.
Worn-out Fixtures and Connections
That toilet may look as bright and shiny as the day it was installed – but nothing lasts forever, particularly when it comes in contact with water. An older home is very likely to have all manner of plumbing fixtures and connections that are at or nearing the end of their expected life span. This could include anything from a shower head full of limescale to pipe connectors that are about to blow (and always at the most inconvenient time). Other concerns include corrosion, broken knobs, leaks, and anything that restricts water flow or drainage. Even beyond these concerns, who wouldn’t prefer good-looking modern fixtures with features like touchless, automatic sensors?
Evidence of Amateur Repairs
There are times when the adage “If you want something done right, do it yourself” just doesn’t apply – and, unless you’re a professional plumber, repeatedly fixing your home’s plumbing problems is one of them. Plumbers know that few things can do more to ruin a home’s plumbing system in the long run than improper repairs and installations. These mistakes can be as seemingly unimportant as unsecured pipes or backward sink traps, but they can also be as serious – and expensive – as unsafe installation of water heaters or inaccurately sloped showers.
Of course, the older a home is, the longer it’s had to develop any number of incorrectly fixed plumbing problems – and this is why it’s critical to ask the previous owner about the plumbing system’s history. In any case, you’ll want your professional plumbing inspection to ensure that all repairs are up to code and include currently approved materials.
Leave It to the Professionals
These six areas of concern are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to taking on the challenges of an older home’s plumbing system. Contact us at Horizon Plumbing to schedule your professional plumbing inspection in order to ensure your home is move-in ready. You may also wish to get ahead in the game and have any of these efficient, state-of-the-art systems installed before move-in:
Every buyer of an older home should also immediately sign up for our Preferred Customer Club. This service includes a free yearly whole-house inspection, water heater flush, and water quality and pressure tests done by our licensed, professional plumbers, as well as special discounts and offers throughout the year. We’ve been serving North Texas homes for more than 40 years, and we know exactly what to look for in every part of your plumbing system. Contact us for your free consultation.